Narrative art must be clear, but it must also be mysterious. Something should remain unsaid, something just beyond our understanding, a secret. If it’s only clear, it’s kitsch; if it’s only mysterious (a much easier path), it’s condescending and pretentious and soon monotonous.
Red carpets, interviews and social networking are all alien to him. When a friend told him that he was trending on Twitter following his debut as Moriarty, he made a rare foray online. “So terrifying,” he says burying his head in his hands. “I would never go on it again. Oh God, it just made me want to go to sleep for three weeks. People said lovely things but then people also said the most vicious, horrible things. It’s an outlet for the angry. It’s like going into a room and being punched, then kissed, then hugged, then kicked, then complimented and then slated.”
If you use willpower only to deny yourself pleasures, it becomes a grim, thankless form of defense. But when you use it to gain something, you can wring pleasure out of the dreariest tasks. Young people who seem hopelessly undisciplined in school or on the job will concentrate for hour after hour on video games because there’s a steady series of prizes. That’s the feeling to aim for in the real world.
In order to move up the scale of emotions and become more
attractive to the things you want in life, all you need to do is
let go of your story - the idea that having what you want will
in any way change your life for the better or for the worse.
When you recognize that you don’t need what you want, you’re
free to have it - and freedom is perhaps the ultimate goal…
The second secret, what they never tell you, is that yes, anyone can become a writer. Merely consider any novel by Judith Krantz and you’ll know it’s true. The trick is not to become a writer, it is to stay a writer. Day after day, year after year, book after book. And for that, you must keep working, even when it seems beyond you. In the words-to-live-by of Thomas Carlyle, “Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it in God’s name! ‘Tis the utmost thou has in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the Night cometh, wherein no man can work.”
“Everyone thinks that Beethoven had his string quartets completely in his head—they somehow formed in his head—and all he had to do was write them down, and they would kind of be manifest to the world. But what I think is so interesting, and what would really be a lesson that everybody should learn, is that things come out of nothing. Things evolve out of nothing. You know, that the tiniest seed in the right situation turns into the most beautiful forest. And then the most promising seed in the wrong situation turns into nothing. And I think this would be important for people to understand, because it gives people confidence in their own lives that that’s how things work.
If you walk around with the idea that there are some people who are so gifted—they have these wonderful things in their head but you’re not one of them, you’re just sort of a normal person, you could never do anything like that—then you live a different kind of life. You could have another kind of life, where you say, well, I know that things come from nothing very much, and start from unpromising beginnings. And I’m an unpromising beginning, and I could start something.”
quoted in Brian Eno’s Another Green World by Geeta Dayal (New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009), 31.
Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.
JOYCE CAROL OATES
Shirley is a frequent political commentator of the conservative Republican stripe (a biographer of both Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich), but he’ll be puzzling to many ordinary human beings in that regard, since unlike virtually all publicly visible Republicans these days, he isn’t stupid, he isn’t vicious, and he isn’t patently, observably insane. Certainly in terms of his historical writing, at least, he’s the very last thing most Republicans currently are: responsible.
After suggesting [that young writers] look into The Writer’s Chapbook I recommend they keep a diary, at least a page a day, and faithfully, and also to get into the habit of letter writing to other writers. The advantages that come with doing this seem obvious—both are exercises which hone the communicative skills.
“We moved today to 415 Central Park West. Enormous business of packing and unpacking my books, which I have been carrying on my back for so many years. Lord, how I would like to get free of all these things sometime. I date my maturity from the day I realized there were books I could get along without.”
The problem with trying to escape from decision-making is that that’s a decision, too. Or as the psychotherapist, Sheldon Kopp, puts it, in a line we should probably all have imprinted on the backs of our eyelids: “You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.”
I heard today that one in three kids in the UK does not own a book. I would be dead if I had never found books. So I wouldn’t call them a luxury or a leisure item. I’d call them allies in the life and death struggle.
My old Jewish friend Mona Howard – nearly 90 and totally aware, says that we go through life carrying 2 bags: Time and Money. The Life and Death Struggle. When we are confronted, with difficulties or when we have personal problems, we have to know which bag to go to. Is it Time and Money, or is it more central to the core of who we are?
Books have always been central to the core of me. Fiction and poetry made me who I am; inevitable that I would start making the books in return.
How hard you’re working is a good indicator of whether you’re doing the right or wrong thing with life. There’s that quote about “Work is being somewhere when you’d rather be somewhere else” – but I can’t work too hard just now, because I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.
Every comedian is Marmite. You have that reflex action whereby you laugh or you don’t. You either love us or are left lost. The tragedy for comedians is there’s nothing more they want than to be liked. We desperately seek approval. It’s almost like a personality disorder you can do as a job.
It’s wonderful to get an award, but as John Gielgud once said, the next day you’ve got to start getting better. It would be very easy to let our feet get stuck in the sand.
I didn’t have any vices before the internet. There are a lot of cracks in the day, moments where you don’t know what to do next, so you have a little hole where you look at your phone. You want something that will mean you’re not alone in that moment.
My advice is to do what you can this second. Big plans that rely on other people, new equipment, long periods of time… they’re no good. What can you do right now? Delve under the anxieties until you get to a place that’s mysterious enough.
Do dialogue-let’s say-between a hobo and a high-class hooker, then between an ambulance chaser and a guy who sells scorecards at the ballpark-let’s say-about the meaning of money. Between pints, get the arch of the dart down pat. Shoot foul shots day in and rim out. Pick a sentence at random from a randomly selected book, and another from another volume also chosen by chance; then write a paragraph which will be a reasonable bridge between them. And it does get easier to do what you have done, sing what you’ve so often sung; it gets so easy, sometimes, that what was once a challenge passes over into thoughtless routine. So the bar must be raised a few notches, one’s handicap increased, the stakes trebled, tie both hands behind your back. Refuse the blindfold, refuse the final cigarette, refuse the proffered pizza. Do dialogue in dialect: a Welshman and a Scot arguing about an onion. Hardest of all: start over.
WILLIAM H. GASS