Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting out of the way

From Steering the Craft, by Ursula K Le Guin:

'Some people see art as a matter of control. I see it mostly as a matter of self-control. It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means. If I can keep myself, my ego, my opinions, my mental junk, out of the way, and find the focus of the story, and follow the movement of the story, the story tells itself.'

Sounds easy, but it isn't. All that foolish prattle that gets in the way; the parrot on the shoulder that shrieks and must be hushed.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Living mindfully

I read this in the same (June 9 and 16, 2008) issue of The New Yorker as my previous post, in an article by James Wood:

‘Nietzsche said that if a human being put his ear to the heart chamber of the world and heard the roar of existence, the “innumerable shouts of pleasure and woe,” he would surely break into pieces. But a newspaper, pumping its inky current of despair, might serve as well…’

And ‘A large proportion of life involves our refusing to put our ear to the mundane heart chamber, lest we die from hearing ‘the roar which lies on the other side of silence.’

It’s a challenge simply to live mindfully in the world today, without shutting your eyes to what’s happening to the planet and its people, but without getting sucked in by the undertow.

I know I can do no good for anyone (least of all myself) by submitting to despair, and sustained anger corrodes, so despite my clear-sighted view of where things are headed, I choose to live with kindness, optimism, wonder and affection. In the end it’s all I can do.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Haruki Murakami

I’m reading an article in The New Yorker by Haruki Murakami. The article is actually about running, and in it he says, ‘…having the kind of body that easily puts on weight is perhaps a blessing in disguise…if I don’t want to gain weight I have to work out hard every day, watch what I eat, and cut down on indulgences. People who naturally keep the weight off don’t need to exercise or watch their diet. Which is why, in many cases, their physical strength deteriorates as they age. Those of us who have a tendency to gain weight should consider ourselves lucky that the red light is so clearly visible.’

He goes on: ‘I think this viewpoint applies as well to the job of novelist. Writers who are blessed with inborn talent can write easily, no matter what they do – or don’t do. Like water from a natural spring, the sentences just well up, and with little or no effort these writers can complete a work. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that category. I have to pound away at a rock with a chisel and dig out a deep hole before I can locate the source of my creativity. Every time I begin a new novel, I have to dredge out another hole. But, as I’ve sustained this kind of life over many years, I’ve become quite efficient, both technically and physically, at opening those holes in the rock and locating new water veins. As soon as I notice one source drying up, I move on to another. If people who rely on a natural spring of talent suddenly find they’ve exhausted their source, they’re in trouble.’

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Time Off

I haven’t written for weeks now because I was busy with family stuff. My brain was full of guest lists and acceptances and MFA programmes and American geography.

I’ve begun to write again now but it’s slow and, as usual, I’m afraid it won’t come back.

But what I know, what I’ve learned from experience, is that when you do go away from the writing it always comes back, and usually stronger than ever. It’s like there’s this whole factory of whirring machines that manufacture the writing, and while you’re away the machines keep going. They slow down but they don’t stop. When you return you need to remind yourself again which buttons to push and which levers to pull, but once the machinery is back up to speed the writing’s even better than it was before.

So, though I wish I didn’t leave the factory, and I hate that rusty feeling and it scares me, in the end I’m usually glad for it because the writing feels stronger and more assured. Plus whatever I’ve been doing feeds me and my work in some way and that’s probably the most important thing of all.