Battle with Words

In her novel Beautiful World, Where Are You, the stunningly talented Sally Rooney wrote, “On the back walls of the house and through the branches of the trees, through the colored leaves of the trees and through the damp green grasses, the light of dawn was sifting. Summer morning. Cold clear water cupped in the palm of a hand.” When I read this description, I was seized with admiration and jealousy. For a hundred years, I could write sentences and never would I have come up with using the word “sifting” in this context, although it perfects the image in exactly the way the author meant it to. Describing the natural world has always been my downfall as a writer, perhaps because I don’t notice it sufficiently. On a Cape Cod morning, I want to be a verbal Edward Hopper but I am not; I want to find startling ways and images to convey the purity of the unsullied silence of the rising morning, of the world made new, the poured light on the white house across the road as it slides slowly up the porch railings, kindles the window glass, pounces finally on the roof – but I can’t do it. The natural world eludes me in a way that conversation does not, although it must be said that for writing conversation, all you really need to be is a good listener who edits out the chaff. (Was it Diana Vreeland who said that elegance is refusal? I think yes…).

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