Friday, January 25, 2013


…The other day I finally finished a collection of essays by famed writer Gene Weingarten called “The Fiddler in the Subway.” 
The title essay is about Joshua Bell, legendary violinist, who plopped down at the Metro Bus station and played for about an hour while over a thousand people passed by without stopping.
The night prior, Bell had played to a sold out show, with each ticket costing in excess of $100.

The following are random excerpts from the book that struck me as meaningful.
I hope they will you, too:

-“The meaning of life is that it ends.” Kafka

-“We wake up in the morning.  That is a miracle.” Father Steven

-“What worries you masters you.” John Locke

-“All babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother’s heart is an iambic meter.  Then, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us.” Billy Collins

-(Of famed violinist Joshua Bell) “His playing does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.” Interview Magazine

(The words below are all Gene Weingarten’s:

-Did I mention that when I am trouble most I consult the dead?

-The most important words in your story are the ones you don’t write.  They’re the ones you imply.

-I hate writing.  I love having written.

-Big truths usually contain somewhere within them the specter of death.  Death informs virtually all of literature.  We lust and love so we can feel more alive.  We build families so we can be immortal.  We crave fame, and do good works, so both will outlive us.

-A real writer is someone for whom writing is a terrible ordeal.  That is because he knows, deep down, with an awful clarity, that there are limitless ways to fill a page with words, and that he will never, ever do it perfectly.  On some level, that knowledge haunts him all the time.  He will always be juggling words in his head, trying to get them closer to a tantalizing, unreachable ideal.
It’s a torment you can’t escape.  It will reach even into the comfort of a drunken sleep, and it will shake you awake, and send you, heart pumping, to an empty piece of paper.
If you have that, you can be a good writer.  Congratulations, I guess.

-Writing, particularly fiction writing, is an act of quiet terror.  You are alone all at once with your genius and your ineptitude, and your errors are as public as possible.  To be a good writer requires extreme self-discipline and extreme self-confidence, and many of the people drawn to writing have neither.

Mostly, you become a writer not because you want to get rich or famous, but because you have to write, because there is something inside that must come out.  When a baby is born, she is born.

-If you are a bad writer, writing poorly must be no big deal.
But if you are a good writer, writing poorly must be hell.  You must die a little with every word.

-If only people knew what was in our dumpsters.

-Humor often requires a bloodless hostility: laughs usually come at the expense of something or someone.

-Affection is hard to express in writing without seeming like a sap.  A good way to do it is through indirection; write of facts, not feelings.  But choose the right facts.

-An actor who is frightened or angry or embarrassed is often encouraged not to stifle that emotion but to capture it and transform it into something useful.  Emotion is too valuable an asset to throw away.  This holds true for writing as well.

-In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?


  1. Beautifully written, and so much to take in. I arrived at your blog again because I read your piece, Thieves, in what used to be Moon Milk Review last night and it stuck with me. That story is so good, Len.

    You know, I like to think it does transcend, perhaps more so because the paying audience is often less sincere. Thanks for the story, and the post.

  2. Jen,

    thanks so much for reading and leaving a note. i appreciate it very much.

    what were you doing reading Moon Milk after so long?

    and are you going to AWP? it would be fun to meet you, if even just to say Hi.

    all the best.