If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Writer's Envy

I cannot remember the time when I didn't consider myself to be 'A Writer.'  From quite a young age my parents indulged me and would encourage and listen (or at least pretend to listen and "um..." and "aha..." and nod and praise) to what I wrote - even when it was just scribbling on the page long before I learned to form conventional letters and words.  Not that I consider myself to be 'A REAL Writer' by any means - you know, one that other people will really read or follow or perhaps even consider publishing!  Even so, I still enjoy the feeling I get from putting thoughts on a page - even a virtual page - and the challenge I feel at selecting just the right word or phrase.  I feel a sense of accomplishment and an attitude of satisfaction when I express myself - even when I don't believe I have a REAL audience. 

That being said, I have also admired the written word and appreciate folks who can spin a yarn and turn a phrase to express themselves and those who have an identifiable voice - especially those who capture that 'something' which is easily relatable.  One of those folks for me is Rick Bragg. 

Maybe it is because he is a southerner and I am a dyed-in-the-wool southern woman who can identify with his brand of illustrating that with words.  Maybe it is because we are about the same age and have a shared body of cultural iconic history.  More than likely it is because he is truly a master of the craft of writing and is worthy of envy. 

Another of my favorite things is the Southern Living magazine.  Recently, this favorite has featured one of my other favorites - Rick Bragg.  So, I have two wonderful things rolled into one fabulous package. 

The August issue of the magazine has a series of writings by this man relating the experience of surviving a tornado.  I have read it over and over.  Each time it humbles me that I am so fortunate that I did not have to weather such an experience.  I also envy the way Bragg describes the experience. 

Almost nothing stood.
Where the awful winds bore down, massive oaks, 100 years old, were shoved over like stems of grass, and great pines, as big around as 55-gallon drums, snapped like sticks. Church sanctuaries, built on the Rock of Ages, tumbled into random piles of brick. Houses, echoing with the footfalls of generations, came apart, and blew away like paper. Whole communities, carefully planned, splintered into chaos. Restaurants and supermarkets, gas stations and corner stores, all disintegrated, glass storefronts scattered like diamonds on black asphalt. It was as if the very curve of the Earth was altered, horizons erased altogether, the landscape so ruined and unfamiliar that those who ran from this thing, some of them, could not find their way home.
We are accustomed to storms, here where the cool air drifts south to collide with the warm, rising damp from the Gulf, where black clouds roil and spin and unleash hell on Earth. But this was different, a gothic monster off the scale of our experience and even our imagination, a thing of freakish size and power that tore through state after state and heart after Southern heart, killing hundreds, hurting thousands, even affecting, perhaps forever, how we look at the sky.
But the same geography that left us in the path of this destruction also created, across generations, a way of life that would not come to pieces inside that storm, nailed together from old-fashioned things like human kindness, courage, utter selflessness, and, yes, defiance, even standing inside a roofless house.
As Southerners, we know that a man with a chain saw is worth 10 with a clipboard, that there is no hurt in this world, even in the storm of the century, that cannot be comforted with a casserole, and that faith, in the hereafter or in neighbors who help you through the here and now, cannot be knocked down.

If I was still in a classroom mentoring students toward writing proficiency, I would probably use this as a touchstone text.  It would be one each student had a copy of, pasted into his/her writer's daybook, and referred back to almost daily.  It shows his mastery at sentence structure.  It shows a rich descriptive which captures an emotion and an experience, which allows the reader to almost experience the writer's own.  The use of figurative language and literary devices transports the mind's eye to another place and time.  The imagery appeals to senses beyond just the simplistic words on the page to allow readers to almost smell and feel and taste and hear the author's experience. 

I wish I could do that.


*  If you would like to read the entire feature, you can go HERE.  Enjoy!