“Obituaries, I believe, are really less about death than the odd shapes life takes, the patterns that death allows us to see.”
The Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo
But it’s not death that allows us to see the patterns. Death just gives us the last few strokes, allows us to write the last few sentences.
It’s the writing that allows us to see–the process of writing and the finished product.
We don’t need to know the shape or pattern before we start. Henri Matisse wrote, “…I am driven by an idea that I really only grasp as it grows with the picture.” The same is true of writing.
Writing is the brush with which writers make shapes. One of the things that makes writing so exciting is the discoveries we make as we write.
For those afraid to start, Matisse wrote, “…each new stroke diminishes the importance of the preceding ones.”
So let’s write and let the shapes emerge…
What often stands out to me in Richard Russo’s writing is the dialogue. Which makes sense as he is also a screenwriter. Here is a short piece of dialogue from The Bridge of Sighs.
“Mom says you’re writing your life story up there.”
“Nothing quite so grand as that,” I tell him, though it’s true I’ve written far more than I expected to, having underestimated the tug of the past, the intoxication of memory, the attraction of explaining myself to, well, myself.”
It’s simple. It pulls you right in. And the little exposition there at the end has such a beautiful rhythm that I just want to read it out loud over and over again.
Last January, Richard Russo was in Columbus to encourage support for the Columbus Public Library. On Sunday, the 27th, I was the lucky one who got to drive him back to the Atlanta airport. It’s true. Richard Russo was trapped in my car for an hour and a half. He could not have been more gracious and pleasant. He signed my books. He encouraged my writing. He talked about his friendship with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. If I remember correctly, that friendship started when Paul Newman starred in Nobody’s Fool, another Richard Russo novel that was made into a movie in 1994. Paul would call Rick to ask about specifics. How exactly would Sully stand? Where would his hands be?
I’m looking forward to reading Straight Man. It’s waiting in my tower of books.