One of the surprise pleasures afforded by Twitter has been following The Paris Review (@parisreview) and getting tweets linking me to their archives of author interviews. I know I could just go to the website, but it feels like a daily act of grace to run across the latest in my twitter feed, as if these writers are finding me in the ether rather than me searching for them dutifully.
(In my heart of hearts I am probably still a Calvinist; the serendipity of these lesser gods finding me is so much better than the tedious duty of seeking them out).
This evening over dinner I read the latest, a 1978 interview with Joyce Carol Oates, a real gem.
Do you find emotional stability is necessary in order to write? Or can you get to work whatever your state of mind? Is your mood reflected in what you write? How do you describe that perfect state in which you can write from early morning into the afternoon?
One must be pitiless about this matter of “mood.” In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I’ve found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so. Joyce said of the underlying structure of Ulysses—the Odyssean parallel and parody—that he really didn’t care whether it was plausible so long as it served as a bridge to get his “soldiers” across. Once they were across, what does it matter if the bridge collapses? One might say the same thing about the use of one’s self as a means for the writing to get written. Once the soldiers are across the stream . . .
Oates doesn’t blog, I think, and I wouldn’t dare to hold my daily textural gurgitations up next to Oates’s stupendous artistic outpouring. On the other hand, I resonated with this, thinking about what writing does for me at the end of the day. I’ve had colleagues ask me how I have the time to write every day, my sometimes longish diatribes about this or that subject that has caught my attention. Secretly my answer is “How could I not?”
Ok, I know that for a long time this blog lay fallow, but I have repented of that and returned to my better self. Mostly (tonight is an exception), I do my blog late, after 10:00–late for someone over 50–like a devotion. I just pick up something I’ve read that day, like Joyce Carol Oates, and do what English majors are trained to do: find a connection. Often I’m exhausted and cranky from the day–being an administrator is no piece of cake,( but then, neither is being alive so what do I have to complain about). Mostly I write as if I were talking to someone about the connections that I saw, the problems that it raised (or, more rarely, solved).
It doesn’t take that long–a half hour to an hour, and mostly I’ve given up television entirely. I tell people I seem to think in paragraphs–sometimes very bad paragraphs, but paragraphs nevertheless–and years of piano lessons have left me a quick typist. Sometimes I write to figure out what I think, sometimes to figure out whether what I think matters, sometimes to resolve a conundrum I have yet to figure out at work or at home, sometimes to make an impression (I am not above vanity).
But always I write because the day and my self disappears. As Oates says above, the activity of writing changes everything, or at least appears to do so. Among the everything that it changes is me. I am most myself when I lose the day and myself in words.
Yesterday on Facebook I cited Paul Fussell saying “If I didn’t have writing, I’d be running down the street hurling grenades in people’s faces.”
Well, though I work at a pacifist school and it is incorrect to say so, that seems about right.