Content Tagged ‘Bill Roorbach’

Depicting others

April 10, 2015 | 12 Comments

Lie, steal, remake?

April 22, 2014 | 4 Comments

As a lifelong writing student, I’ve resisted writing prompts—a lazy doubting stubbornness that’s fading as I see repeatedly in my classes their utility and power. Spurred by an exercise, my “Writing Life Stories” students have just produced some of their best work of the semester.

I can’t go into the stories my students told. But suffice it to say that their essays’ opening lies—in their yearning and often-iconic specifics—take on such power, resonance, and frequently sadness as we learn the truth. Yet the retrospective wisdom fostered by the nature and placement of the truth-telling narrator makes it all moving, bearable, and a gift.

A former neighbor and hired helper of mine, whom I portray as Sam in my book Shepherd: A Memoir, used to call daffodils “Easter flowers.” I doubt Sam knew their “real” name, and his folk-poetry label for the Narcissus species spoke volumes.

Right now, in a perennial bed paces from where I write, my daffodils ordered last Fall are up and blooming for the first time. I’d planted them in the root system of a massive silver maple, and feared I hadn’t gotten them deep enough. Maybe they didn’t all make it. Yet now, at least some are blooming and some will replicate, Spring’s very essence. Their white and yellow faces form a luminous statement of hope and joy—indeed of rebirth—in this weary world. There they’ll endure, annually remaking what’s so old into news that’s forever so new.

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Grading essays to the Beatles

October 4, 2013 | 7 Comments

The Beatles’ playfully creative upbeat tunes buoy my spirits as I grade student essays. Mostly I play late albums, usually Abbey Road or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sometimes The Beatles (aka The White Album) or Magical Mystery Tour. Since I’m a boomer, this choice is freighted with nostalgia. One of these days, I’ll burst into tears. I’m getting choked up right now, listening to John Lennon’s surreal reminiscence, “Strawberry Fields Forever.” Oh, that tender musical intro by Paul McCartney . . . his Mellotron keyboard a ghostly calliope.

And how is it possible that McCartney follows “Strawberry Fields” on Magical Mystery Tour with his own masterpiece musical memoir, “Penny Lane”?

It’s not possible. But there it is.

So mostly my listening experience is characterized by my amazement of the band’s artistry and output. They became such sophisticated musicians (a nod here to their great teammate, producer George Martin), and as they grew they created songs of delicious musical complexity and thematic richness.

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Learning the craft, part two

May 13, 2013 | 17 Comments

In writing, I learn, it’s wise to emphasize love over discipline.   This is part two of a three-part series on the major lessons I learned while writing Shepherd: A Memoir, which is scheduled to be published in Spring 2014.  There’s a common notion that self-discipline is a freakish peculiarity of writers—that writers differ from other people by possessing enormous and equal portions of talent and willpower.  They grit their powerful teeth and go into their little rooms. I think that’s a bad …

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John McPhee on writer’s block

April 28, 2013 | 24 Comments

McPhee explains loving revision, I rename this blog Draft No. 4. If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer. —John McPhee Thursday night, I told my wife about my notion …

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On hating a memoirist

July 28, 2012 | 41 Comments

Another nonfiction issue: judging a book by its author?  I know of nothing more difficult than knowing who you are, and having the courage to share the reasons for the catastrophe of your character with the world.—William Gass As my previous three posts indicate, I admire Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I devoured it as a reader and also loved how I could raid her techniques for my own memoir. So …

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Studying ‘Wild’ for its structure

July 20, 2012 | 16 Comments

Cheryl Strayed’s memoir is narrative-driven but reflective.  Every book has its inherent impossibility. For Wild it was about me walking alone through the wilderness for 94 days; it could have been really boring. The challenge there was to convey what was happening inside of me. The trail was always there, that was the great constant, but I was always different on the trail.—Cheryl Strayed in an interview I threw out the first act of my memoir in June—it was too …

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