Today's guest post is from a blogger who holds a very special place in my bloggy little heart. She was one of my first readers and was one of the very first blogs that I read that I finally felt like I had a kindred blogging soul out there. Without further ado, my fellow reader and writer: Masked Mom.
"Most people can read much more profoundly than they can write, speak or even think. For me, this is one of the great humiliations of being literate at all. If I can read Shakespeare, why can't I write Shakespeare? It's not fair."
~~Reeve Lindbergh, No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I am not merely an avid reader, but a voracious one. This is a character trait I mostly consider a good thing—particularly when it comes to writing, because I’ve yet to read a book on writing that does not trumpet the importance of reading (and lots of it) to the development of writing skills. One of my favorite lines from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down The Bones is “If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.” This seems so sensible—like an artistic version of “You are what you eat.” And sure, there is a certain simple logic to it—of course there are many things in life we learn not merely by being actively “taught,” but by proximity, by osmosis almost.
The flip side, the dark side, of reading good books, or good work anywhere really, is that sinking feeling that nothing, NOTHING!, I ever write will be as good as what I’m reading. There are sentences and whole passages of things I read that not only strike an emotional chord but also inspire outright awe in the writer in me. Miracles of economy, stellar examples of structure, masterpieces of clarity, icons of imagery. All these things bring me great joy—and, very often, at the heart of that joy is a hard little nugget of despair.
This is one way of putting that paradoxically delicious despair: “I’m not sure how it’s possible, but I am simultaneously grateful to have read it and insanely jealous that I didn’t write it.” I couldn’t have said it better myself—and, in fact, I did say this myself, in a comment on this very blog, where I regularly read things that give me this exact feeling.
I think a feeling of inadequacy in the face of so much greatness in the literary world (in all its manifestations, including blogs, dammit) is a practically universal thing—we all feel it from time to time. “What’s the use in plugging away if I can never be as great as _______________.” Don’t we all have a name, many names, we can put in that blank? (And, to really push the limits of tasteful sucking-up, isn’t our fabulous hostess, TangledLou, one of those names for a lot of us?)
We must each find our own ways to work around this feeling. At the core of my own philosophical approach to this problem is a page from a years-old calendar featuring Maxine, the wiry-haired, cranky old lady who is a creation of Hallmark greeting cards. It said, “I gotta be me. I don’t see anybody else lining up to do it.” I am me, there’s no choice really. I approach the page with my own life experiences, my own level of education, my own proclivities (passionate (and somewhat intemperate) love for parentheses, just for one example), my own motivations, my own interests, my very own me-ness. I try to focus on leaving the best me on that page that I can.
Most days I succeed-ish.