I’ve been working on my 100 Things page. I know, I’m way behind the times, but I’ve been having fun with it. It’s like writing a little autobiography/self portrait, and it teases memories out of the mind. In the process, I remembered a wonderful thing.
In English class, my senior year of high school, I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and found myself amazed. Many of my classmates hated it, but to me it was a beckoning. When I got to the section of the book where the following passages reside, I glowed inside. (And no, I hadn’t swallowed a light bulb.)
His heart trembled: his breath came faster and a wild spirit passed over his limbs as though he were soaring sunward….An ecstasy of flight made radiant his eyes and wild his breath and tremulous and wild and radiant his windswept limbs.And then later, when Stephen sees the girl in the tide:
She seemed like one whom magic had changed into the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird. Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where and emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh.I had never encountered any writing like this, in prose at least. At that moment, I had a little Stephen Epiphany of my own, and I was joyful. I finally felt deep down the power of words—what beautiful instruments we have to invoke an image, a feeling, an association. I knew then I was a writer, although I wouldn’t write much at all for a long time. Just then, I wanted to read. I think that’s why I went on the Literature track in college. My senior English teacher guided me toward the Writing track—”I think you’d love it Wendy”—but I couldn’t help myself.
I’ve often wondered how much farther along I’d be with writing if I had gone that way. (The idea of letting anyone read a paragraph of my writing was mortifying to me at the time. It still is in many ways.) But, I know I’ve learned immeasurable amounts by reading good writing (and bad writing). Some of the rules and concepts literature students learn about writers and writing aren’t true at all from the perspective of the writer, but I still wouldn’t go back to do it over the other way. I think I had to come at writing in my own slow time after a long courtship with reading, after getting high again and again over great books, passages, and poems.
I didn’t see this in high school, but I think I’ve dug even deeper into why I was so taken with these passages from Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Never before had I encountered such excited, poetic expression in a piece of prose. This energy is common in poetry, but prose is usually, understandably, more reserved. This discovery opened my eyes to the fact that our lives, our stories, really do have beautiful energies, and story writers can express those energies in their narratives. I know I didn’t see it then, but I bet Stephen began watering a seed in my brain. The seed that says what I’m supposed to do here.
A drought seems to be hovering around me lately. But droughts pass.
Wow, can I be corny or what?