Not By Light Alone

Darn near every moment these May Vermont days, the greenery deepens, fattening mightily, rushing headlong in the chlorophyll world as if making up for winter’s lengthy dormancy.

Walking in the dusky, gently falling rain last night? How could we not love this? All that growth – leaf, blossom, peepers, owls – chorusing around us.

Likely the most unresolvable argument of my life was about darkness, with a person who insisted I not embrace the darkness, not press it near my heart. Every one of my days for nearly the past 19 years has been filled with growing babies and children, teenagers now, with beeswax crayons and playhouses made from sheets, and an endless round of apple slices; at the same time, I’ve also lived through the planting, harvest, and demise of many gardens. Every year, I pass the unknown day of my death and the days of the deaths of everyone I love, and I know, even as the thrust of spring is so mightily powerful and unstoppable, all this will change, too. Our world holds both courage and cowardice, generosity and betrayal.

I’d rather know that, too, than not.

Thanks to State 14 for picking up a blog entry of mine. What a pleasure to be included with their fine writers and photographers.

Don’t be afraid of getting lost. Journey as far as you can. Find the dusk and the gloom. Fill your lungs with it. It’s the only way you’ll negotiate the light. Be worried. That’s okay. The dark is something to sound out too.

Brecht asked if there would be singing in the dark times, and he answered that yes, there would be singing about the dark times.

They are indeed dark times: be thankful. Sing them.

Colum McCann, Letters to a Young Writer


Soil Writing Exercise

In a writing workshop I attended years ago, a professor grilled another student about a field she had recently driven by. What emotion did the field evoke in you? Older than me and not a close friend, the student was a woman I admired. A single mother, she was simultaneously brassy, insecure, funny.

The professor kept asking questions: Any moon or starlight? Rock piles? Did a river or trees border any edge?

The woman paused and finally said one word: sad. The emptiness of the harrowed up field evoked a sense of waste. The conversation might have ended there, but the professor pushed a little further, probing, and the woman said she thought the sorrowful emptiness was just one long snapshot of the field’s story.

That evening, we were not in our usual seminar room, clumped awkwardly instead in a half circle of chairs with writing desks attached. The overhead fluorescent lights made the windowless room uglier than it needed to be.

Every now and then, I find myself wondering what happened to this woman, and which way her story bent.

In the end you should probably know your characters as well as you know yourself. Not only what they had for breakfast this morning, but what they wanted to have for breakfast.

– Colum McCann