from The Folded Clock: a diary by Heidi Julavits


When I write, I am trying through the movement of my fingers to reach my head. I’m trying to build a word ladder to my brain. p 5

One of my girls stopped into the Library the other day. A few weeks ago I had sent her mom an email telling her about the release date for the latest Penderwicks and here was N to tell me in person how excited she was. It was at the top of her holiday wish list just as a pre-order. But, she said, now that there was a date attached, it was becoming real. Then she proceeded to tell me about her holiday plans and her afterschool activities. She seemed so happy and at ease in Middleschool. It struck me as a bit odd that the books she talked about were grown up books, thrilling ones featuring assassins and intrigue. They didn’t seem like books the girl I knew would read. Suddenly it hit me that she is at such an interesting juncture in her life. It was tricky enough to wrap my head around this juxtaposition: here she is dabbling in the adult world, and at the same time, taking comfort in the books and objects of the past. Then she did the funniest thing, she pulled out her phone and read to me some of the quotes she had recorded from the books she’d been reading. One of them said something like ‘She wore her scars like a woman wears fine jewelry.’ We talked about sentences that shine and that writing them down (or putting them on one’s phone) is like a souvenir of the trip, it makes the journey all the more real.

Everywhere I look there are sentences. Flying around like birds, stacking on each other like blocks. When I’m staring at my blank screen trying desperately to add something to the NIP (novel in progress) adding a line to the page is my own version of ‘put one foot in front of the other.’ I put something down and it spurs another thought, or an idea bubbles up. I just try to keep moving forward. I pause, I rest, I will the words to come. Then I remember that the authors I admire, the wordsmiths I adore, write the very same way. When they put words on a page they may or may not be in love with them, but they keep going. And eventually their projects reach completion and get published. As I reader I hope that somewhere in their accumulation of words is a sentence that sparkles and shimmers. When my eyes pass over such beauty and my heart engages, I sit up and take notice. I see these collections of letters as a present, some sent from the author specifically to me (or so it feels) and unwrapping them is the most pleasurable experience I can imagine. Words, words, words I can think of no lovelier gift.

I read an article yesterday in which Salman Rushdie was quoted as saying: ‘Literature happens at the level of the sentence.’ As a writer it’s what I hope for as a reader it’s what I long for. I have journals filled with quotes from books that I love. Occasionally, in times of need, I whisper ‘All my pleasures are homey ones…’ or ‘There are books that I love, love love.’ or ‘Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.” or ‘One does not love breathing.’ or ‘I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.’

How about you, which sentences sit in your heart?

To read more of the article about Rushdie:

Sentences that shine:

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