Monday, March 22, 2010

A Writer on Writing

I have been reading this terrific book on writing. It’s called “Bird by Bird,” and it’s by Ann Lamott. It’s not the best or the most useful writing book I’ve ever read, although it’s awfully good. The reason I like it is, first, it’s very funny. The funniest book on writing I’ve ever read. And it’s so true. She writes about writing as if it’s a mental illness, which it sort of is.

Lamott doesn’t come out and say, “By the way, all writers are crazy.” But she makes it pretty clear she and all the writers she knows are at least mildly crazy, paranoid, obsessive, with no sense of perspective. All the students in her writing classes are also crazy, she implies. They also mostly seem to want their money back. But that’s between Lamott and the students, I guess.

Anyway, buried in among all the very funny stuff about the ways in which writers’ minds works to keep them unhappy and worried that everyone including their immediate family is talking about them behind their backs – are some really excellent nuggets of advise, including allowing yourself to fail, not sitting down to "write a novel" but giving yourself small, manageable assignments each day that add up to a novel in the end, and my favorite – write a shitty first draft. It may be shitty, but you can’t fix it if you don’t write it down. Perfectionism, she observes, is the voice of the oppressor.

I came across the book, by the way, through our daughter Alex. She’s taking classes at UVI and one of them is a creative writing class and this is one of the texts. Unlike her other textbooks, this is one she won’t be selling back at the end of the semester. If she doesn’t want it, I’m taking it. So there's the island connection for this blog.

Seriously, if you’re at all interested in writers or writing or you just like a good read and enjoy a laugh, pick up “Bird by Bird.” Good book.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Another long lapse between posts - three months. Sheesh. Sorry. We'll try to do better.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

St. Croix celebrated, as it does every year, with a parade through Christiansted last Saturday. It’s kind of amazing, a combination of Irish and Island that has to be seen to be believed. Sort of "Erin go Bra-less.

I covered it for The Source; here is the story and here’s the video video I shot that went up on the site. For some reason my videos lately aren’t uploading well. This looked crystal clear and sharp when I made it on the computer, but it looks murky and fuzzy on the site. Gotta figure that out.

An old friend whose parents were both from the Auld Sod used to say with scorn that he never celebrated St. Patrick’s Day because, “I’m Irish 365 days a year. St. Patrick’s is amateur night.” And it was he who first pointed out to me the biggest Irish myth in America -- the song “Danny Boy.” It’s purportedly an old, traditional Irish tune sung from a father to his son going off to war and expressing patriotism and love of Ireland. In truth, my friend pointed out, the song was written by an English lawyer, and it’s a love song between a woman and a man. The lawyer actually supplied alternate lyrics for a man to sing, “Oh Ellie girl.”

As it happens, the song was written in 1910, so it’s exactly 100 years old now, not some timeless Irish ballad but one more example of British cultural imperialism. With which the Irish are of course intimately familiar. If you want to sing a real, traditional Irish ballad, try “Eileen Aroon.” Dates back at least 400 years.

Still, I think Dave took things a bit too seriously. St. Patrick’s Day is just fun, and if people whose family came from Poland or China or Nigeria or Brazil want to talk in corny Irish accents or drink green beer and eat cabbage, well, what’s wrong with that? I’m part Irish myself – from the Piper family, I’ve been told although I have no way of knowing if it’s accurate that that part of the family tree once hailed from Limerick – and it seems if the world wants to celebrate Irish heritage, even if they get a lot of it wrong, where’s the harm?

Seems to me it’s a good excuse for a party in a month where typically there’s not a lot to celebrate. And on St. Croix, they know how to celebrate in style.