Tuesday, September 21, 2010


In late August, I began going to school in New York City, and soon realized that there is too much to see in this busy metropolis.

But I keep forgetting to bring my camera with me. I wish I could store images in my head like I do on my camera's memory card. Yet, when I go back and try to remember, I find I have lost the important details. Or perhaps it is that I am remembering only the details that stood out to me: the rich mulberry of the art-deco uniforms worn by staff at the Empire State Building, the smell of fresh bread wafting out of Zaro's in Grand Central, the woman who leaves the train with a little white dog peeking his head out of of her pocketbook, the small boy in the subway station who must think it is Carnegie Hall because he has set up his piano keyboard and is playing Mozart's Alla Turca as if his life depended on it...the cracks in the sidewalk, the buildings that you can only see completely if you crane your neck back till it hurts, tourists who feel as if they didn't belong here, thousands of tourists who stop in the middle of sidewalks to check their maps while people who do belong here are pushing past them to get to work, to get to school, to get to a train, to hail a taxi, to do something, to be somewhere, who are happy as long as they keep moving...

"If you imagine an ordinary moment
at an intersection in New York City,
and there is a pause because there is a streetlight,
and some people are stopped and others in motion,
and some cars are stopped and others in motion;
if you were to put that into film terms as a “freeze frame”
and hold everything for a second,
you would realize
that there’s a universe there of totally disparate intentions,
everybody going about his or her business
in the silence of their own minds,
with everybody else
and the street
and the time of day
and the architecture
and the quality of the light
and the nature of the weather
as a kind of background or field for the individual consciousness
and the drama that it is making for itself at that moment,
and you think about that,
that’s what happens in the city,
in that somehow the city can embrace and accept and accommodate
all that disparate intention,
at one and the same time,
not only on that corner,
but on thousands of corners.
It's really an astonishing thing. . . . ." - E. L. Doctorow, New York: A Documentary Film

My favorite book on writing is Flannery O'Connor's Mystery and Manners. If you write or love writing (or are a fan of O'Connor or simply want to enjoy some beautiful prose), read this book. When poring over the book for the second time this summer, one passage in particular stood out to me. O'Connor writes,
I have a friend who is taking acting lessons from a Russian lady who is supposed to be very good at teaching actors. My friend wrote me that the first month they didn't speak a line, they only learned to see. Now learning to see is the basis of all the arts except music. I know a good many fiction writers who paint, not because they're any good at painting, but because it helps their writing. It forces them to look at things. Fiction writing is very seldom a matter of saying things; it is a matter of showing things...Any discipline can help your writing: logic, mathematics, theology, and of course and particularly drawing. Anything that helps you to see, anything that makes you look. The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn't require his attention.
Never be ashamed to stare (or eavesdrop, for that matter). It may seem rude, but I'm sure that O'Connor would agree that proper and undetected staring is an art form and most writers can do it quite well. After all, can we truly believe that the stuff of many of O. Henry's short stories was not lifted from the conversations he overheard at Pete's Tavern?

Why do I care about all this? Because here am I, commuting to school in New York City, the largest city in the United States, hoping that these rich and varied noises, these crowds, these buildings will somehow shatter my writer's block.

I will keep my eyes and ears open. I will remember to bring my camera. And I will share what I experience here on this blog.

This quote inspires me:

"Dawn in the big city. There are eight million stories out there." - Metropolitan

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Posted by Nicole Bianchi at 8:58 PM


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