Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Walking away from it all, redux

From: Gregory 

You once wrote "I constantly try to live up to my ideal of myself as a person and a writer (if you want to read more about this, take a look at a long--very long [grin]--interview/essay/rant I wrote on the Aqueduct blog last month). I think it's easy to get complacent about ourselves. Writing--having everything be so public--keeps me on my toes." 

I interpret this - perhaps wrongly - to at least in part mean you wrote Aud the way you did because she embodied in many ways a heightened engagement with the physical world and specificity in thought, intention and language (among her other many admirable traits) that represent the best of how you want to live your life. 

I prize many of the same values you elucidated with Aud (and your Daily Delights, for instance) and have a number of touchstones to return to when I am feeling complacent or downright lazy in life. Do you have any authors or literary characters you turn to when you feel that way?

Thanks for your thinking and your work.

Liebe Grüße aus Hamburg
That Aqueduct post was long, and when I read it now I'm surprised by how willing I was to reveal struggle. Struggle isn't something I normally discuss in public. But clearly that point in my life I was in truth-telling mode--so much so, in fact, that I wrote a second part (though this one is slightly shorter).

But back to your question: Do I have books I turn to when I feel lazy and want to stop feeling that way? In a word: No. When I feel lazy I luxuriate in it. It is bliss. It's part of my writing process. To distract myself from it would be to break what works.

The nature of a writer who isn't yet independently wealthy is to work. I work all the time--even when I look as though I'm not working. When I sip tea in the sunshine and muse upon trees and birds part of me is somewhere else, and that part of me is working.

I'm not sure I get complacent. The reason I started writing in the first place is that it's the one thing I know I can always improve. It's like life itself: never-ending learning. Physically, yes, I'm more indolent than I'd like. I have MS; I can't stride about the way I want to. In the days before MS, I walked, ran, and biked everywhere: I didn't have a car and rarely used the bus. A two-mile walk to work (and back) was an everyday thing, and while I was there I ran up and down five flights of steps constantly. In evenings I'd bike another couple of miles to teach self defence (and the class itself could be physically demanding) then off to, say, play a darts match, then home, then write something, then a bit of sleep, then do it all again.

Now I don't. I loll about and type, or read, or watch the birds. Except when I'm travelling, when I'm meeting-and-greeting, and signing, and speaking, and doing interviews and readings. And when I get home, and I'm catching up on physical therapy and all those friends I haven't seen for weeks. And writing publicity pieces to support the novel. I actually long--I yearn, I hunger--for laziness. There's nothing I'd like better than to do nothing. It's what fills the creative well: finding the still, quiet place.

Non-fiction doesn't seem to work the same way for me. I can pump out non-fiction like a machine. In fact, when I'm publicising a novel I do: writing a couple of pieces a day, for days--and weeks, even months--at a time. But talking about the same thing can be existentially exhausting, and there are times I just want to walk away from it all.

In late 2007, after both Always and And Now We Are Going to Have a Party came out, that's what I did. And this is what happened:
[I]n autumn last year, the day before my birthday, I sat down with no clue how the book would unfurl, just the determination I would be working on it by the time I was forty-seven goddammit, and just...began, just jumped off the cliff. I am now falling a thousand feet per second and accelerating. The air is rarified up here and the view incredible. I'm learning how to fold my arms and legs to fall even faster, how to breathe in the rush. I don't know where or when or how I'll land, but I'll know I'll figure it out before I get there. I have to.
But to write the kind of book I want, I first have to find that still, quiet place. And then I have to dwell in it.

As we're talking about writing process, here's another blog post in which I talk about being both an analytical and intuitive writer, and how Hild needed both.

And lastly, your closing salutation reminded of a German term, funktionslust: enjoying what you do well. I write good novels. To write, though, I have to be lazy, it's part of my process. And so laziness is something I've learnt to do well, too. I bask, I revel, I glory in it.
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