March 22nd, 2008

Reading about Writing

…is one of my favourite things. The act of writing, I mean, more than the noun, although my interest of course extends to criticism. And biography. And gossip.

I just finished reading Leonard Micahels’s novella “Journal.” The first half of it seems to be about (I make no assertions about the work is actually about; Michaels is slippery) a writer in a happy, or at least undemanding relationship, thus free to focus on writing a screenplay, teaching classes, chatting and backbiting with other writers. I was fascinated. In the second half, the marriage seems to fall apart, and the focus comes to be on the narrator’s assorted entanglements with other women, often quite graphically depicted. I was less interested. Men and their affairs, eh, I’ve heard it before; how a writer feels telling an anecdote to another writer and then realizing it’s a really good anecdote and they both want to use it in a story…that’s new ground. In my opinion.

“Journal” is a story that it’s unfair to quote from, because it is composed of fragments in a writer’s journal, disparate and specific, and it’s only by reading them together that you get even a partial portrait of the character. Nevertheless, some of the aphorisms (from the first half) beg to be quoted and so I will, with the caveat that you shouldn’t taken them as representative of much:

“In the American South, it’s said of a medical student, ‘He is going to make a doctor.’ For writers there is no comparable expression, no diploma, no conclusive evidence that anything real has been made of himself or herself.”

“Writers die twice, first their bodies, then their works, but they produce book after book, like peacocks spreading their tails, a gorgeous flare of color soon shlepped through the dust.”

“Anything you say to a writer is in danger of becoming writing.”

“My neighbour is building his patio, laying bricks meticulously. The sun beats on him. Heat rises off the bricks into his face. I’m in here writing. He’ll have built a patio. I’ll be punished.”

And then Adam Gopnik wasn’t even really talking about writers, just trying to make a comparison with magicians, but it’s still relevant:

“All grownup craft depends on sustaining a frozen moment from childhood: scientists, it’s said, are forever four years old, wide-eyed and self-centred; writers are forever eight, over-aware and indignant.”

Which of these bits I believe, I couldn’t say, but I feel a little older than 8—the devouring outward gaze of a writer feels more teenaged to me.

How do you know you’re right / when you’re not nervous anymore
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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