writers

Freedom

Freedom

"I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

~ Ursula Le Guin

Completely Drowned Out

Completely Drowned Out

"I don’t like when precious things slip through people’s fingers—especially things that seem defenseless or undercelebrated, like old newspapers, but also unheralded people who may have said sensible things at a certain time in history, but who were completely drowned out by other people. Or minor poets whose lives were instructive."

~ Nicholson Baker

The Best Possible Conditions

Exceprts from Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott:

Some of us have cavernous vibrations inside us when we communicate with God. Others are more rational and less messy in our spiritual sense of reality, in our petitions and gratitude and expressions of pain or anger or desolation or praise. Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we're invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.

Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy—all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly.

Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.) Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.

But in any case, we are making contact with something unseen, way bigger than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams, even if we are the most brilliant, open-minded scientists and physicists of our generation. It is something we might call divine intelligence or love energy (if there were no chance that anyone would ever find out about this). Prayer is ushumans merely being, as e. e. cummings put it—reaching out to something having to do with the eternal, with vitality, intelligence, kindness, even when we are at our most utterly doomed and skeptical.

My belief is that when you're telling the truth, you're close to God. If you say to God, "I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don't like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You," that might be the most honest thing you ever said. If you told me you had said to God, "It is all hopeless, and I don't have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand," it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.





See also: To Get Back There

The Best Possible Conditions

Exceprts from Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

Some of us have cavernous vibrations inside us when we communicate with God. Others are more rational and less messy in our spiritual sense of reality, in our petitions and gratitude and expressions of pain or anger or desolation or praise. Prayer means that, in some unique way, we believe we're invited into a relationship with someone who hears us when we speak in silence.

Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy—all at the same time. It begins with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being psychically sick and tired that we surrender, or at least we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something. Or maybe, miraculously, we just release our grip slightly. 

Prayer is talking to something or anything with which we seek union, even if we are bitter or insane or broken. (In fact, these are probably the best possible conditions under which to pray.) Prayer is taking a chance that against all odds and past history, we are loved and chosen, and do not have to get it together before we show up. The opposite may be true: We may not be able to get it together until after we show up in such miserable shape.

But in any case, we are making contact with something unseen, way bigger than we could ever imagine in our wildest dreams, even if we are the most brilliant, open-minded scientists and physicists of our generation. It is something we might call divine intelligence or love energy (if there were no chance that anyone would ever find out about this). Prayer is us—humans merely being, as e. e. cummings put it—reaching out to something having to do with the eternal, with vitality, intelligence, kindness, even when we are at our most utterly doomed and skeptical.

My belief is that when you're telling the truth, you're close to God. If you say to God, "I am exhausted and depressed beyond words, and I don't like You at all right now, and I recoil from most people who believe in You," that might be the most honest thing you ever said. If you told me you had said to God, "It is all hopeless, and I don't have a clue if You exist, but I could use a hand," it would almost bring tears to my eyes, tears of pride in you, for the courage it takes to get real—really real. It would make me want to sit next to you at the dinner table.    

 


 

See also: To Get Back There

Finding an Identity is Easy

 

"Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful, and decide what you want and need and must do. It's a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that's the deal: you have to live; you can't live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It's the easy way out."

~ Zadie Smith, from On Beauty

A Poetry Workshop that Changed My Life

"In 1987, I dropped out of Gonzaga and followed a high school girlfriend to Washington State University (it's called Wazoo). And by complete chance, I enrolled in a poetry workshop that changed my life. On the first day, the teacher, Alex Kuo, gave me an anthology of contemporary Native poetry called Songs from this Earth on Turtle’s Back. There were poems by Adrian C. Louis, a Paiute Indian, and one in particular called “Elegy for the Forgotten Oldsmobile.” If I hadn’t found this poem, I don’t think I ever would have found my way as a writer. I would have been a high school English teacher who coached basketball. My life would have taken a completely different path."

~ Sherman Alexie, from "The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to 'Drop Everything and Be a Poet'," by Joe Fassler, The Atlantic, October 16, 2013

More...

Native American poet and author Sherman Alexie on reservations, alcoholism and Chief Wahoo.

Fiction Rules Our Lives

Mark Slouka discussing "Brewster" on KCRW's Bookworm, September 12, 2013: 

I think that fiction does contain certain kinds of truth that are apartmaybe beyond what we've actually lived. I actually think that anything that has slipped into the pastany moment that has actually passed -- has entered the domain of fiction.

If you tell me what you did this morning, you know, after breakfast, it will creat a kind of a fiction. You'll leave certain things out, you'll stress other things you didn't think were more interesting. So I think fiction sort of rules our lives on every level.

For me, it's a matter of looking at how storytellingfictionsort of bleeds into our reality all the time. I mean, that's kind of where I live as a writer.  

Slouka, M. (2013). Brewster: A novel. [Amazon, library

Passion is the Woods

Hurricane Mountain, Adirondacks, August 7, 2011

Excerpt from Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas by Tom Robbins:‎

Would you complain because a beautiful sunset doesn’t have a future or a shooting star a payoff? And why should romance "lead anywhere"? Passion isn’t a path through the woods. Passion is the woods. It’s the deepest wildest part of the forest; the grove where the fairies still dance and obscene old vipers snooze in the boughs. Everybody but the most dried up and dysfunctional is drawn to the grove and enchanted by its mysteries, but then they just can’t wait to call in the chain saws and bulldozers and replace it with a family-style restaurant or a new S and L. That’s the payoff, I guess. Safety. Security. Certainty. Yes, indeed. Well, remember this: we’re not involved in a ‘relationship’, you and I, we’re involved in a collision. Collisions don’t much lend themselves to secure futures, but the act of colliding is hard to beat for interest.

Very Little Pleasure in Joy

Excerpt from "Joy," by Zadie Smith, The New York Review of Books, Jan. 10, 2013: 

We were heading toward all that makes life intolerable, feeling the only thing that makes it worthwhile. That was joy. But it’s no good thinking about or discussing it. It has no place next to the furious argument about who cleaned the house or picked up the child. It is irrelevant when sitting peacefully, watching an old movie, or doing an impression of two old ladies in a shop, or as I eat a popsicle while you scowl at me, or when working on different floors of the library. It doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?

. . .

The writer Julian Barnes, considering mourning, once said, "It hurts just as much as it is worth.". . . What an arrangement. Why would anyone accept such a crazy deal? Surely if we were sane and reasonable we would every time choose a pleasure over a joy, as animals themselves sensibly do. The end of a pleasure brings no great harm to anyone, after all, and can always be replaced with another of more or less equal worth.

Read entire essay...

Choice Bradbury-isms

From "Drunk on Writing: Ray Bradbury’s Gifts to Humanity," by Casey Rae, The Contrarian, June 6, 2012

Some choice Bradbury-isms:       

Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.

I’m not afraid of machines. I don’t think the robots are taking over. I think the men who play with toys have taken over. And if we don’t take the toys out of their hands, we’re fools.

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.

I don’t believe in being serious about anything. I think life is too serious to be taken seriously.

The women in my life have all been librarians, English teachers, or booksellers… I have always longed for education, and pillow talk’s the best.

Don’t talk about it; write.

If you dream the proper dreams, and share the myths with people, they will want to grow up to be like you.

The best scientist is open to experience and begins with romance — the idea that anything is possible.

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

See also: "21 Ray Bradbury Quotes: Your Moment of Friday Writing Zen," by Zachary Petit, Writer's Digest, Feb. 17, 2012

An Unquenchable Desire to Know and Describe

David Whyte's introduction (from The Three Marriages) to the following poem by Alden Nowlan "...a literary guessing game in which he looks at the way many authors who are considered authorities in their areas actually had no direct experience of the subject. They looked all the more closely at their subject exactly because they were unfamiliar with it. Any familiarity was made through what seemed like an unbridgeable distance. What they had was an unquenchable desire to know and describe."

The Seasick Sailor and Others
by Alden Nowlan, from Selected Poems 

The awkward young sailor who is always seasick
Is the one who will write about ships.
The young man whose soldiery consists in the delivery
Of candy and cigarettes to the front
Is the one who will write about war.
The man who will never learn to drive a car
And keeps going home to his mother
Is the one who will write about the road.

Stranger still, hardly anyone else will write so well
About the sea or war on the road. And then there is the woman
who has scarcely spoken to man except her brother
and who works in a room no larger than a closet,
she will write as well as anyone who has ever lived
about vast open spaces and the desires of the flesh:
and that other woman who will live with her sister and
rarely leaves her village, she will excel
in portraying men and women in society:
and that woman, in some ways the most wonderful of
them all,
who is afraid to go outdoors, who hides when someone
knocks,
she will write great poems about the universe inside her.

The Shape of the Story Rather than the Shape of Life

Schiller Park, June 15, 2012

Excerpt from "What Is Real Is Imagined," by Colm Toibin, The New York Times, July 14, 2012:

The world that fiction comes from is fragile. It melts into insignificance against the universe of what is clear and visible and known. It persists because it is based on the power of cadence and rhythm in language and these are mysterious and hard to defeat and keep in their place. The difference between fact and fiction is like the difference between land and water.

What occurs as I walk in the town now is nothing much. It is all strange and distant, as well as oddly familiar. What happens, however, when I remember my mother, wearing a red coat, leaving our house in the town on a morning in the winter of 1968, going to work, walking along John Street, Court Street, down Friary Hill, along Friary Place and then across the bottom of Castle Hill toward Slaney Place and across the bridge into Templeshannon, is powerful and compelling. It brings with it a sort of music and a strange need. A need to write down what is happening in her mind and to give that writing a rhythm and a sound that will come from the nervous system rather than the mind, and will, ideally, resonate within the nervous system of anyone who reads it.

I don't know what she thought, of course, so I have to imagine. In doing so, I use certain and uncertain facts, but I add to the person I remember or have invented. Also, I take things away. This is a slow process and it is not simple. I give my mother a singing voice, for example, which she did not have. The shape of the story requires that she have a singing voice; it is the shape of the story rather than the shape of life that dictates what is added and excised.

But the singing voice is a mere detail in a large texture of a self that gradually comes alive - enough to seem wholly invented and fully imagined, although based on what was once real.

More...

"It's Better to Read a Good Writer than Meet One"

Excerpts from "John Irving: By the Book," The New York Times, June 7, 2012:

Illustration by Jillian TamakiI am a slow reader; when I’m tired, I move my lips. I almost read out loud. My grandmother read to me, and my mother — and my father. My father was the best reader; he has a great voice, a teacher’s voice. Yes, I grew up around books — my grandmother’s house, where I lived as a small child, was full of books. My father was a history teacher, and he loved the Russian novels. There were always books around.

...

There is no one book that students of writing “should” read. With young writers, I tried to focus on the choices you make before you write a novel. The main character and the most important character are not always the same person — you have to know the difference. The first-person voice and the third-person voice each come with advantages and disadvantages; it helps me to know what the story is, and who the characters are, before I choose the point-of-view voice for the storytelling. 

...

There’s nothing I need or want to know from the writers I admire that isn’t in their books. It’s better to read a good writer than meet one.

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There are a lot of outsiders in my novels, sexual misfits among them. The first-person narrator of “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is called (behind his back) a “non-practicing homosexual”; he doesn’t just love Owen Meany, he’s probably in love with Owen, but he’ll never come out of the closet and say so. He never has sex with anyone — man or woman. Dr. Larch, the saintly abortionist in “The Cider House Rules,” and Jenny Fields, Garp’s mother in “The World According to Garp,” have sex only once and stop for life. The narrator of “The Hotel New Hampshire” is in love with his sister. The two most heroic characters in my new novel, “In One Person,” are transgender women — not the first time I’ve written about transgender characters. I love sexual outsiders; the world is harder for them.

Something Deeper than Mere Happiness

Mary & Joseph Retreat Center, Rancho Palos Verdes, California, January 2012

Excerpts from "The Joy of Quiet," by Pico Iyer, The New York Times, December 29, 2011:

In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight.

...The urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,” the French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also famously remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

...So what to do? The central paradox of the machines that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier is that they cannot teach us how to make the best use of them; the information revolution came without an instruction manual. All the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images. The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.

Maybe that’s why more and more people I know, even if they have no religious commitment, seem to be turning to yoga, or meditation, or tai chi; these aren’t New Age fads so much as ways to connect with what could be called the wisdom of old age. Two journalist friends of mine observe an “Internet sabbath” every week, turning off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation.

...In my own case, I turn to eccentric and often extreme measures to try to keep my sanity and ensure that I have time to do nothing at all (which is the only time when I can see what I should be doing the rest of the time). I’ve yet to use a cellphone and I’ve never Tweeted or entered Facebook. I try not to go online till my day’s writing is finished, and I moved from Manhattan to rural Japan in part so I could more easily survive for long stretches entirely on foot, and every trip to the movies would be an event.

None of this is a matter of principle or asceticism; it’s just pure selfishness. Nothing makes me feel better — calmer, clearer and happier — than being in one place, absorbed in a book, a conversation, a piece of music. It’s actually something deeper than mere happiness: it’s joy, which the monk David Steindl-Rast describes as “that kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on what happens.”

Read the entire essay here...

[Thanks, Carol!]