The Transparent Feather, by BJ Appelgren

BJ is a friend of a friend who gave me a copy of her book a few weeks ago when a group of us met for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Shepherdstown, WV. Actually she traded it for a copy of my book of poetry. Her book is a refreshing memoir about visiting a woman in a nearby nursing home.

Berry Morgan is a writer, whose books Pursuit and The Mystic Adventures of Roxie Stoner both received Houghton Mifflin Litereary Fellowship Awards. She also wrote fiction for The New Yorker between 1966 and 1988. BJ helps Berry by transcribing a memoir and some stories that Berry dictates, while at the same time Berry becomes a mentor to BJ, teaching her to write.

Among other things, Berry keeps saying to BJ: “You’re trying to do too many things at once” and “I wish you would just write.” Between part-time jobs, volunteer work, and trying to start a series of classes, BJ is always busy.

Berry’s advice resonated with me. For one reason or another, many of my regular activities have been suspended for the last few weeks, and I have found myself writing much more. It has not so much been that I’ve had more time to write as that I’ve been better able to concentrate when I do sit down to work.

I mentioned Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled a few weeks ago. After finishing the book, I read a review of it in the London Review of Books where Frank Kermode compared the fractured and frantic narrative to the distractions that pull a writer one way and another. And not just a successful writer like Ishiguro, though of course fame brings additional distractions.

I’m not willing to give up my other activities permanently—some of them are part of my exercise regimen and others give me a chance to get away from the computer and socialise—but I can sharpen my focus. Set the to-do list aside. Stop trying to do too much. Especially this time of year when the calendar quickly fills up with holiday traditions, social occasions and other, er, entertainment options.

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