To me, one of the best things ever about being a writer, is the gifts of books that you often receive from friends and family who know what you love and might enjoy. Once, out of the blue, I found a tiny treasure, Coffee with Oscar Wilde, tucked in my mailbox from Lil, a dear friend and fellow writer. Another mailbox gift, a poetry book, arrived from Deirdre, a fellow book enthusiast. My ever-inventive friend C.J. often sends me books. Writing buddy and bold journalist David gave me a fabulous book of short stories fabulously titled Miss Grief, by an amazing, unsung writer named Constance Fenimore Woolson. Recently I was happily lost in a Dickens biography my intrepid friend and lovely writer Nancy snagged for me at a book sale. The list goes on and on. Thank you, one and all!
All this by way of saying that I now have open before me a book I treasure, The Short Story and Its Writer, given to me by Linda, my dear friend and great writer. It’s a goldmine of gorgeous writing and one of the best things about it is the amazing “Autobiographical Notes” section. A selection from James Baldwin:
“Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent – which attitude certainly has a great deal to support it. on the other hand, it is only because the world looks on his talent with such a frightening indifference that the artist is compelled to make his talent important. So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next – one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next.”
What a wise scribe. Haven’t we all felt at one time or another that there’s a “conspiracy against the cultivation” of our talent? And haven’t we all felt the “frightening indifference” with which the world views our work? And in the best of times, don’t we respond to that view by striving to make our “talent important?”
But most of all, I am drawn to these words, “the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other.” How true I’ve found this to be in my own writing life! A friend once quoted a wise teacher of hers who said, “the wound is the gift.” What powerful words. And how freeing to think that those very happenings that once hurt us now are helping us to be better, deeper, truer writers. Wisdom to ponder as we all write on.
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