For my 100th post, I pay tribute to an author who has inspired me since the first time I read him.
Roger Rosenblatt is one of those language crafters whose sparseness and blank-stare honesty catch me right here, square in the throat. One paragraph of him, and I want to huck anything I ever wrote and start all over, one hand and all adjectives tied behind my back.
Intimate. Precise. Reduced. Penetrable. Bruised. Wryly funny. And rumbling with electricity like thunder in your breast pocket.
Rosenblatt also buried his daughter, Amy. Two of his books, Making Toast and Kayak Morning describe, respectively, his life at impact and a year later. From Making Toast:
Amy Elizabeth Rosenblatt Solomon, thirty-eight years old, pediatrician, wife of hand surgeon, Harrison Solomon, and mother of three, collapsed on her treadmill in the downstairs playroom at home. “Jessie and Sammy discovered her,” our oldest son, Carl, told us over the phone. . . . “Mommy isn’t talking,” [Jessie] said. Harris got to Amy within seconds and tried CPR, but her heart had stopped and she could not be revived.
Amy’s was ruled a “sudden death due to an anomalous right coronary artery”—meaning that her two coronary arteries fed her heart from the same side. . . . Her condition, affecting less that two thousandths of one percent of the population, was asymptomatic; she might have died at any time in her life.
––Roger Rosenblatt, Making Toast, 2, 3
I’d travel far and pay a hefty price to merely sit for an hour and listen to Mr. Rosenblatt talk about his daughter Amy, about his writing about Amy, and about his writing, period. Maybe you’ll feel likewise after the following, the last page of another Rosenblatt book, entitled, Unless It Moves The Human Heart:
You must write as if your reader needed you desperately, because he does. If, as Kafka said, a book is an ax for the frozen sea within us, then write with that frozen sea in mind and in view. See your reader, who has fallen through the ice of his own manufacture. You can just make him out, as he flails in slow motion, palms pressed upward under the ice. Here’s your ax. Now, chop away and lift him up by the shoulders. And what do you get out of this act of rescue? You save two people; your reader and yourself. Every life is exposed to things that will ruin it, and often do, for a time. But there is another life inside us that remains invulnerable and glimpses immortality. For the writer that life exists on the page, where it attaches itself to every other life, to all the lives that have been and will be.
…To be the writers you hope to be, you must surrender yourselves to a kind of absurdity. You must function as a displaced person in an age that contradicts all that is brave, gentle, and worthwhile in you. Every great writer has done this, in every age. You must be of every age. You must believe in heroism and nobility, just as strongly as you believe in pettiness and cowardice. You must learn to praise. Of course, you need to touch the sources of your viciousness and treachery before you rise above them. But rise you must. For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy of your love. Love it. Have faith in it. Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing– word after word after word.
Amen, Brother Rosenblatt.