The other morning, between errands, I stopped in at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, and found a small novel by Tomas Gonzalez, a Columbian, In the Beginning was the Sea. The book is beautifully crafted and fit just about in the palm of my hand, yet with a real heft and weight. And – it was my favorite color: blue.
These past few days I’ve swum down into the sea of this book. I’m not at all likely to head south to Columbia, and the book itself is not gleaming feel-good read. But it’s writing with a depth that goes down and down, and is as true and real to me as drinking a glass of my own well water.
As a Vermont writer, I’m often asked about sense of place and its importance in my writing. Yes, of course, place-centered geography centers in my writing. But equally, I know, the beauty of a tropical paradise can also drive an inhabitant over the edge, and to write with a sentiment that place is only holy seems false to me. Surely, the yingyang flip of holy is unholiness. While this short novel holds the beauty of human life and the moonlit sea, the writing also contains the deeper elements of all the vagaries of human existence.
“So WHY does our writing matter again?” (my students) ask.
Because of the spirit, I say. Because of the heart. Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul… We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.
— Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird