Tag Archives: Marion Dane Bauer

Wholeheartedness

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I think our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be broken-hearted.
Brene Brown

In Memoriam

Marion and Dawn

Marion and Dawn

The first time I ever saw her, she was so tiny I could hold her in my cupped hands.  I remember that she was uneasy about being gathered off the ground, and the whites shone at the edge of her large brown eyes as she peered up at me.

She was a Cavalier King Charles puppy, and I named her Dawn in honor of her gleaming ruby fur.

Whenever I take this kind of love into my life—and aren’t puppies the very definition of love?—I know I am taking on loss, too.  And I know that loss is inevitable.  And yet I didn’t hesitate.

Though I knew this loving would change me.

When Dawn went stone deaf at the age of three she was bewildered at the loss of so important a part of her world.  It was clear that she knew something was missing.  With no noise distractions, she began to sleep more deeply.  If I went downstairs from my study and forgot to rouse her from her spot beneath my desk, she would wake and, hearing nothing to let her know where I might be, tromp next door into my bedroom.  She would jump up onto the bed, face the far wall and say, “Woof.”  A deep pause.  Then “Woof” again.  Another pause.  Another “Woof!”  And on and on.

I’d hear her from downstairs and say, “Oh, my poor deaf dog,” and hurry back up, reach across the bed to touch her into awareness, then motion her to come back down with me.  She always followed happily as though she never would have known how to find me without my guidance.  (I’m pretty deaf myself, so my empathy was always at the ready.)

That was all fine until Dawn decided she enjoyed the game so much that she would leave us eating dinner or watching television downstairs and go upstairs to my bed to start the woof game.

She was a dog of strong opinions.  If I returned from our twice-daily walk before she felt she’d had her due, she would stand back at the end of the leash as I opened the door, refusing to come inside.  Or if I took a route she didn’t approve of, she would brace against the pull of the leash and, when I looked back, give me a long, steadying, meaningful look.

Sometimes I let her win.

Because sometimes giving over is a good thing and because sometimes it seemed good for my small dog to have the power.

When my partner brought a four-year-old, twelve-pound, one-eyed Sheltie named Sadie into our family, Dawn, half again her weight, gave ground instantly.  She gave a whole lot of ground, in fact, because when she gave ground I rescued her.  (As you can tell, I’m easily trained.)  When I’d go out of town, however, Dawn would quit waiting for rescue and take her rightful place in the room, on the couch, or whatever other space might be under contention, ignoring the little Sadie-bully entirely.

She and Sadie could collaborate, though.  One rule in our family was that dogs had to go down the flight of steps from the deck to the backyard to relieve themselves before they could have their bedtime treat.  We began after a time to suspect that the relieving was happening a bit too fast, so one night I stood at the top of stairs to observe when they went down.  The two dogs ran down the stairs, side by side, stopped at the bottom, turned to look at one another, and then, by mutual consent, ran back up the stairs.

When I sent them back they did what they were supposed to do with a resigned air.

Dawn died shortly before her eleventh birthday, a reasonably venerable age for a cavalier, though not long enough for me.  Not nearly long enough for me.

Sadie doesn’t seem to miss her.  I’ve always suspected that she was meant to be an only dog.  (Sadie came from a hoarding situation.)

But I miss her.  Oh, I do.

Write with the Door Closed …

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Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.

Stephen King, On Writing, a Memoir of the Craft

Revision, Then and Now

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I have always revised.  Of course.  Every writer does.

But revision has come to be a very different thing than it was when I began publishing in 1976.  Then I worked at a typewriter.  At first it was the 1956 manual portable (beige with white keys) Smith Corona typewriter that had been my high school graduation gift.

Eventually I moved on from that to an electric typewriter (it made pondering moments a bit tense by sitting there humming at me) and then to an electronic one.  One of those machines, an IBM Selectric, was self-correcting, meaning if you caught an error while the page was still in front of you, you could flip a switch and type backwards, whiting out the words you wanted gone.  I learned to type as rapidly backwards as forwards.

But always when I worked on a typewriter I had a routine for revising.  I triple-spaced my original draft, leaving room while the page was still in the typewriter to go back right then to type in changes.  Once the page was out of the typewriter, I could write in my changes by hand.

When a page became too cluttered with revisions, I would retype it, switching to a different color of paper.  I changed the colors with each draft, which allowed me at a glance to know how long a particular page had been part of the manuscript.  (What use that knowledge was I’m no longer sure, but the practice gave me a pleasantly colorful manuscript during these early stages.)

Looking back at that cumbersome process—typing, correcting, retyping—and thinking what it is like today to write from first draft through every level of revision on a computer screen, I have to smile.  The smile is one of delight.  I love today’s technology!

I love the way it takes so much of the physical labor out of the process of writing.

I love the way it allows me to finesse every detail of a manuscript every time I look at it.

I love the way I can save multiple drafts, so I can experiment with a piece and still, should I need to, return to its earlier form.

I love the way Word challenges my spelling, even leaps in to correct common mistakes before my fingers notice they have stumbled.

And I love the way I can save reams and reams of manuscripts, from the failed to the already published, inside one small box.

Remembering those typewriters, I wonder, in fact, whether I ever truly revised before.  Certainly the process now is more organic, more fluid, more deeply intuitive.

I have never reread my early books to try to weigh them against the work I do now. Even if I did, there would be, of course, no way of knowing whether the changes I might see were based on the freedom offered by today’s technology or whether they would simply represent a writer’s natural growth in mastery.

But every single time I sit down to write today, I rejoice.  I rejoice at the way I can slip in and out of a manuscript, shaping, smoothing, enriching, culling.  I rejoice in the power under my fingertips that makes revision downright fun!

I remember those old manuscripts, the piles of brightly colored pages.  I remember the final process of retyping the whole blasted thing—with carbon paper so I would still have a copy when I entrusted the original to the post office—and I am so, so glad to live in the 21st Century.

Yes, I know.  The 21st Century has its problems.  Enormous ones.  And we aren’t doing much to resolve them.

But oh . . . the technology that makes it possible to create on a computer—and revise, revise, revise—isn’t one of them!

Writers Need Other Writers!

One day, back in the years when I taught writing in various adult-education venues in my home community, I opened my back door to find a young man on my doorstep.  He was one of my students, and his face was creased with concern.

“Marion,” he said, “how long does it take to write a novel?”

I might have laughed except it was so serious a question.  He was working on a novel, had been working on it for some months, I knew, and his girlfriend, his parents, his friends had all ganged up on him.

Aren’t you finished with that thing yet?  What’s wrong with you?  Why are you wasting your time?

I invited him in and assured him that his process, the length of it, the difficulty of it, was absolutely normal.  And when he left, I held him and his bewildering isolation in my heart.

Writers need other writers!

At whatever stage of our careers we find ourselves, poking a toe into the cold water of a first manuscript or polishing a story for an impatient editor, it is too easy to drown in the isolation our work demands.  And the truth is that most of those we love and live with don’t get it!  They don’t have a clue about and sometimes even resent the way we spend our days, and if we try to bring them into our circle, their eyes have a way of glazing over.

I remind myself from time to time that there are many others who can’t share the details of their working day with those they live with, often because their work is so technical that other folks wouldn’t understand if they tried.  But most of those people have co-workers around them during the day, others who do understand their process, who appreciate the significance of their work.

They don’t spend their days alone in a room rummaging through the contents of their own minds day after day after day.

I’ll say it again.  Writers need other writers!

Over the years I have satisfied that profound need partly, of course, by searching out other writers and keeping them close.  But because writers tend to be scattered, I have also served my need for legitimization, for understanding, for authentication by teaching.

Teaching developing writers keeps me in touch with others who love writing.

I have taught in many different venues, including my last and most satisfying position with Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.  When I left VCFA, I was ready for retirement and glad to be able to focus entirely on my own work.  But while I continued to value my freedom from the demands of an MFA program, isolation crept back in.

Is there anyone else in the world doing this thing I am attempting, day after quiet day?

That was until my good friend, VCFA grad, and National Book Award finalist, Debby Dahl Edwardson, came to me with her dream.  Debby lives in Alaska now, but she grew up in Minnesota.  And she used to spend her summers on Elbow Lake in the pristine wilderness of northern Minnesota.  That place became part of her writer’s soul, and she has long wanted to share it with other writers.

LoonSong

Debby’s dream came to fruition as LoonSong, a writer’s retreat, and LoonSong has brought me back into the company of writers, writers talking writing.  What a blessing it has been!  This coming September, from the 6th through the 10th, we will gather for the third time, and I can already feel my energy rising as I move toward the event.

The retreatants come from every part of the country and represent every level of experience.  The faculty is always stellar.  (Check the website, www.LoonSong.org.)  And the conversation—oh, the all-day, all-evening conversation!—is nurturing and challenging and the best way I know to break through writerly isolation.

Come join us.  It’s a very small retreat, a boutique experience, and there are still a few slots left.

I would love to meet you there.

I would love to sit down and talk with you about this unique, blessed, complicated work that occupies our lives.

And then we will carry one another home in our hearts, banishing the isolation for another year!