Sunny's bookshelf
Sunny's bookshelf photo by Judy Solomon

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The Story of a Happy Marriage

Reading Journal 2023, The Art of Writing, Or Not

Reading Journal 2023 – A gifted book of Patchett essays in which the 2nd essay, The Getaway Car may drive you back to writing.

My niece, Harper Swenson, visited Ann Patchett’s bookstore, Parnassus Books, and sent me a warmly signed copy of This is The Story of a Happy Marriage. She told Patchett that I was a book reviewer and a retired bookseller. A second book, The Shop Dogs of Parnassus, was included, with a personal “Woof” from Sparky. Never have I been so compelled to read two books. I am only partway through the second essay, The Getaway Car. I’m not far enough into this essay to understand the “car” or the “getaway.” What I do understand are these two sentences: “Art stands on the shoulders of craft, which means that to get to the art you must master the craft. If you want to write, practice writing.” The art of writing?

Just writing the word “practice” brings back my mother’s voice: “No going outside, young lady, until you practice your The Michael Aaron Piano Course Grade Twopiano!” Michael Aaron Piano Course, Grade Two never came close to the fun of playing Texas Rangers vs. Poncho Villa in the Oakland hills. I have never been good at practicing – not piano, not exercising, not dieting.

Patchett’s words remind me of Anne Lamott’s advice about writing, bird by bird, which, some years ago, worked for a while. Even though this has been a tough couple of years for me, I feel guilty that I do not practice my writing with any regularity. I may get my book reviews finished by their deadlines, but that usually means I reward myself with days that include everything but writing. To close in on writing, I read, read, read. And I think a lot between reading. I think about what I might write about if I write about what I am reading; about where that reading takes me. Like Patchett’s The Getaway Car taking me to this essay about the art of writing, or not.

I understand that at my advanced age, the amount of transformative time in which to advance practicing anything, with enough regularity to transform it into a habit is limited. I never mastered the piano, but a daily exercise routine is now a habit. Drinking a sufficient amount of water every day is almost a habit. Deep down, my habit-avoidance is not a mystery. I’ve spent enough money and time with Bay Area shrinks to know I do not need a map for the road less traveled. I have now talked myself into a 500-word commitment to be accomplished three times a week. How hard can that be? This is day one.

I’m going to finish Patchett’s book, but the damage is done. It’s almost 10:30 pm, and I’ve already reached 393 words, so 500 words a day, three days a week, won’t kill me. I’m not an organized person. I will have to work around my disorganization. If I can do the thirty minutes of exercise every day, I can damned well find the time to write.

Over 500! Art, or not?  –  Sunny Solomon

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