Thursday, June 21, 2007

That Uncomfortable Feeling

"It would be strange to get in the car and think you were going to pick up the kids at school, but not be really sure. But there are moments in the process of writing a story when you must tolerate that uncomfortable feeling: You stay alert to everything that is happening and by listening and watching, you find out where you are going by going there. Somebody else may get in the car."

Ron Carlson, from Ron Carlson Writes a Story (Available 9/4/07)

The Writer Interview (July 2007)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Absence of Peace of Mind

Great quote sent to me by my friend Kit from a book she just finished reading:

"The call of the God experienced in Christ is simply a call to be all that each of us is -- a call to offer, through the being of our humanity, the gift of God to all people by building a world in which everyone can live more fully, love more wastefully and have the courage to be all that they can be. That is how we live out the presence of God.

God is about living, about loving and about being. The call of Jesus is thus not a call to be religious. It's not a call to escape life's traumas, to find security, to possess peace of mind. All of those things are invitations to a life-contracting idolatry. The call of God through Jesus is a call to be fully human, to embrace insecurity without building protective fences, to accept the absence of peace of mind as a requirement of humanity.

It is to see that God is the experience of life, love and being who is met at the edges of an expanded humanity. That is surely what the author of the Fourth Gospel meant when he quoted Jesus as proclaiming that his purpose was that they might have life and have it abundantly."

- John Shelby Spong, Jesus for the non-religious : recovering the divine at the heart of the human

No Calculation

"There's no calculation: I can't write what a lesser writer writes or what a better writer writes. This is what I write."

- Harlan Coben, quoted in The Atlantic Monthly

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not Knowing Even as We're Seeing

"It's kind of a paradox of being both a writer and a teacher, I want to preserve the mystery of art. Whatever illuminations art gives us depends upon some aspect of not knowing even as we 're seeing and understanding more. At the same time, I'm trying to teach my students something about it. So what can I say? This is how mystery is made - no I can't say that, there's no formula. But it is something that I'm increasingly fierce about, the preservation of mystery, of uncertainty in these times when certainty leads too easily to fanaticism. I want to weaken that connection. I want to find in art the means to get us thinking about the importance of uncertainty, the agile beliefs that can change, minds that can reflect again and find a different answer."

- Joanna Scott, speaking with Michael Silverblatt about her new collection of short stories, Everybody Loves Somebody
Excerpt at KCRW's Bookworm

To Make You See

“My task I am trying to achieve, is — by the power of the written word — to make you hear, to make you feel. It is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more. And it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.”

- Joseph Conrad

Let the Image Pull You

"When people try to write stories they tend to drag the stories behind them. They think the story and question it and try to arrange it into something understandable, which is no fun at all! It makes a person feel exhausted and cranky. The best way to write is to let the image pull you. You should be water-skiing behind it, not dragging it like a barge. Writing should take you for a ride."

- Lynda Barry

Images That Shimmer Around the Edges

"When I talk about pictures in my mind I am talking, quite specifically, about images that shimmer around the edges. There used to be an illustration in every elementary psychology book showing a cat drawn by a patient in varying stages of schizophrenia. This cat had a shimmer around it. You could see the molecular structure breaking down at the very edges of the cat: the cat became the background and the background the cat, everything interacting, exchanging ions. People on hallucinogens describe the same perception of objects. I'm not a schizophrenic, nor do I take hallucinagens, but certain images do shimmer for me. Look hard enough, and you can’t miss the shimmer. It’s there. You can’t think too much about these pictures that shimmer. You just lie low and let them develop. You stay quiet. You don’t talk to many people and you try to keep your nervous system from shorting out and you try to locate the cat in the shimmer."

- Joan Didion, Why I Write (The New York Times Magazine, 12/5/1976)

Sunday, June 17, 2007


"What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?"

The Idea of a Certain Artificial and Elegant Repose

Adam Smith writing about the human cost of capitalist progress in Theory of Moral Sentiments, published in 1759:

The poor man's son, whom heaven in its anger has visited with ambition, when he begins to look around him, admires the condition of the rich...Through the whole of his life he pursues the idea of a certain artificial and elegant repose which he may never arrive at, for which he sacrifices a real tranquillity that is at all times in his power, and which, if in the extremity of old age he should at last attain to it, he will find to be in no respect preferable to that humble security and contentment which he had abandoned for it...

Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Two men playing tennis in the park this morning. Both wearing washed out beige shorts and bright white shirts. Their arms and legs are flushed the same pink. They are both balding and letting their remaining gray hair grow unhindered in the untended style of Einstein. One wears a blue brace on his right knee, the other wears a blue brace on his left knee. Each hovers at his center mark hitting the ball directly to the other, a tacit agreement not to force the other to chase it much. Matching skills. Matching motivations. The only breaks in the friendly volley occur when the ball falls short, striking the net, or flies too far, striking the fence. A tally of these errors would likely reveal an equal number from each player.

Friday, June 15, 2007



Once movie site

Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová Live at Sundance

New-Style Musical: Hansard and Irglova in 'Once' (NPR 5/13/07)
The Frames

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Serve the Story

“Don’t do it if you don’t love it, and be enthusiastic about your work. Really invest it with everything in your being. Do what has to be done. If you have to get up at 2:00 in the morning because an idea strikes you, get up at 2:00 in the morning and don’t wait until you get up at 6:00 or 7:00 or 8:00. Do it when it’s there. Be alive to your career. Be alive to the story. Stories deliver themselves in their own way and in their own time and if you’re not there to receive it, you miss it. It’s gone. Be there. And be there continually in your writing. Be a conduit. Don’t think it’s you making it. Be aware that you’ve been given the gift of the story. Serve the story.”

Bruce Joel Rubin, Learning from the Masters (The Dialogue Series)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


From Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn:

A mountain of shoes reaches nearly to the ceiling. In another corner a mountain of t-shirts beside a mountain of sweaters. Mountains of pants, suits and underwear rise up one floor above. Tectonic fashion plates colliding. These new mountains loom above where the men sleep...

Above the men sleeping at the doomed Fort Point ("the Fort") rise the mountains of clothes. A couple of live-in staff workers tear open trashbags of donated cast-offs, toss them into the appropriate mountain, using shovels, rakes, mostly their hands. Another couple of guys are in charge of sizing the shoes and pants, marking the size on a piece of masking tape. A job with no end, for the mountains before them grow faster than they can measure.

Finally it's decided that some of these clothes should be sold to the Rag Man, sold by the pound, the money used to buy new socks and underwear. Never enough socks and underwear. The Rag Man sorts through the clothes, quickly--anything usable will be put in his buck-a-pound bin, the rest will either be shredded for mattress stuffing or donated to Third World countries as a tax write-off.

My father will end up sleeping at Fort Point even after he's unbarred from Pine Street. Six months outside have filled him with bitterness. Or brought to the surface the bitterness he always carried, and this bitterness is directed toward Pine Street. The months he sleeps at Fort Point I will not see much of him. Within six months he will be barred from there as well, for bringing a bottle of vodka up to his bed one night, after months of going downhill. It's February again, and he is Johnny Bench.

Paris, je t'aime

14th Arrondissement
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring Margo Martindale

Faubourg Saint-Denis
Directed by Tom Tykwer
Starring Natalie Portman and Melchior Beslon

Official site

Monday, June 11, 2007

Practice and Commitment

“Practice is the best of all instructors.” -Publilius Syrus

"Submit to a daily practice. Your loyalty to that is a ring on the door. Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually open a window and look out to see who's there." -Rumi

"This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way." - W.H. Murray

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Soup Yet

She walks in ten minutes after they are scheduled to open, five minutes after he unlocks the door in response to my knocking. He has already ladled tomato and carrot bisque into the quart jar I brought with me and screwed the lid back on. She clocks in with her back to us lined up behind the counter. Her jeans can’t contain the top of her pink underwear or the soft flesh around her hips. She asks him if he needs her to bake anything. He says she can help the next person in line. She does not look at us. She places her hands against the sides of my jar of soup and yawns.

A Native of an Unknown Country

From Archetypes for Writers: using the power of your subconscious by Jennifer Van Bergen:

I am talking about your writing. I’m talking about your subject, your characters, your story: what belongs to you and no one else. These all reside in your subconscious. They already exist and you already “know” them, but at the same time, you don’t know them: you may search for others to tell you how to find them, how to write the novel you want to write, how to tell your story. As Proust wrote in The Captive: “Every artist is a native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten…but remains all his life attuned to.”

Part of the reason why people both know and don’t know their own subjects is the principle that you must find outside material to substantiate everything inside of you…The other part of the reason is simply that it’s in your subconscious. Things can emerge from and disappear back into the subconscious, like ghosts.

Each of us has a “little life” – a life that is less than that which we are capable of understanding. Yet, writing is not about NOT having that little life. It is about accepting that little life in ourselves and in others, and giving oneself and others permission to be human and experience all those “little” things, but at the same time, watching oneself and others and noting one’s own and others’ patterns and rhythms, and loving oneself and one’s life, such as it is, and others and their lives, as they are.

The big problem is that in trying to embody ourselves, we change what we are into something we aren’t, something we think we ought to be, etc., and we lose the simple being-ness of being ourselves. So the trick is to be ourselves, to read ourselves accurately, and to transcribe ourselves as we are, while still being (and not losing our sense of self). This is as true of our own selves as with other selves, other persons we observe.

Monday, June 04, 2007

A Deeper Respect for the Demands of Complexity

Norman Mailer discussing his novel The Castle in the Forest with Michael Silverblatt (KCRW's Bookworm, 5/12/07):

One small example of what I'm trying to do here maybe. I was very struck with Clara, Hitler's mother, because she adores him when he's a little boy. She loves him so much. And she really believes she's created an angel. There he is--outrageously spoiled by her when he's young. And I thought this is one of the disproportions of life that we live with so often which is that good mothers can give birth to children whom they turn into monsters through their love. That's how difficult love is. That's how difficult our existence is. There are perversities at every turn. And it's as if there is no single rule that say to you 'This is the way to live.' That indeed, what we have to do is we have to embark as human beings on a deeper respect for the demands of complexity.

And if I find anything disturbing in American life, and one of the reasons I've despised George Bush from the word go, is he's a simplifier. And in doing that, he's injuring a great democracy, because the virtue of a democracy is that the openness and freedom for thought in the country enables us to enter more and more difficult domains of moral ambiguity. We live in moral ambiguity. It's usually a small person or a rare person who can say I'm a good person or a bad person. Generally we sit there and we say, "Who am I? What do I stand for? Am I moral or am I immoral?" Because for so many of our actions, we have no guides. The churches can't guide us. The scientists can't guide us. The psychoanalysts can't guide us. And my vanity, since I'm a novelist, is occasionally good novels come along that can be a bit of a guide. Because dealing with fancy, not fact, they can create models that sit there as hypotheses...When we read a really good novel, it sits with us afterward as one more human possibility and we keep bringing it up and thinking about it and saying, "Do I believe in this or don't I?"

For instance, we read Kafka. We love his notion of absurdity and frustration and they become models for us in times in our lives when everything seems to be going wrong. We say to ourselves, "My lord, this is Kafkan." And doing so, he's relieved us of incredible tantrums and terrors. And in that sense, you can point to all the great novels and they all give us something that is a model of possible reality. And that is what we need. What we need is an entrance into more and more complexity rather than the assumption that I want to have answers.

One of the most intelligent people I ever knew in my life once said in the middle of a lecture when he was on fire, someone said to him, "You never give us answers, all you ever offer are questions." And he said, 'There are no answers. There are only questions.' And I've used it to live with for the rest of my life.