In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? 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.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
September 1, 2014: Richard Gilbert
Richard and I got to know each other back in 2010 over our admiration of Annie Dillard, both of us posting on our respective blogs about her words and her works. His blog, Draft No. 4, originally called Narrative and re-named last year in honor of his book’s transforming draft, is rock solid and full of terrific writing advice. I love reading what Richard has to say about the books he reads. And in the past, I’ve also enjoyed reading his blog to follow along on the journey of the writing and revising of his memoir.
No longer. Shepherd, Richard’s memoir about his dream of becoming a farmer and how that dream met with reality, was published this past May by Michigan State University Press. I remember it being, at one point, 500 pages. I remember a grueling edit he received–the impetus behind the infamous draft no. 4. And now, in final form, after seven-plus years of work, Shepherd weighs in at a delightful 323 pages. It’s appropriate that Richard’s blog was first named Narrative. I think that’s where this book shines.
Childhood dreams cast long shadows into a life.
That’s the beautiful first sentence of the nice-and-short five-page prologue, which drops us in scene (a scene we won’t get to the end of until much later in the book). The prologue places the reader right in the middle of things and leaves us craving more.
The main story line of Shepherd, running chronologically, is the purchase of the farm Mossy Dell and its ensuing day-to-day operations, but what makes the book such a pleasure to read are the little shoots growing off the main line. These side stories establish the authority of Richard the storyteller, who is writing the story of Richard the farmer. They increase the breadth of the memoir, opening the story to a wider world, and do wonderful things to its pacing.
Why a shepherd, you might be wondering…
Sheep seemed to have an emotional life; at least they experienced joy, running and leaping when happy. Sheep didn’t all look alike, I was learning, and the temperaments of the different breeds varied within the admittedly narrow parameters of sheep personality.
In other words, and for many reasons, I’d discovered the hidden beauty of sheep. Physically humble creatures, they possessed a functional beauty, a rightness of being fitted to the land and its labor. Sheep weren’t showy animals, but I saw they were suitable.
I’d found my species. A shepherd I would become.
Come back on SEPTEMBER 1st to read how RICHARD GILBERT spends his days.