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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Writers, memory and a firefly's glow

Check out Chip Scanlon’s column in Poynter today about Dan Barry's new memoir, "Pull Me Up." The NYT’s “About New York” columnist's comments are a perfect illustration to Monday's post about writing about your life. I've not read Dan's book and I'm not a regular reader of his columns. I plan to, though, after reading this interview because I like the person I find here.

Scanlon asks, "What was the biggest surprise about writing the book?" And Barry responds, "That I managed to get over that bog Irish inner voice asking me who the hell do I think I am, writing a memoir. At 46 what have I done that's so important for all the world to know. The answer, of course, is nothing in particular.

"But that bog Irish voice never left me as I wrote, forcing me time and again to try and nudge the stories up to a level of telling that would make them stand alone AND have universal engagement. So that was a surprise, and I thank my Irish ghosts," he said.

His gave himself permission to write his stories, then sought a way to make them connect universally with readers. I'm curious to see how he succeeds. And he makes an important point about the value of this kind of writing to the creative spirit:

"I found that writing the memoir recharged my batteries. For a couple of years I wrote without any certainty that the manuscript would ever get published. Nevertheless, I looked forward to getting up early every morning, before work, and writing stories that had no specific deadline or urgency. I found myself being more daring with the language, and less concerned with having a nut graph. I took more attempts at humor, more attempts at describing people and places with unexpected images. I used voices in the first person, second person, and third person. Writing free-style, I threw images down on the page as fast as they came to me, then took my time separating the good writing from the bad writing. It was liberating; it was fun.

"After 20 years as a daily newspaper reporter, I needed the reminder to notice the little things. I swear, I hadn't thought about the wonder of fireflies since I was a boy. Then, during the treatment for my illness (cancer), I remembered fireflies. And while writing this book, I thought of the childhood habit of catching fireflies in glass jars and watching their luminescence for a moment or two. And it struck me: that's what we do as writers. We try to capture the firefly's glow before it fades from memory." Well said, Dan.

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