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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Friday, June 09, 2006


I'm under the spell of Alice Munro again. I've just finished reading another of her short story collections, "The Love of a Good Woman." She writes things like this: "And whatever troubled him and showed in his face might have been just the same old trouble--the problem of occupying space in the world and having a name that people could call you by, being somebody they thought they could know." Or like this: "For everybody, though, the same thing. Evil grabs us when we are sleeping; pain and disintegration lie in wait. Animal horrors, all worse than you can imagine beforehand." And I stop, my mouth open with wonder, my mind full of these words strung one after another in smooth, balanced sentences that are not only beautiful in the simplest, homiest way, but also true.

How can she write sentences like that? How can she know as many things and as profoundly as is required to write such sentences? I think of my own sentences, which to me sound belabored and empty, unsure and convoluted. I feel sorry for myself -- for my inability to concentrate deeply, for my ignorance about people and the world, for my below average vocabulary, for my lack of intuition about the texture of language, my native as much as my adopted one. And I ask myself why, then, do I write? I've seen this question asked elsewhere. Why keep up this blog? Why go on writing diaries, journals, stories? Why even jot down a note? (I spend an inordinate amount of time writing notes. I tell myself that since I've got only two sentences to put down I might as well make them perfect. So I write drafts of two-sentence-long notes.) People answer that they cannot help writing. Madness answered, cryptically and beautifully, that she writes because she is tired of standing in a crowded place trying to get people to notice her. I've been wondering what my own answer is. For a long time I've tried to articulate to myself why I write.

And I don't know why. I heard Billy Collins read his poem "The Trouble With Poetry" on the radio the other day. There's a line in there about how reading poetry makes him want to write poetry. I feel the same way with stories. Reading Alice Munro makes me desperate to write my own stories. They are pitiful. They are pallid reflections of what I want them to be. But they satisfy a very obscure though profound need. Virginia Woolf said that the problem with being an avid reader is that it often makes you want to be a writer. The love of other people's books deludes you into thinking you can write books of your own. That's my problem. That's the best way I can explain why I write. It's not an explanation that satisfies me. An explanation that would satisfy me would make it possible for me to give up writing. Because all this writing is, I think, a sort of addiction. It's not an ordinary kind of addiction, because it can lead to good things, to wonderful books being written. But it can take you so deeply into yourself that you cannot find your way back up to the surface. That's what it does to me, anyway. It can make me feel burningly ashamed of innocuous spelling mistakes, or of an incomplete sentence in a two-line note I leave on the kitchen table. How many times a day do I have to remind myself that there are more important things in life than grammar, than perfect sentences? But a moment after I remind myself I forget again. And I go to a story by Alice Munro to get another fix.


Blogger Rebel Girl said...

and she's got a new book coming out....

June 09, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

The Everyman clothbound collection coming out in September? How will I refrain from buying it (since I already own the huge volume of "Selected Stories") I don't know.

June 09, 2006  

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