March 10, 2004

The Spirit of Writing
Edited by Mark Robert Waldman

Old Age, New Age -- The last time I shopped in the Transitions Bookstore with the magicians Eugene Burger and Robert Charles (browsing books on spirituality is something we do for fun on late Friday nights after a big meal and much wine), Eugene stopped us in the doorway on the way out, turned around to face the row upon row of books, mystically raised his left hand and proclaimed, "All of these books -- and not a single fact in one of them." We laughed aloud, which is something of a revolutionary act in Transitions because the place is filled with so much incense and sincerity that you just want to scream, "Lighten up!" But we keep returning because every now and then we find a gem shelved between the mumbo-jumbo and, what the hell, you've got to love a place that positions the books promoting Peace, Harmony and Trust beside signs warning: "We prosecute shoplifters!!!" The Spirit of Writing is one gem Robert found for me. True to its red-flag title, the collection contains some indigestible New Age-y essays; but it also showcases solid observations from some of the Greats. From Joseph Conrad: "Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world." From Samuel Beckett: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better." From Rainer Maria Rilke: "There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place in your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for one true answer, And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, 'I must,' then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge." And from Tom Robbins, advice put a bit more bluntly: "You should always write with an erection. Even if you're a woman."

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