Archie Bishop weren’t worth half a man. Not even on a good day. On a bad day there weren’t no point to him at all. He’d sit on that stump – out by the railroad where the boys from the mountain wore the path through the woods – and just stare at you like you was the most inconvenient thing he ever saw. But the thing you got to figure, is he was an old man when it happened. Not so old that he couldn’t own to what he did, but too old to do it by himself. And then there’s Mary Hubbard. She was the one who said she saw it. Now I’m not saying Mary’s a liar, but she’s been known to see a thing or two aint no way she saw.
I often ask myself what makes a story work, and what makes it hold up as a story, and I have decided that it is probably some action, some gesture of a character that is unlike any other in the story, one which indicates where the real heart of the story lies. This would have to be an action or a gesture which was both totally right and totally unexpected; it would have to be one that was both in character and beyond character; it would have to suggest both the world and eternity. – Flannery O’Connor
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy; will lead the children into the sea. We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.
I’ve always loved Nina. Even when I was nine years old and had never heard her name or saw her face and thought she was a man. So, it was always gonna be awesome, because it’s Nina. About halfway through I started thinking, because that’s what I do, “So, what does it say about Flynn and her life right now, that this brings her to tears?” Trying to be all psychoanalytical and unfeeling because it wasn’t moving me to anything other than the norm. Then it kicked in. The tears. And the happy dance. The pure gratitude and joy.
I watched this on DVD earlier and was awestruck, and tried to describe it to myself in my head. I think she understood pain, and she didn’t give a shit about making it pretty, because suffering isn’t pretty. Thinking of what she sang about makes me think of something Cormac McCarthy said to the effect of ‘any writer who doesn’t write about death is just kidding themselves.’
Today someone reminded me life is beautiful. Like Paul Newman, beautiful.
For most people it can be difficult not to get caught up in their own personal stories. I think this goes doubly true for writers. Those of us who write fiction spend our lives willfully creating drama and conflict, driving people to the edge and back. We carry it around with us. It’s what we do.
Writing can be enlightening and full of understanding but trying to live what you write, when you’re not actually writing, it can wear you out. I realized recently that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Ruminating on a plot I made from scratch. Offhand, this seems like a creative technique. Method Writing. Live and breathe it, baby. But for me, trying to live it, takes away the structure that defines it. And I need that structure. Otherwise, the process carries me away.
This will make a lot of sense, or none whatsoever. Either way, Paul Newman.
Malcolm Gladwell on The Big Think: This I think is true, not just of writers, but of anyone who is in a creative space, that you have to reverse the normal human tendency, which is to edit. So a lot of… and occasionally this is, I think, a source of a great deal of frustration that exists between people in creative and non-creative universes, which is that creative people I think are trying to… their lives and their brains, their brains are messy. Their imaginations are messy. Why, because they don’t want to throw anything out. Why don’t they want to throw anything out? Because they believe on some level that there is always something of interest or value in whatever they encounter. They know enough about how mysterious and serendipitous and unpredictable the creative process is that they realize that it’s dangerous to kind of make too hasty a judgment about the value of anything that they come across.
People in non-creative universes have exactly the opposite relationship to information—or to experiences is a better way of putting it. They’ll see something and they’ll say “Is it relevant to what I’m doing?” And if it’s not they should push it aside and focus on what they’re kind of task is. If you’re at Proctor & Gamble and you’re the head of Ivory soap you’re job is to sell more soap and if you get distracted by some interesting, but ultimately marginal subsidiary issue you won’t sell as much soap. And that is an extreme example, but that’s a world that demands focus. If you’re a surgeon and you’re operating you cannot let your imagination wander about some idiosyncrasy of the operation. You have to kind of zero in. So I think that is a kind of… That embracing of messiness and understanding its contribution to the creative process is something that writers and creative types, artists, whatever have got to cultivate, have to learn to be comfortable with. Because it goes against a lot of our kind of instincts and training as kind of educated people. December 16, 2010
Try to learn to breathe deeply; really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell.
- William Saroyan, Advice to a Young Writer
On Christmas Eve I received a parcel from California. There was no name on it and I didn’t recognize the address. Inside was “The Whole Voyald and Other Short Stories” by William Saroyan, 1956, First Edition, Little Brown and Co. The sender included no note, just a holiday postcard postmarked December, 1919.
I’m very touched by every bit of it – the book, the mystery, the little card addressed simply to Miss Clara Durham, Whitehall, Mich. She doesn’t own to it, but Saroyan was a contemporary of Fante and speaks to me of Flynn. It’s possible, but it’d be a tremendous coincidence if it were from anyone else.
Saroyan was an Armenian-American dramatist and author from Fresno, California. His stories celebrated optimism in the midst of the trials and tribulations of the Depression, although his approach to autobiographical fact contained a fair bit of poetic license. Saroyan endeavored to create a prose style full of zest for life and seemingly impressionistic, that came to be called “Saroyanesque”.
If you enter the John Ritblat Gallery in the British Library from the upper level and turn left to the first list of recordings, you can listen on headphones to a short extract from Virginia Woolf’s only recording. Part of a BBC radio broadcast on 29 April 1937, the recording was only a short part of ‘Craftsmanship’ (reprinted in The Death of the Moth).
Interestingly, it starts one sentence earlier than we usually hear, with: ‘Only after the writer is dead…’
Week before last I went to Wesleyan and read ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find.’ After, I went to one of the classes where I was asked questions. There were a couple of young teachers there and one of them, an earnest type, started asking the questions. ‘Miss O’Connor,” he said, ‘why was the Misfit’s hat black?’ I said most countrymen in Georgia wore black hats. He looked pretty disappointed. Then he said, ‘Miss O’Connor, the Misfit represents Christ, does he not?’ ‘He does not,’ I said. He looked crushed. ‘Well, Miss O’Connor,’ he said, ‘what is the significance of the Misfit’s hat?’ I said it was to cover his head; and after that he left me alone. Anyway, that’s what’s happening to the teaching of literature.
- Flannery O’Connor in a letter to Dr. T. R. Spivey, May 25, 1959.