This post isn’t about Independence Day revelers, although a case could definitely be made that the mix of alcohol, fire, and things-that-go-boom does bring out certain banshee-like behavior in some people.
No, the banshees and drunken monkeys referred to in the title are from a quote by Anne Lamott in her best-selling book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. In this wonderful little book, Lamott puts her years of experience as a writer down for all to see and learn from. She talks about that demon, procrastination, and its evil sister, perfectionism, about shitty first drafts and how to know when you’re done. Like a conversation with a good friend who really knows us, she writes about quieting that cacophony of voices in our heads that prevent us from hearing what our characters and stories have to say.
“The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria.” — Anne Lamott
The subtitle of this book is no accident. Writing lessons also make good life lessons. How many of us have let those voices of anxiety or judgment drown out something important our soul is trying to say? How many have let perfectionism keep us from creating at all? This book encourages us to shush the voices and get on with the spirit-nourishing process of living and creating.
Bird by Bird was originally given to me about 20 years ago, around the time it first came out. It was 1994 or 1995 and I was working as an Administrative Assistant at an insurance company in Spokane. My suit-n-tie boss indulged my creative spirit, my youthful inability to wear business attire, and my insistence that what our department really needed (for morale and team spirit, of course) was a newsletter that yours truly would create. He knew – nay, he understood – that there was a writer living in the basement of my soul that needed to see daylight more frequently.
“This writer should be encouraged, nourished, and free to write good, bad, and awful things,” I imagine my boss thinking, “so that maybe it will stop inflicting horrible newsletters on company employees.”
So, he bought me a copy of Bird by Bird. I joke about the motive but, in truth, it was one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received and I’ve never forgotten it or the man behind it. I devoured the book, reading it almost in one sitting. I then went on and lived another twenty years, first with the book on a shelf, then in moving boxes until, too many moves later, I couldn’t find it. Recently, someone mentioned it in an article I was reading, jogging my memory and making me wonder whatever became of my copy. When it came up again in conversation with my writing group a few days ago, I felt that tug of synchronicity.
When something shakes loose a memory, for me it’s just that: a memory. However, when it keeps happening, I feel like the Universe is tickling me with a feather to get my attention. “Yoo-hoo…Universe speaking here.” In those cases, I like to listen and, if I had to translate this particular case, I’d wager that the Universe was saying, “You’re writing regularly now. You’re facing those challenges that all writers face. You’re ready to read this book again.”
And, so, this week in 2014, I bought another copy of Bird by Bird. This time, I’m not going to blast through it in one sitting. I plan to take at least the whole weekend to really soak up the advice, humor, and great writing. I will practice quieting the drunken monkeys and give some sort of sedative to my inner perfectionist banshee. I will work on my novel and pretend that those insistent voices are my cheering section instead of my critics. I think the Universe was right, as usual. Perfect timing.
P.S. Bird by Bird is available at many fine retail establishments. I bought mine here.
P.P.S. I have been told that the past two weeks without a gratuitous picture of Moose has not gone unnoticed, so without further ado…