Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Writing

Jezebel takes on the prickly subject of women & memoirs in their post about Mary Karr, who says of her latest book: "I didn't [write] it to help anybody. I did it for the money. I did it because I'm greedy and I like living in New York."

Jezebel wavers before deciding to applaud Karr's "narcissism" and "burst of arrogance," but like some of the commenters, I wouldn't leap to either of those judgements. First of all, it seems to me like Karr is laughing at herself, as she is -- I hope? -- when she attributes her success to the fact that God loves her. But secondly, if the market values her stories, as it has her previous two books, why *not* sell them? Why is it considered low-class to be straightforward about the fact that writing can be not merely a craft but a trade?

I wish I could make money writing. I am doing my damnedest. Or, well, I haven't been for the last few months: what with absorbing the blow of my book not getting picked up, and then the much more destabilizing blow of my father's illness & death, I haven't had any creative energy at all.

My body is getting up every day and going to work. It is managing to eat and see people and even go to the gym. But my mind, to some degree, has stalled. It can't comprehend a world in which I can't call my father, or walk into his room to see him rereading Pickwick Papers yet again, or hear him groan, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth ...."

At least I can still hear his voice. Last week, while cooking, I put on a movie in the background which I immediately heard him condemn as "Dreck!" It is very small solace but occasionally that will do.

Overall, though, my emotional immune system is out of whack, so stupid shit affects me much more than it should. Like the most recent Swarthmore Alumni Bulletin, which last time I managed to greet with the eye-rolling it deserved, and which this time led to a melodramatic crisis of confidence. My mother had to remind me that failure can build character, that there is something to be learned from the fact that you can fall and get up again.

A friend of mine recently voiced her fear that if she lost her current amazing job, she wouldn't be able to look people in the face. Well, I've done it, and then I've done it again. As Mary Karr says, quoting Beckett, aspire to "Fail better."

She also has excellent advice for young writers in general:
[O]ften what we’re most talented at we resist, because we think it’s silly, or small, or not good enough. I teach with George Saunders, a brilliant fiction writer, and he’s so funny. He went to Syracuse when Ray Carver and Toby Wolff were there, and he kept trying to write these gritty, minimalist, realistic stories, and then he’d have some bizarre thing in the middle of it, and Ray and Toby would kill themselves, and tell him, “Just do more of this! Just do this all the time!” And he’d be like, “I want to be a man!”
I will try to keep this in mind. I will also try to blog more, if only because it is a start.

6 comments:

herding tapeworms said...

I'm all for more blogging if you promise not to write about cats or babies or baby cats or babies playing with cats.

jamille said...

sending fuelo love

Flora said...

Hi,

Writing can be hard. I like your blog, keep blogging for your audience. You have readers here, and you need to blog if only for them.

I am sorry about your Dad. There are no words to take away the sting of death - I lost my Dad last year, and the only advice I have is to allow yourself every emotion of grief.

I will be thinking of you,

Best wishes,

Ruth aka Flora

Claire said...

The Swarthmore Bulletin inspired utter misery for me as well... but then I became a little less miserable when I remembered the hilarious Twitter update you posted upon receiving the last one.

ester said...

Thank you ...

Nathan said...

I, fwiw, like the blogging.