Sparked by Words

My dear friend, Sarah, brilliant innovator over at Art Expedition

tagged me to participate in the

3-Day Quote Challenge

Thank you, Sarah, for thinking me worthy of this honor and hoping I have inspiring quotes to share.

For my second entry in the Quote Challenge, I want to highlight two of my favorite lines from writers. This was much harder than it might seem because both the quotes I’ve chosen are meaningful to me, yet so are a thousand others. Narrowing down to two quotes I could expand upon within the context of my own trials at writing made me search, think, choose, and do it all over again for the whole week before making my final choices. It’s why I wanted to put off completing this task to once a week for three weeks in a row rather than the three days in a row the challenge requests.

To begin, I chose Julian Barnes’ line from The Sense of an Ending, which describes the job of an astute observer.

“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”

I encourage you to read Barnes’ book because it’s an opus on how consciously we might live, especially if we realized before setting out in arrogant confidence that we know everything when we don’t get it whatsoever. Barnes manages to write in only 163 pages how much we squander of our life when seeing nothing important.

As an individual line, Barnes’ charges me to choose with discretion the parts of each story I write. Elimination is as essential as inclusion, and knowing which small gesture will illuminate a moment to carry the reader through is key. It’s also something I often miss on first draft. Second draft. Third. If I don’t get it by the fourth draft, I begin to suspect I can’t write, and this haunts me. I know I’m a decent writer, but a brilliant one? Not likely. I fumble.

In one exquisite line, Julian Barnes captured the golden moment of his story. I was touched so deeply by this line that it’s stayed with me since I read the book. It continues to imbue me with the effort to identify what is imperative – then to tell that story.

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. Her poetry kneels down and picks up clods of earth, not packed in a cup, but sifting through her fingers. She doesn’t write in curlicues meant to distract. Rather she searches for the visceral essence of life and pulls out the heart still beating. Then makes us look – smell – breathe – feel. We understand.

I’ve always believed poetry must be read aloud in order to internalize it. Oliver’s poetry crawls into my bones, waits quietly, whispers to me. She speaks in dulcet tones. From her poem, Evidence, this is what she says:

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”

Story should pry open our eyes and twist moments till, like a mobius strip, we trace the inevitable connection. If we want to read only the recorded facts, that’s a history or science book, not a work of poetry. Or fiction. The unimaginable drifts in, exposes sinews of flesh and flecks of silver, and reveals the thorns of truth through the shimmer in the water. What Oliver shows us is the wonder of life, life everywhere, innocently finding its flock and its children and its season. Not to be best or first or most, just to be.

We are taught in school to make an assessment, take note of all the details, write down names and dates, and be accurate in descriptions. But nowhere do we measure the movement of things once there, now absent but not wholly gone. I get caught up in the illusion of accuracy, minding my dates and maps, but they aren’t the important parts of story. Anyone can write technical notes.

It’s catching the remnant of energy that matters.

Julian Barnes and Mary Oliver suggest the kind of writing I want to effect. To share the memory more dimensional than history, the parcel of earth more life affirming than its problems. I want readers to grasp what I hold when my hand is empty, what I see when my eyes are closed.

In those tiny pulses of what is no longer there is something worth telling in a story.



Image courtesy Pixabay





Comments on: "3-Day Quote Challenge #2" (28)

  1. Jaya Singh said:

    I greatly loved the first quote. It was beautiful and very true. I would be glad if you could visit my blog.


  2. Thank you for linking me to this post!
    What fun! I have Julian Barnes’ “The Only Story” sitting at our bedside, just waiting to be read. I read his Sense of an Ending some years ago – time to read it again!

    And I love Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese. Haven’t read Evidence, though. Time to start my Christmas list.

    Your chosen quotes will give me much to think on this evening.


  3. I love both the quotes you chose, Shari, and that you explain why you´ve chosen them. But the one by Mary Oliver speaks to me the most. And yes, writing technical notes or scientific articles isn´t all that difficult and certainly don´t need a lot of imagination. But to capture the essence of life and all its wonders – that´s writing at its purest. And I for one think, that you do exactly that with your writings. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sarah, thanks for putting me on the spot to clarify my position.

      Actually, I didn’t mean at all to imply that writing technical or scientific books is not difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of research and knowledge to be able to do a good job in those fields. My younger son is a physicist and he told me that some of the outstanding people in his field who did excellent research had a very hard time writing about their discoveries. They couldn’t organize their material or write articulate sentences, their chapters meandered around the topic.

      The imagination necessary to conduct scientific research is enormous – researchers create hypotheses and then devise complex experiments to test them, requiring huge leaps of imaginative exploration. My son’s research took years of trial and error research. A boring history or science textbook proves how much good writing in the field is necessary.

      Students must take detailed notes from these works in order to become the next generation of scientists, but those notes are not imaginative – they’re practical. I know I’m a bit off track here, but I’m so sorry I gave the wrong impression about the skill of good technical writing.

      What I meant was that learning to write fiction takes paying astute attention to life, then distilling the observations to precise expressions of the most revealing events. Because of the way kids are taught in school, creative and poetic writing end up being long sentences describing every possible detail (essential for technical writing) without getting to the heart of what makes something tick. The focus of fiction is very different from the focus of history and science writing, but both are essential.

      As you can tell, I write volumes, whereas Mary Oliver condenses her acute observations into the briefest poetry and says more with her few words. I try to cut and slash the fluff from my writing, with less success.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry, I never mind long comments, actually I love them. 😉
        And I’m sorry if I have upset you in any way, Shari, it wasn’t my intention. I should have probably clarified that I did find writing scientific essays or my master’s thesis much easier than I do writing fiction, because there I knew where I was headed. Whereas when I write fiction (2 novels and a children’s book in the making 😉) I go where the muses take me.


      • I wasn’t upset at all, no offense taken, don’t even think of it. You gave me a chance to better think through what I’d written in the post.
        (I think we’ve covered this topic completely.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • ☺💕


  4. Good post and worthy quotes, Shari. This one–““What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” really resonates. Years ago, I bought Stephanie Coontz’ book, “The Way We Never Were”. We sure do misremember memories!


    • Exactly Barnes’ point, Jacqui. One of the reviewers for Sense of an Ending wrote that you’ll finish the book and go back to the first page to read it again. I dismissed the thought until I read the book and did exactly what the reviewer had said. I had to see everything that the protagonist and I had missed.

      I’ll have to look up the Coontz book.


  5. Sharon, I enjoyed reading this – especially your comments on Mary Oliver. (I too love her poetry.) So much to contemplate!


  6. Shari, within this beautiful post of quotes I found myself saving your own words for future reference. Your last sentence is wonderful: ‘In those tiny pulses of what is no longer there is something worth telling in a story.’ Mary Oliver is an exceptional poet and one I only discovered through WP. Her quote captures the essence of her work perfectly. It’s a long time since I read any Julian Barnes and this is a book I want to read – thank you for the recommendation! Your comment about the insistence by schools to take copious notes, assess works endlessly struck a chord with me – by the end of his English lessons my son was thoroughly fed up of the formulaic analysis – a real pity as he had a love of literature! It’s just starting to come back – now he’s studying sciences!


    • I am so humbled by your acknowledgment of my words – thank you, Annika.

      Unfortunately schools have fallen prey to the insistence of proof of learning, and that nearly always means numerical verification of what kids have achieved. Not what kids love to do, not cultural understanding, not curiosity or desire to create, just numbers and grafts. Most current curriculum have deadened kids to wanting to to do anything other than what they must do to get a grade. We may never, not here in the states, not in Europe, be able to instill a love of learning in all its facets because we’ve focused on the wrong goals and lost sight of the children we’re supposed to be teaching. Even the STEAM programs, experiential learning, and self directed learning approaches are falling far short. Everyone has to have a sheet or score to bang on the table. What a shame.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m with you Sharon – capturing that remnant of energy and imparting it in story is what is worthwhile to me. I enjoyed both your quotes and the reasons they are important to you in your writing.


  8. Really loved the keeping room in your heart. So much wisdom in this quote.


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