Annie Dillard’s Birthday

Today, April 30, 2020, is Annie Dillard’s birthday.

Among the many authors who interest me, she might be the one I would most like to be email & text message-buddies with, so  I could have a chance to keep up with her laser sharp thoughts and squibs on, whatever.

There’s no hope of that; as she says plainly on her bare bones website: 

I can no longer travel, can’t meet with strangers, can’t sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can’t write by request, and can’t answer letters. I’ve got to read and concentrate. Why? Beats me. . . .
(I’ve posted this web-page in defense; a crook bought the name and printed dirty pictures, then offered to sell it to me. I bit. In the course of that I learned the web is full of misinformation. This is a corrective.)

But if I’m a stranger, I’m definitely a fan. How much of a fan? Well, I haven’t yet read all her books. But twenty or so years ago, when the big Quaker summer gathering was at Virginia Tech, I used the new thing called Google (WTF, I wondered then, was a Google”??) To follow up a hunch: that the campus was not far from the only body oF moving water that ever won a Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. And so it was.

Elated, I put out the call for other Dillard-geeks, and the next afternoon  I waved a well-thumbed paperback like Harry Potter’s wand over the elect gaggle that responded and turned us all into new Pilgrims at Tinker Creek, where we stood in a circle on the storied bank and read favorite passages.

Here I will settle for a random collection of Quotes: this could have been many pages long; and if you have an irresistible favorite Dillardism that isn’t (but should be) here, send it in as a Comment. . . .

[Most startling website disclosure, quoted in full: “Religion: none.”]

“Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after.”
― An American Childhood

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
―  The Writing Life

“You’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”
― Annie Dillard

“One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
― The Writing Life

“Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you.”
― Annie Dillard

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”
― Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“Eskimo: “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?”
Priest: “No, not if you did not know.”
Eskimo: “Then why did you tell me?”
― Annie Dillard

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”
― The Writing Life

“The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
― Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“There is always the temptation in life to diddle around making itsy-bitsy friends and meals and journeys for years on end. It is all so self conscious, so apparently moral…But I won’t have it. The world is wilder than that in all directions, more dangerous…more extravagant and bright. We are…raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain, or Lazarus.”
― Annie Dillard

“What does it feel like to be alive?
Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.”
― An American Childhood

“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”
― Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

“He is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”
― The Writing Life

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
― Annie Dillard

“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them…”
― Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.”
― The Writing Life

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”
― The Writing Life

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”
― Annie Dillard

“We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home.
There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.”
― Holy the Firm

“I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as a dying friend. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.”
― The Writing Life

“The dedicated life is the life worth living. You must give with your whole heart.”
― Annie Dillard

“Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave them on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once.”
― Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.”
― Annie Dillard, The Living

One thought on “Annie Dillard’s Birthday”

  1. I love this, Chuck. Especially this last “Holy the Firm” quote. The notation at the beginning of all this of “religion: none”, is a wise claim on her part. Clearly religion would hem her in too much. She’s much better to free-range her relationship with Great Mystery.

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