Sunday, February 16, 2014

how to kill a butterfly

I started reading a new book this weekend and before I reached page 25 I came across a passage that sucked the breath out of me. You know what I mean...the kind of writing that makes you wish you had thought of that. The book is "This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage" by Ann Patchett, a collection of her writings on work, art, friendship, and love.

Bear with me while I share this with you. She is describing how, even if you have an idea for a great story--something you believe in and love--the process of translating your thoughts into words on a page can feel like killing a butterfly.

    She writes:

    "For me it's like this. I make up a novel in my head...the happiest time in my writing process. The book is my invisible friend, omnipresent, evolving, thrilling. During the months (or years) it takes me to put my ideas together, I don't take notes or make outlines; I'm figuring things out, and all the while the book makes a breeze around my head like an over-sized butterfly whose wings were cut from the rose window in Notre Dame. This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life...and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see.

    And so I do. When I can't think of another stall, when putting it off has actually become more painful than doing it, I reach up and pluck the butterfly from the air...I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it. It's not that I want to kill it, but it's the only way I can get something that is so three-dimensional onto the flat page. Imagine running over a butterfly with an SUV. Everything that was beautiful about this living thing--all the color, the light and movement--is gone. What I'm left with is the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled. Dead. That's my book."

    This rings true to me as I start a new project that I'm having trouble pinning to the page. Still, I hate to just let it go...

    Rumor has it that a thaw is on its way. Except for a trip to the grocery store with my husband driving the plow, I've been stuck at home for nine non-stop days, alone except for the dogs.

    Thank God for the dogs!


    1. Look at those beautiful babies and look at those TOES.

    2. It's so difficult to translate that story from my imagination to mere words. It would be magic to do so.
      So sick of the snow and more so, the cold.

      1. May the force be with you! Just to cheer you up, my daughter was born on March 28th...and it hit 90 degrees that day. Hope springs eternal.