ON READING AS EMPATHY:
"For a certain kind of reader—well, for me—to reread “The Stunt Pilot” is to slingshot oneself back into Dillard’s deep catalogue; it’s of a piece, as far as I can tell, with three of her books of nonfiction. So I sit in a narrow seat, lap belt low and tight across my hips, and read. Dillard might be as obsessed with planes and plane crashes as I am.
"I am on the road and I am thinking about Annie Dillard—her essays, specifically, but more honestly, her narrator, also a person on the road, and therefore someone who notices more and questions more than she would while safe at home."
ON EMPATHY FOR SUBJECTS:
"What’re you writing? someone asked one night. You writing about us? Of course I lied. But I was desperate. I wanted to write something that would matter, that people would read. I would have sold out anyone to get the stuff I needed to make this work, even my family, my friends, let alone these strangers whose names I would never know, because I never asked."
ON LEARNING AND TEACHING HOW TO WRITE:
"So how do we learn to write; how do I try to teach it? Kind of like this book: a collection of anecdotes and advice, enthusiasm and examples ('They thought I was raving again. It’s just as well.') The best thing is to read something that’s already good and take it apart, then reverse-engineer it to see how it fits together, but as a philosophy of pedagogy, all of this can feel a little ad hoc. I ask Gil Allen, dear colleague and longtime teacher of writing, how he teaches. 'Establish trust,' he says, or you won’t be able to do anything else. Give advice according to each student’s ability. Tell them to read published work, and to read their own drafts aloud."
ON... (whatever, I just love how she uses Will Oldham):
"Sometimes I sang Will Oldham songs as loud as I could and it didn’t matter, because the dirty waves were louder than I was and anyway the beach was empty."
And that's all before she even gets to her volume of The Best American Essays! Actually she never gets to it except in footnote #2 which tells us that Annie Dillard's essay "The Stunt Pilot" comes from BAE1990, which is completely cool with me. Making an essay out of digression is really very essay of her. Read it all here!