Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The best moment of the day

I've been on a major reading jag lately, most recently finishing up Nicholson Baker's book The Anthologist, which is about a poet who is procrastinating writing the introduction to an anthology of poems. Like Fellini's 8 1/2, a movie about a director who doesn't know what to make a movie about, Baker's book is a game of formalism, where writing about not being able to write becomes the novel. Towards the end of the book, the main character, Paul Chowder, gives a lecture about writing poetry, and there is a bit of business about the best moment of the day that is just absolute loveliness.

And then a man of forty or so, with a French accent, asked, ‘How do you achieve the presence of mind to initiate the writing of a poem?’ And something cracked open in me, and I finally stopped hoarding and told them my most useful secret. The only secret that has helped me consistently over all the years that I’ve written. I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you how. I ask a simple question. I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?’ The wonder of it was, I told them, that this one question could lift out from my life exactly what I will want to write a poem about. Something that I hadn’t known was important will leap up and hover there in front of me, saying I am—I am the best moment of the day. I noticed two people were writing down what I was saying. Often, I went on, it’s a moment when you’re waiting for someone, or you’re driving somewhere, or maybe you’re just walking diagonally across a parking lot and you’re admiring the oil stains and the dribbled tar patterns. One time it was when I was driving past a certain house that was screaming with sunlitness on its white clapboards, and then I plunged through tree shadows that splashed and splayed over the windshield. You, windshield shadows, you are the best moment of the day. ‘And that’s my secret, such as it is,’ I said.
—Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster, 2009)

Here's the best moment of one of my days recently...a winter's afternoon at the Great Swamp in Chatham, NJ.


Anonymous said...

Well that was the best moment of my day today. A little drip of hope. Splat. Thanks, Sar.

Marla McLean, Atelierista said...

Thank you for that and the photo too.

Beth Tondreau said...

Beautiful bit of business; brilliant nod to the glory of small things—and a great poetic antidote to the ever-present (at least to me) procrastination issue.

Speaking of procrastination, I keep mentioning James Surowiecki's . . . New Yorker article about procrastination.

(It's one of the most e-mailed articles.)

Beth Tondreau said...

Continuing thoughts about writing, or creating anything, I offer a gem embedded in an e-mail from my friend, Joy Haney, a London artist and writer:
"The art of household neglect is the first step towards making art."

Suzanne Dell'Orto said...

I'm loving the procrastination article (and it seems writers just love to write about it!). But maybe I'll procrastinate finishing it.

Tommy Salami said...

That's a great way to write. Doesn't have to be the best moment, just the most memorable.