American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
American Author, Poet, Essayist, Winner of Pulitzer
Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.
You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.
You can serve or you can sing, and wreck your heart in prayer, working the world's hard work.
You can, in short, lead the life of the mind, which is, despite some appalling frustrations, the happiest life on earth. And one day, in the thick of this, approaching some partial vision, you will (I swear) find yourself on the receiving end of - of all things - an idea for a story, and you will, God save you, start thinking about writing some fiction of your own. Then you will understand, in what I fancy might be a blinding flash, that all this passionate thinking is what fiction is about, that all those other fiction writers started as you did, and are laborers in the same vineyard.
You cannot mend the chromosome, quell the earthquake, or stanch the flood. You cannot atone for the dead tyrants? murders and you alone cannot stop living tyrants. As Martin Buber saw it, the world of ordinary days affords us that precise association with god that redeems both us and our speck of world. God entrusts and allots to everyone an area to redeem: this creased and feeble life, the world in which you live, just as it is, and not otherwise. Insofar as he cultivates and enjoys them in holiness, he frees their souls?he who prays and sings in holiness, eats and speaks in holiness?through him the sparks which have fallen will be uplifted, and the worlds which have fallen will be delivered and renewed.
You can't test courage cautiously.
You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.
You can live as a particle crashing about and colliding in a welter of materials with god, or you can live as a particle crashing about and colliding in a welter of materials without god. But you cannot live outside the welter of colliding materials.
Why did I have to keep learning this same thing over and over?
Why didn't someone hand those newly sighted people paints and brushes from the start, when they still didn't know what anything was? Then maybe we all could see color-patches too, the world unraveled from reason, Eden before Adam gave names. The scales would drop from my eyes; I'd see trees like men walking; I'd run down the road against all orders, allowing and leaping.
Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?
Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment. The most demanding part of living a lifetimes as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one's own most intimate sensitivity. Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said this. Thoreau said it another way: know your own bone. Pursue, keep up with, circle round and round your life... Know your own bone: gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.
Why, why in the blue-green world write this sort of thing? Funny written culture, I guess; we pass things on.
Write about winter in the summer. Describe Norway as Ibsen did, from a desk in Italy; describe Dublin as James Joyce did, from a desk in Paris. Willa Cather wrote her prairie novels in New York City; Mark Twain wrote ''Huckleberry Finn'' in Hartford. Recently scholars learned that Walt Whitman rarely left his room.
Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality.
You are a Seminole alligator wrestler. Half naked, with your two bare hands, you hold and fight a sentence's head while its tail tries to knock you over.
You are God. You want to make a forest, something to hold the soil, lock up solar energy, and give off oxygen. Wouldn't it be simpler just to rough in a slab of chemicals, a green acre of goo?
You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page. The page is jealous and tyrannical; the page is made of time and matter; the page always wins.
Who and of what import were the men whose bones bulk the Great Wall, the thirty million Mao starved, or the thirty million children not yet five who die each year now? Why, they are the insignificant others, of course; living or dead, they are just some of the plentiful others.
Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know. The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time's scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life's strength: that page will teach you to write.
Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading--that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur's life a good one, or Thomas Mann's?
Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered?
Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts? Can the writer renew our hope for literary forms? Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatize our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power? What do we ever know that is higher than that power which, from time to time, seizes our lives, and reveals us startlingly to ourselves as creatures set down here bewildered? Why does death so catch us by surprise, and why love? We still and always want waking.
Why are we watching the news, reading the news keeping up with the news? Only to enforce our fancy -- possibly a necessary lie -- that these are crucial times, and we are in on them.
When, over the following months, Minta Randall found that Eustace apparently reciprocated her profoundest and most secret feelings, she thought she had never lived before, or knew what life could hold, or what absolute power one heart could exert upon another. She perceived no trace, fossil, or echo of this wild sensation anywhere around her, and concluded that she and Eustace had invented it together, which would be, she thought, just like them.