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Gleanings, self-pity and solitude

rain windowFrom Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson:

‘ In my life,” said Miss Pettigrew, ‘ a great many unpleasant things have happened.  I hope they never happen to you.  I don’t think they will because you’re not afraid like me.  But there’s one thing I found fatal: pitying myself. It made things worse. ‘

Styles change. The above paragraph, typed just as it is in the book reprinted from 1938, shows the punctuation and spacing style of its day. People and truth, however, never change. Self-pity truly is never any help. In fact, self-pity harms. Self-pity is poison to the soul and body. Do not indulge one sip.

From Living the Writer’s Life, by Eric Maisel, Ph.D.:

“To say that a writer is basically introspective or that she requires solitude in order to think her thoughts hardly catches the flavor of her riotous inner life. What defines the writer more than anything else is her rich, roiling, sometimes light but often dark inner busyness, a busyness made up of daydreams, worries, thought fragments, and elaborated thoughts, an inner reality filled with the music she has heard and still dwells upon, the sights she has seen and still dwells upon, the sentences that form and dissolve and form again, finally becoming the opening paragraph of a book she had no idea she was intending to write.”

I am playing fast and loose with copyright by posting such a long excerpt, however, love and admiration compels me to share. Maisel writes such a long, glorious running sentence, and he isn’t even Southern. He describes the rich inner life exactly. I am reminded of the answer Winifred Watson gave when asked why she had given up writing. She replied more or less: “One cannot write when one is never alone.”

The first thing I had to do when I was faced with not being alone enough for me to write was to quit complaining and fuming in self-pity. Only when I could turn my attention from fussing and fuming, could I see myself clearly; my need of solitude as much as I need air, as well as the reality that I wasn’t getting much of it. I was suffocating. From seeing reality, I could find a way to gather and protect as much solitude for myself as possible. It is awareness of reality, then acceptance of reality, and then action to change what can be changed. Just about anything can be changed, if only our attitude. And attitude changes everything.

These days I guard my solitude, because it is my life.

We writers have busy minds, and we can have a lot of fun in there, if we want to.




Gleanings, and what you put in, you get out.

I decided that I need to read something funny, and the latest book I bought is by an author who is not at all funny–she’s good, but not one bit of funny.


Yes, there is the element of cocaine in the book, from 1938.

So it came to me that I had not read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson, in some time. I do love the British voice, and especially the British voice from the middle of the past century. I’ve already done a post on the novel and author Watson; you can read it here.


From the introduction to Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day:

“I suppose I first read this novel some time in my early teens, because it was my mother’s favorite book, the one she went to, I now understand, not only for an escape into laughter and joyful fantasy, but because in some ways Miss Pettigrew, middle-aged, poor, and a governess, mirrored my mother herself.” ~ Henrietta Twycross-Martin.

I have nothing in the life I’ve led that makes me like Miss Pettigrew, except perhaps inside, the gumption waring all the time with dipping hope. Perhaps the same can be said of all of us.

The first paragraph:

“Miss Pettigrew pushed open the door of the employment agency and went in as the clock struck quarter past nine. She had, as usual, very little hope, but today the Principal greeted her with a more cheerful smile.”

It is the ‘as usual’ that adds so much to the sentence. It what makes me smile and have hope myself in a bit of fun. Maybe that’s because I understand it so. I think it is those two words that enable just about everyone to relate.

In the process of looking for my copy of Miss Pettigrew, I came across Reynolds Price’s novel, Roxanna Slade. I spied little bits of torn Post-it Notes marking a couple of pages. Of course I had to find out why I’d marked the pages and turned to read. Here is what I found on page 72:

“But again nobody touched on my feelings, and nobody seemed to notice what I could feel–that I was beginning to pick up speed in the long process of sliding down into a siege of the blues.”

Maybe my sense of humor is odd, but I find it is both the wording and the cadence of the sentence that makes me chuckle and shake my head. I know exactly what Price is talking about; I never just get the blues but I slip and slide into a siege of it. Makes me think of Jello. In Price’s description you get the gist of the character, and that she is sad, but the book is not sad. There’s just so much hilarity in that sentence. So much life. And even more understanding and compassion for what it means to be human.

Just as we are what we eat, our minds are what we put into it. I make it a practice to read authors who are much better than myself, who craft sentences that make me smile and make my heart jump up and dance. To write, you have to read, read, read, and read only writing that is better than your own, to draw you up higher. What you put is is what you will get out.



Gleanings, with commentary

I set myself to read more this week, and have. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, so they say. Perhaps setting myself to read drew to me the perfect book– Jacqueline Winspear’s novel, Elegy for Eddie. It is her Maisie Dobbs series, and I’ve read them all. How I missed this one, I can’t say, but everything does come at the right time, and this was the right time for me. I had my nose in the book–printed paper, ah, the smell and feel!– for happy hours.

“The old had been destroyed and the new was yet to come, and as Maisie knew only too well, the limbo in between was akin to a desert, a place where one stood with nothing while waiting for the road ahead to become clear.” ~ Jacqueline Winspear, Elegy for Eddie.

How often this happens to us in life. Sometimes the desert is deep and wide, and there is nothing else to do but wait. In the meantime– and it can be a mean time– read, books help the waiting. They help to keep our minds open. They are sort of like food and water until we reach the end of the desert.

If you don’t say yes on your own terms, you are saying it on everyone else’s terms, and the results will hurt you. ~ Claudia Altucher, The Power of No.

I have said yes to reading, and writing, and in order to do this, I have had to say no to circumstances and people. I’m getting better with practice.

When writers say that they don’t like what they’re writing, what they really mean is that they no longer like their own ideas and arguments. Seeing their ideas on the page, they no longer believe them. ~ Eric Maisel, Living the Writer’s Life.

Sometimes we grow to see that our ideas don’t work. But, I think, most of the time it is that we let doubt come in and steal the faith in the idea. We must keep our faith in our ideas and ourselves. How do we do this? By jutting our chin and pressing on, continuing to write right through the doubt. I like to think that when I’ve given up on a project three times, that’s a limit. Start and keep on going.



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