Buechner’s Magic Kingdom

I finished reading Frederick Buechner’s The Eyes of the Heart: a memoir of the lost and found last week, after starting it two years ago. It didn’t take that long to read because of the length; it’s only 180 pages. Rather, every time I picked it up, I couldn’t help but start back at chapter two once again, with its touching account of his lifelong friendship with the poet Jimmy Merrill. In their early 20’s, Buechner and Merrill shared a house for a summer on a small island off the coast of Maine, where they both worked on their first books. Buechner, writing these words fifty plus years after the events described therein, describes beautifully the process of growing up, of finding out who you are.

Looking back, I think I see now how Jimmy and I were not much better than my characters at communicating with each other the innermost truth of who we were, not, I think, because it was a truth that either of us shied away from sharing-what made us such fast friends was that there was no topic we shied away from-but because we were only beginning to glimpse it ourselves. The selves we were beginning to grow into that summer were still in the shadowy wings awaiting their entrance cues… In the meantime we went on being the only selves we knew how to be just then[.]

Finally, though, I kept reading past the second chapter, and found a lovely passage in chapter three where he describes his library and some of his favorite books. Continue reading

“I write to change my own mind”

I came across an interview this week with Marilynne Robinson in The Paris Review in which she talks a good bit about her writing process, and the answers she gives are very close to the way I would answer those questions. It’s one reason I find it worth my time to read interviews with authors whose work I value, to see how they are able to put into words the kind of things that I, more often than not, am also trying to sort through. Upon being asked if writing came easily to her, Robinson answered, “The difficulty of it cannot be overstated. But at its best, it involves a state of concentration that is a satisfying experience, no matter how difficult or frustrating. The sense of being focused like that is a marvelous feeling.”

Although she is probably best known for her fiction, she has several published collections of essays, and gave this answer when asked why she writes essays: Continue reading