A Small Promise

Welcome to the busiest time of the year. The stretch between
Thanksgiving and the end of the year is always filled with more responsibility
(either festive or otherwise) and more distraction. It would be easy to dismiss
the entire month of December as a “do not write zone.” Sure, if you just
finished NaNoWriMo and have a new 60,000 word novel under your belt, you might
cut yourself a little slack (and if you did just complete NaNoWriMo, we’d love
to hear about it), but the rest of us…. Maybe it would be better not to designate
the next thirty days as too busy during which to write.
If you’re anything like me, you chafe at setting yourself
up for failure. A poem each day? An essay a week? The twelve days of short
stories? Even that dang holiday letter gets longer each year. This month, maybe
try aphorisms. An aphorism is a statement of truth or opinion expressed in a
concise and witty manner. The term is often applied to philosophical, moral and
literary statements.
Some masters of longer forms have also dabbled in aphorisms:
  • The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small
    stones. ~William Faulkner
  • A proverb is no proverb to you till life has illustrated
    it.  ~John Keats
  • Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by
    mankind. ~Rudyard Kipling
  • You never really understand a person until you consider
    things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around
    in it. ~Harper Lee
  • Silence is the only language God speaks. ~Charles Simic
  • The snow grows whiter after a crow has flown over it.
    ~Charles Simic

 Before you dismiss this form as simply a vehicle for faux
profundity, remember that it is our nature as writers to write beyond the end
of the story/poem/essay. In other words, we go on. Writing an aphorism gives us
a chance to practice extreme conciseness. Could you write an aphorism a day?
Practice that extreme precision that calls for you to hone every word and
search for the “truth” at the core of what you’re writing?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write about the
violence and hatred that seems to be swelling in our culture. Everything I’ve
written has seemed pedantic, and worse, lifeless. The words seemed to be
stealing oxygen from the room rather than adding to the conversation, until I
wrote the following aphorism, which opened my ears to listen more
closely: This is what I’ve learned —
nothing — and the empty sky keeps on teaching me.
If you do pull together some aphorisms during December,
could you post them in the comments? I’d love to read them.
take care,
PS – If you want to take one of Caroline Goodwin’s classes
this December, now would be a good time to register (or learn more). If we
don’t have enough students a week before the class is scheduled, we’ll be
forced to cancel. It’d be a shame to miss this opportunity!
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