Friday, June 21, 2013

Entry # 155 - "When Lopate Went Camping with Emerson"

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman April 2013
Last week one of my self-assigned tasks was to go back and read through some of my journal entries over the past year, a process that allowed me to see my mind unpacking images for stories and exploring deeper possibilities in some of my work under revision.  
 My journal is an important part of my writing process and I often begin a story based on dreams and notes recorded in journals.  As a result of that process, I picked up the new paperback of Phillip Lopate’s book “To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction" and read an essay, “How I Became an Emersonian” in which Lopate explores the power of journals to capture and nurture the evolutionary process of a writer’s growth.

Lopate says he “camped out in the mind of Ralph Waldo Emerson” by reading the two-volume, 1800 pages from Emerson’s Selected Journals. He says “Emerson began keeping the journals as an eighteen-year-old college student, and over the next fifty-seven years filled over 182 volumes.”

In fact, Lopate says, “In Emerson’s journals you see how gradually, hesitantly, incrementally his belief system accrued over decades, though testing hunches and questioning himself. …To oversimplify, the journals show his vulnerable side.” Lopate notes that “Emerson’s essays are dense with thought, requiring full attention every second, like a cliff face, they make purchase difficult. The notebooks are more appealingly relaxed.”

Although Emerson prided himself on his adherence to moderation, he wrote, “Very hard it is to keep the middle point. It is a very narrow line…and between narrow walls we walk –insanity on one side, and fat dullness on the other.”

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - September 2012

Lopate writes, “…any attempt to negotiate Emerson’s essays reminds me of his journal comment,  ‘I found when I had finished my new lecture that it was a very good house, only the architect had unfortunately omitted the stairs.’ In that one sentence we hear the humor, self-deprecating awareness, and personal voice of the journals.”

I am reminded that Emerson wrote, “Nothing is accomplished without enthusiasm.”  So having been somewhat inspired by my journal entries and this essay, I will dig into major revisions on two pesky stories in need of thoughtful fine tuning, while reminding myself that writing is rewriting and it is a messy business.  So I went sailing in Annapolis on Thursday because I needed extra enthusiasm to tackle those revisions. And yes. That is the Bay Bridge. Cool!
Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - Annapolis - June 20, 2013
About Jan Bowman

Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, a Pen/O’Henry award and a recent story was a finalist in the 2013 Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction publications in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at or

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