Books on Writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“If you start to look around, you will start to see. When what we see catches us off guard, and when we write it as realistically and openly as possible, it offers hope.”
Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, is one of my favourite writing books of all time. They recently released a new edition to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and I love it—I think the cover is beautiful. I am someone who judges books by their covers, and I have come to accept this shallow and defining feature of myself. It’s a great cover, though, and also a terrific book, one I’ve re-read more than a few times, my original copy’s cover bent in various places, sentences and whole paragraphs underlined, sometimes dipping back into it just to visit for a bit.
I love Anne Lamott. She’s a bit nutty in the best possible way. She’s wise and real and funny and relatable but also so full of wisdom and warmth perspective and the right words. I recently listened to the audiobook version of her recent book Almost Everything, from the library. It was really just what I needed, not least reason of which is because she herself narrated it, and it was like she was telling me stories from her life and her own preparations for the apocalypse. I highly recommend it, in whatever form you take it.
“I remind myself of this when I cannot get any work done: to live as if I am dying, because the truth is we are all terminal on this bus.”
But this book is a mix of memoir and practical writing advice and how life and writing mix together. She writes about her own journey to writing and becoming a writer and the stories she wrote in her youth and growing up, things she teaches in her writing classes, ways to look at the words you put down on the page. What to do when you get stuck, and ways to get started, and how it’s okay to be awful because everyone is at some point, and the point is to keep moving.
The whole thing is so funny and encouraging and even if you don’t harbour secret hopes of being a writer, it’s a worthwhile read just for another perspective on life.
“Some of us tend to think that what we do and say and decide and write are cosmically important things. But they’re not. If you don’t know which way to go, keep it simple. Listen to your broccoli. Maybe it will know what to do. Then, if you’ve worked in good faith for a couple of hours but cannot hear it today, have some lunch.”
In other news, the studio shop’s front yard continues to grow abundantly, in the absence of responsibly pruning and weeding. I love it. It’s one of my favourite places to sit and hide and drink my coffee and ponder all life’s big questions.
Before the pandemic, we fielded some occasional comments about the difficulty of making in through the bushiness (anyone remember that phase when we didn’t have a sign, at Carlaw?), so we may well have to do some trimming when we eventually re-open, but for now, I am embracing its lush overgrowth. While we’re working on preparations for re-opening the main shop, the studio shop is going to be at the tail end of everything, and the foliage is part of its underdog neglect and secret hidden charm.
Our central air conditioning has been broken for a while. Jon has these two giant industrial plug-in ACs that we’ve used in various shops for various reasons, but they require too much power and keep shorting the circuits, so we’ve been making do with fans and hiding out in the shade on the fire escape, or out front in the bushes. At beginning of this very long heatwave, Jon lugged one from the basement all the way up to the third floor, and let me tell you the disappointment of it not working was ...salty.
It’s actually a bit of a safety concern, to have this lovely, sheltering rainforest in our front yard. We do find beer cans and other less savoury things, from people finding it a comfortable place for a little sit-down late at night, so we try to do some cleaning every once in a while. I hate to dissuade people who just need a safe spot at night, but I also worry about what the kids are going to find. An urban jungle, I suppose.
For me, I am taking it as an excellent place for an early morning cup of coffee, the front steps, with the newspaper, or slowly browsing and re-reading tidbits of a book for prep for the blog. It’s a real neighbourhood shop—not that the main shop isn’t, but let’s face it, the main shop tends to be the real draw for people coming from around—and it’s fun and sad and encouraging when the occasional regular customer or someone we know from the area walks by and we can wave hello.
“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”