Notes From Crew Quarters–Lines That Linger
This week, Ethan Brightbill asked our editors and contributors what sentences or lines inspire them as writers.
Jessica Goodfellow, Contributor,
"The secret of life is to have a task, something you devote your entire life to, something you bring everything to, every minute of the day for the rest of your life. And the most important thing is, it must be something you cannot possibly do.” --Henry Moore
Ryan Ridge, Contributor
“Doctor Ray is okay!”
That one appears on the last page of Barry Hannah’s short masterpiece, Ray. At this point in the book, old Ray has been through some stuff, but survives enough to say that he’s okay. I admire the simplicity of the sentence. Four words. Boom! Hannah doesn’t fuck around. I dig the slant rhyme, too. “Doctor Ray is okay!” Certain days, when I’m having a particularly difficult writing day, most days, that sentence will tumble into my mind. “Doctor Ray is okay!” Sometimes I’ll say it aloud: “Doctor Ray is okay!” And so am I. So am I. So am I.
Brenna Womer, Associate Fiction Editor
"My cousin and I are floating in separate, saline oceans. I'm the size of a cocktail shrimp and she's the size of a man's thumb." -Jo Ann Beard, "Cousins," The Boys of My Youth
I love the rich simplicity of these lines and the potential they represent. Jo Ann Beard is one of my favorite creative nonfiction writers, and this collection specifically epitomizes so much of what I'd like to accomplish in my own writing.
Sara Ryan, Associate Poetry Editor
"Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it" --Sharon Olds, "I Go Back to May 1937"
I have a tattoo of this verse. It's kinda just my motto/vow/promise as a writer and poet.
Krys Malcolm Belc, Associate Fiction Editor
"At first he was just losing weight, he felt only a little ill, Max said to Ellen, and he didn't call for an appointment with his doctor, according to Greg, because he was managing to keep on working at more or less the same rhythm, but he did stop smoking, Tanya pointed out, which suggests he was frightened, but also that he wanted, maybe even more than he knew, to be healthy, or healthier, or maybe just to gain back a few pounds, said Orson, for he told her, Tanya went on, that he expected to be climbing the walls (isn't that what people say?) and found, to his surprise, that he didn't miss cigarettes at all and reveled in the sensation of his lungs' being ache-free for the first time in years."
This is the opening sentence of Susan Sontag's "The Way We Live Now." I think the urgency and breathlessness of this writing is a physical manifestation of the urgency of writing about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. This story is the first in The Best American Short Stories from my birth year, 1987, and since I bought the book at a used bookstore and read this piece I've felt more urgency in my own writing.
Jacqueline Boucher, Managing Editor
"not one to disrupt an orgy / I mostly gobbled around their / nuzzle and slurp / careful not to chomp a reveler / and nibbling one last thread of flesh / noticed a dozey ant nibbling the same / toward me its antennae / just caressing my face / its pincers / slowing at my lips both / of our mouths sugared / and shining both of us / twirling beneath the fig’s / seeds spinning like a newly / discovered galaxy / that’s been there forever." -Ross Gay, "Sharing With the Ants"
Colton Lindsey, Associate Fiction Editor
"If he had a body of swimmable water nearby he would enter it. It was his nature." --Jim Harrison
Patricia Killelea, Poetry Editor
“Only one thing remained reachable, close and secure amid all losses: language. Yes, language. In spite of everything, it remained secure against loss.” --Paul Celan
I think about this quote whenever I turn to language as (uncomfortable, but mercifully pliable) refuge.
Alexander Clark, Associate Nonfiction Editor
"Remember scribbling scratching diligent sentences backwards visiting freestyle cyphers for your reaction." --Kendrick Lamar, "Momma," from To Pimp a Butterfly
Jason Teal, Associate Fiction Editor
"Who would win in a fight between a bear and a shark?" --Chris Bachelder, BEAR V. SHARK
I couldn't write this summer. It wasn't a blockage so much as looking past myself, forgetting there's the making as well as the meaning of things. This sentence reminds me I'm in service only to myself; writing doesn't have to be bigger than me.