The Saturday Writing Quote – Cynthia Ozick

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. We write, like Proust, to render all of it eternal, and to persuade ourselves that it is eternal. We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth. We write to expand our world when we feel strangled, or constricted, or lonely. We write as the birds sing, as the primitives dance their rituals. If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it. When I don’t write, I feel my world shrinking. I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire and my color. It should be a necessity, as the sea needs to heave, and I call it breathing.”

– Cynthia Ozick, American novelist and short story writer (b. 1928)

The Saturday Writing Quote — Tim O’Brien

“For me, a good story embraces both the ordinary and the extraordinary. I’m not interested in simply holding up a mirror to the world. I’m not interested in reporting on actualities and calling the result fiction. To my taste, a good story is a mix of the so-called real world and a much more mysterious and elusive interior world we all live in.”
– Tim O’Brien, American novelist, b. 1946 (“The Things They Carried; Going After Cacciatto“)

[What I tell beginning writers] “Be stubborn. Be tenacious. Commit yourself to the inevitability of failure. Sentences are going to fail, chapters … whole books … [P]ay close attention to [your] own life. Don’t avoid your own passions and fears. There’s a tendency, I think, to sublimate it all, or to become so oblique as to avoid entirely that which has hurt you or that which has jerked you awake at night. I know of no rule that commands a writer to be subtle at all costs. At times, I believe, it doesn’t hurt to be blunt.”
– Tim O’Brien

Both quotes excerpted from a July 2010 interview in The Writer 

Stupid Criminal Tricks: the fake deputy

According to the Seattle Times, a man posing as a King County sheriff’s deputy, wearing a T-shirt reading “Sheriff,” a holstered revolver, and a radio of some sort, knocked on doors in an apartment complex, telling residents he was looking for the suspect in an auto theft. Several residents got suspicious and called 911 — they thought he “lacked a police presence” and said when asked for I.D., he ignored them and kept talking.

When a real deputy spotted him, the imposter took off, eluding both a tracking dog and a helicopter search. According to the Times, “Investigators believe the man probably got into a nearby car and split. The sheriff’s office doesn’t know what the imposter was up to. One possibility is that he was looking for the supposed car thief and figured this was one way to find him. Or maybe “he was looking to get his kicks.””

And yes, impersonating a law enforcement officer is a crime.

The Saturday Writing Quote: on story

03_Flowers1_Watercolor_WEB“In the entry into the world of imagination, from which all story springs, I believe that we come closest to the world of the spirit, and hence all making of story becomes a spiritual place. It is a place of the most intense solitude but also a place where the most intimate communal experience can be achieved: that of sharing story. Story is a place where meaning can be made and remembered. And story is also the creation of a vision: balancing what was with what might have been. Balancing what is with what could be. Balancing dark against light. Balancing joy and sorrow. … As writer, I am transformed in the making of story; the reader is transformed in the reading of story.”

— Eunice Scarfe, American-Canadian short story writer and teacher, in Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity by Jan Phillips (1997)


Domestic partnerships — the Washington state wrinkle

In Books, Crooks, and Counselors, I answered questions about common law marriage, pointing out that it could not be used by same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize same-sex marriage as a way to establish a legal marriage. Likewise, domestic partnerships are not marriage. But now, as part of its same-sex marriage law, Washington State is about to convert some 10,000 registered domestic partnerships into marriage, effective June 30. According to this piece in the Seattle Times, Washington’s domestic partnership was available to same sex couples of any age and to heterosexual couples in which one partner was over 62 at the time of registration, as a way to provide many of the financial benefits of marriage.

Of course, not everyone in a d.p. will want to become married. No doubt some d.p.s have ended, but remain registered — ending one can be much like a divorce. The state is sending out notices, but some folks will have moved. And as the Seattle Times story points out, some will have legally married other people — only to find themselves unexpectedly illegally married, because of the conversion. Others may have moved to states that don’t recognize same-sex marriages, although an increasing number of states have now concluded that they must recognize marriages legally formed in another state, even if not legal to form in that state.

Can you envision a way to complicate your characters’ lives with this law?

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Garner’s Modern American Usage


Last week’s terminology tip quoted a daily email from Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3d Ed (Oxford University Press). A reader wrote that she could not see where on Garner’s site to subscribe to the daily emails, and darn it, I couldn’t find the link either. I finally remembered to check the daily email for subscriber options; turns out the emails are sent by the press, not Garner, so the link is on the press’s website, not his. I found it here.  (Or get there by finding Garner’s page on the Oxford University Press website; scroll down to Customer Services and click on “Join Our Email List.”)

The daily emails provide short excerpts from the book, with definitions and examples. Subscribing to the list is like reading the book, two or three column inches at a time. Painless, and enormously helpful. A great resource, eaten in small bites. Even if it’s on your shelf, the daily emails are a great service for writers and readers.

Juvenile inmates & solitary confinement

OldMTPrisonNPR reports on an agreement by New York state to prohibit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles in response to a lawsuit by the ACLU. As many as 4,000 inmates have been put in solitary confinement — aka “segregation,” “prolonged isolation,” or being “in the box” — for 20-22 hours at a time, often for minor prison infractions. While in the box, they are fed through a slot, and get no exercise or sunshine. The agreement bans its use as punishment for juveniles under 18 — although they may still be held alone, within guidelines limiting cell time and allowing access to exercise and programs outside their cells; provides alternatives for disabled individuals; and limits its use for pregnant women to extreme cases. Solitary will still be available for use with other inmates and in other circumstances. The agreement also imposes record-keeping and reporting requirements on the state prison system.

The report says change is happening across the country, in part due to research showing that solitary often makes inmates sick, increases the risk of suicide, and can make inmates more dangerous after their release. There have been reports of inmates across the country held in solitary for years.

Here’s a horrifying first-hand account from a man first held in solitary at age 6, and repeatedly as a teenager; more about the problem from the NY ACLU; and an account of the settlement from the ABA Journal.

These two updates from NPR report on the costs of solitary and testimony at a Senate hearing considering changes in the state and federal systems. Senators heard from a man who spent 15 years in solitary, on death row, before his exoneration, discussing the emotional effect and other issues. Interesting statistic: solitary costs 3 times as much as general confinement. I’m glad to see a larger conversation in our society about the balance: when is solitary an appropriate “tool” and when is its use actually abuse.

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The Saturday Writing Quote: Why Write?

“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”
— Joan Didion, American novelist and essayist, b. 1934

“This is my answer to the gap between ideas and action – I will write it out. In the way that is natural to me. There I will dare anything.”
— Hortense Calisher, American novelist, 1911-2009