Submitted by Blogger of the Month, Letty Watt
“Her marriage had been like a new silk dress, so beautiful and undulating, except that after a while the edges of the sleeves grayed, there is a spot of wine, the hem drags…” While reading Anna Quindlen’s Still Life with Bread Crumbs I was struck by her descriptions, from similes to metaphors, and how easily I could recall a scene when written with figurative language. After all, I’ve been a teacher all of my life, and truly believe in the art of writing. Now I read for pure pleasure and delight. My imagination relies on the printed word to be powerful and descriptive so that I recall it by pictures, feelings both tactile and emotional, smells, sounds, and sometimes by drooling over tasty words.
Gail E. Haley, children’s award-winning illustrator and author, once showed a picture she’d drawn in a book called Birdsong to a group of children, and asked them if they could hear how noisy the page became when she opened the book. As you might guess, the children leaped to her side and began pointing at all of the noises occurring in that picture. The setting was of a village market place in a time long ago where an old woman sold captured birds in cages. Then tweet by tweet the children began to imitate the sounds of the birds on the page, the clanking of the pots and pans in the background, the chatter of the people selling and buying their wares, the clump of the horse’s hooves, the barking of the alley dogs, and the hungry meow of the cat looking at the caged bird. Like a stage production without a director the wind began to whoosh as a child flapped her wings, another child began to eat the soup, which led another to gobble down apples and oranges from the fruit stand. I laughed and joined in by humming some childhood song. Then the author closed the book and the noise stopped. That moment was like a whish back in time where I honestly thought I could smell that market place, all because of an imaginative idea that brought a picture in a book to life.
Walking Nature Home, a Life’s Journey by Susan J. Tweit shows the structure of her memoir in the landscape of the sky. Her chapters begin: Orion, Aries, Virgo… Each constellation in Tweit’s memoir suggests anticipation. “We walked downtown hand in hand, leaning into the waves of air that poured through the streets.” As the character in the story crisscrosses the decades and the countryside, so does the reader, and along the way we remember places she’s been because her language made it visceral. We felt the sting of the icy fog, the steady rain of snowflakes; we watched a raven suddenly fold its wings like a crumpled black leaf and somersault earthwards; we imagined pain so bad that it ate her mother’s appetite.
Most recently, I read The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney, a NYT bestselling novel about the Plumb family engulfed in emotional strife over the anticipated trust fund that was nearly dismantled by the arrogant oldest brother, Leo. Metaphors, irony, symbols, descriptive language, and thematic issues illuminate what money does to relationships. Each sibling is vividly portrayed: “Leo regarded the whole picture warily, like it was an opalescent shell found on the beach that was concealing something unsavory inside.”; “For Melody all the years of coupon cutting, working on the house (her nest) until her hands were cracked and bleeding…in the distance her fortieth birthday (dispensing of the trust fund) glowed like a distant lighthouse flashing its beam of rescue.” Along with the family of four the plot weaves through the demons and sorrows of 9/11; the broken limbs and souls from battle in Afghanistan to car wrecks and lust; the cost of establishing careers, and the consequences for choices made.
Words painted to describe our senses coax the reader to imagine another world, not in black and white print, but in full illumination of life’s journeys and emotions.
Writing soothes my soul and clears my mind. I began writing my weekly blog, Literally Letty, with the purpose of building a repertoire of stories for telling aloud, and experimenting with style. Now I write because stories, hidden in the recesses of my mind, are begging to be shared.