The call of the words

Still Life
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Northport, Alabama

There was a time when I was a writer. I had a byline in the paper every day, awards hanging on the wall above my desk. I had a “writing shirt” — a well-worn flannel burgundy button-down — and a nice, repetitive “writing song,” — R.E.M.’s “Orange Crush.” I had a blueberry iBook and an online journal. I had gold-nibbed fountain pens, Italian stationery, leather journals and scented inks in every color. Then I stopped writing. I threw the shirt away and erased my journal. I gave away my best fountain pen and boxed up the pretty papers and inks. I left my job as an editor and stopped accepting writing assignments. I walked away from it all.But sometimes, even now, I crave words like I imagine a smoker must crave cigarettes. Sometimes I just want to know that they are there, to be able to slip a hand in my pocket and feel them, waiting to give me that release, that rush of pleasure, that high that nothing else quite satisfies. Sometimes I miss the weight of them in my hand, the taste of them in my mouth, the smell of them in my hair. Sometimes I miss having something to fiddle with, a pretty diversion during life’s dull moments. And sometimes, sometimes the desire to write is so strong that it takes my breath away, kicks me in the stomach and leaves me for dead.

Like a lover’s mistress, I stalk forbidden roads at night, seeking the words of other writers — far better writers than myself — surreptitiously inhaling their syntax, devouring their sentence structure until I am reeling with want. Yeah, I used to be a writer. But I have been silent for a long time. A few weeks ago, I received a gift in the mail. A lovely Mont Blanc fountain pen to replace the one I gave away. A subtle enticement to write a new story. Today, I used that pen to send a thank you note along with a gift of my own. I made a cup of coffee, lit a candle, and selected a sheet of the fine Italian stationery. Every once in a while, I paused to look out the window at the falling rain, take a deep breath and remember. Another life, another time.

I struggle to write now. The words rarely fall fast and free as they once did. Fear overshadows the desire, clouds my intent, carries me into dark chasms I didn’t intend to go. But for just a little while this afternoon, the want oustripped the wariness and I was a writer again, lending my voice to those of so many others. Last week, Dawn at Girl Inchoate “tagged” me to answer a series of questions about the books that have inspired me, and while I am afraid my list may be rather dull, this post seems as good as any to answer her questions. So, Dawn, this one’s for you….. I have expanded it a bit simply because I had fun doing it.

Total number of books owned: Can anyone actually answer this question? I have owned thousands of books in my 31 years. Currently I try to keep my collection confined within seven bookcases scattered throughout my apartment. I am not doing so well with this endeavor.

Last five books I bought: Holy Fools by Joanne Harris. Light fiction, yes. But it was set in France and this quote snagged me, “You wanted me dead, so I decided to live.” I’ll find a use for that one day. Other books I have bought recently? Seven Types of Ambiguity by Eliot Perlman; Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris; 101 Cataclysms by Rachael Hale, and Beginner’s Guide to Photographic Lighting: Techniques for Success in the Studio and On Location by Don Marr.

Last five books I read (not including ones listed above): Toxic Parents by Dr. Susan Forward; Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk, Choke by Chuck Palahniuk; and The Lighting Cookbook: Foolproof Recipes for Perfect Glamour, Portrait, Still Life, and Corporate Photographs by Jenni Bidner, Street French 1: The Best of French Slang by David Burke.

Five books on my summer reading list (and yes, I give myself one every year): The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty; Common Threads by Chip Cooper and Kathryn Tucker Windham; The Pelican Brief by John Grisham; Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend by Robert James Waller; and House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski.

Five books (plus a few extras) that mean something to me or that I enjoyed: Alexander Kitten by Jessica Potter Broderick — My first childhood book and one that I have many happy memories of my mama reading to me. Community Journalism: The Personal Approach by Josh Lauterer — This book stayed on my desk when I was an editor. Every time I was discouraged, I picked it up and found the strength to make it through another day. Ditto for this book… Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat. The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch by Julia Cameron — I read this book in September/October during a time when I thought I would never pick up a camera or write another word again, a time when I wasn’t even sure I would continue crawling out of bed every day, let alone find the will to start over. Paper Moon by Joe David Brown — Even though it was long, Nicholas read a chapter of this book to me every night before bedtime for months. I loved those evenings together. Everyday Zen: Love and Work by Charlotte Joko Beck — Given to me by Carey before he left; and almost all of the works by Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Keats, William H. Auden, W.B. Yeats, and Robert Frost. These are the voices that inspired me… to become a writer.

Speaking of which, for a girl who is not a writer anymore, I have managed once again to stay up until daylight, writing. It is 5:30 a.m. and I am starving. Might as well hit City Cafe for breakfast, one of my old favorite early-dawn writing haunts. I promise, tomorrow I will not write so much. Or then again, maybe I will. Who knows?Music of the day: A Murder of One by Counting Crows (lyrics)

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