On the Human Heart and Writing

One of the nice things about writing is that it’s easy to find and read people 1000x more talented than you. So while traveling on arguably the fastest train in the world in Japan, I took a break from my own writing and picked up The Best American Essays of 2005 and came across these two paragraphs. Aren’t they wonderful?

On hearts:

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one, in the end — not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts are finally bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words "I have something to tell you," a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making panckes for his children. – Brian Doyle in The American Scholar

On writing:

Writing is mysterious, and it’s supposed to be. Craft guides a writer at every step, as does knowledge of earlier work; we accomplish little without those foundations. Research can help, if it feeds the imagination and generates ideas; a plan is also a wonderful thing, if a writer’s imagination works that way. Groping blindly, following glimmers of structure and sound, is far from the only way; other writers work differently to good effect, and any path that gets you there is a good path in the end. But one true thing among all these paths is the need to tap a deep vein of connection between our own uncontrollable interior preoccupations and what we’re most concerned about in the world around us. We write in response to that world; we write in response to what we read and learn; and in the end we write out of our deepest selves, the live, breathing, bleeding place where the pictures form, and where it all begins. – Andrea Barrett in The Kenyon Review

11 Responses to On the Human Heart and Writing

  1. Jude says:

    Well, these quotations are okay.

    Like you, I’ve collected quotations from my reading which spoke to me in one way or another. Usually, they still speak to me three decades later, but sometimes I think, “Why was I so excited by that quotation?” Sometimes they mean more in context than they do in isolation. Neither of these quotations means much to me. It will be interesting for you to see if they still mean as much in twenty or thirty years.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    Jude — I agree that quotes out of context are less powerful!

  3. Tim Taylor says:

    Ben,

    I absolutely love the first quote. It eloquently describes the illusory and unnecessarily lonely nature of life.

    The second one is a little confusing as it is a wonderful case for how our future is always a derivative of our past. At the same time reading books is what motivated me to write my own.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Samson says:

    Jude is too cool for school. I think both your selections are moving. Thank you.

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  6. Writing is mysterious, and it’s supposed to be. Craft guides a writer at every step, as does knowledge of earlier work; we accomplish little without those foundations. Research can help, if it feeds the imagination and generates ideas; a plan is also a wonderful thing, if a writer’s imagination works that way

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