Thursday, September 06, 2007

Three by Annie Dillard (and one more)


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
An American Childhood
The Writing Life.

"Ezekiel excoriates false prophets as those who have 'not gone up into the gaps.' The gaps are the thing...the gaps are the clefts in the rock where you cower to see the back parts of God; they are the fissures between mountains and cells the wind lances through, the icy narrowing fjords splitting the cliffs of mystery. Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too. Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn and unlock - more than a maple - a universe. This is how you spend this afternoon, and tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon. Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you."

-- Pilgrim at Tinker Creek --

Why, why, why did it take me years, decades even, to love Annie Dillard? I tried, over and over, to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, but I think I needed to become more of an introvert to finally "get" her.

As we left for our week of heaven-on-earth in Oregon, I found myself grabbing my three-in-one Annie Dillard that included the elusive Pilgrim, tucking the book in the door pocket as we drove off for our pre-dawn escape north. We drove as far as Tonia's the first day, and Dillard would most likely have sat there like a forgotten mascot if I hadn't plunked down in a comfy chair and found myself staring at the same book on Tonia's table by the window. What perfect timing! For my few minutes of quiet before helping with dinner, I read, and I made the wise choice to start with An American Childhood rather than Pilgrim. I was hooked.
"For as long as I could remember, I had been transparent to myself, unselfconscious, learning, doing, most of every day. Now I was in my own way; I myself was a dark object I could not ignore. I couldn't remember how to forget myself. I didn't want to think about myself, to reckon myself in, to deal iwth myself every livelong minute on top of everything else - but swerve as I might, I couldn't avoid it. I was a boulder blocking my own path. I was a dog barking between my own ears, a barking dog who wouldn't hush.

So this was adolescence."

-- An American Childhood --

Was it the beautiful surroundings, or finally having time with my friend who loves Dillard? Perhaps, or maybe it was just the right time. Whatever the reason, I made my way through all three books, finishing them while we were still at the beach. Now I understand why Tonia and my dear niece The Autumn Rain and so many others have quoted her writing. Her word choices paint vivid pictures of people and places and feelings.
"Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered?"

-- The Writing Life --

With a gift certificate to use at amazon.com, I bought Annie Dillard's new novel, The Maytrees. I can hardly wait to get started.
"The Maytrees were young long ago."

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