The frettings of the very rich

When one owns four homes and has fifteen full-time gardeners perfecting one’s seven gardens and eight man-made streams, one will, of necessity, spend a great deal of time racing between homes and from garden to garden, as so it is perhaps not surprising if, one afternoon, rushing to check on the progress of a dinner one’s cook is preparing for the board of one’s favourite charity, one finds oneself compelled to take a little rest, briefly dropping to one’s knee, then both knees, then pitching forward on to one’s face and, unable to rise, proceeding here for a more prolonged rest, only to find it not restful at all, since, while ostensibly resting, one finds oneself continually fretting about one’s carriages, gardens, furniture, homes et al., all of which (one hopes) patiently await one’s return, not having (Heaven forfend) fallen into the hands of some (reckless, careless, undeserving) Other.

percival “dash” collier

George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo, p129

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The cover-up

The celebration of marriage. Nuptials.

When I married Ruthy, Aunt Idka showed up at our wedding with a Band-Aid on her arm. She had covered her number with a Band-Aid because she didn’t want to cast a pall on the happy occasion. I felt crushed with grief and compassion for her, for what she must have endured to do a thing like that. All evening I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her arm I felt as if under the clean little Band-Aid lay a deep abyss that was sucking us all in: the hall, the guests, the happy occasion, me. I had to put that story in here. Sorry. 

David Grossman, The Complete Encyclopaedia of Kazik’s Life

David Grossman, one of contemporary Israel’s leading writers, was born in Jerusalem in 1954. His family immigrated to Palestine from Poland in the 1930s, before the Second World War, so he is neither a Holocaust survivor nor a child of survivors.  . . .  His second novel, See Under: Love is an intensely creative treatment of the Holocaust and its aftermath. Some have criticized the degree of experimentation in the novel, given its grave subject matter. Nevertheless, the novel’s deeply compassionate evocation of the lives of survivors and their children, combined with its bold innovations in language and form, make See Under: Love a central achievement of modern Hebrew literature.

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Writing the truth of a life

The American poet Edward Hirsch wrote a poem about his only son who died of a seizure after taking drugs at a party. He was twenty-one. Hirsch is asked what his son would make of the poem about him.

“You can’t answer what your son would make of a poem about him because your son is not there . . . A lot of my friends have been reassuring about this in that they say Gabriel’s personality comes through. Gabriel was not a shrinking violet, he imposed himself on a room. He wanted people to know him.

I am also aware that there are things he didn’t like to talk about and wouldn’t have wanted known, but which are also part of his story. If you tell his story without talking about his disabilities, which he was embarrassed about, you wouldn’t be telling his story. He had all these tics, for example, which he didn’t like to acknowledge; but he had turned all those things quite triumphantly into a working person. It is me telling the story of Gabriel as a father. You go ahead because it is what you think is accurate.”

Tim Adams interview with Edward Hirsch, “Many of us carry the dead around with us. We shouldn’t feel ashamed of that.’ 14 Sept 2014, The Guardian

(from here) 

 

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Giving up control

My general approach to writing fiction is that you try to have as few conceptual notions as possible and you just respond to the energy that the story is making rather than having a big over plan. I think if you have a big over plan, the danger is that you might just take your plan and then you bore everybody. I always joke that it’s like going on a date with index cards. You know, at 7:30 p.m. I should ask about her mother. You keep all the control to yourself but you are kind of insulting to the other person.

In this book, [Lincoln in the Bardo]  the only thing I knew at the beginning was that Lincoln had to come and hold Willie’s body and then he had to stop doing that. And that it had to happen in one night. Then the whole thing became more about orchestrating the motion through the graveyard, and the motion through the graveyard would tell me who could talk and who you encountered. Something like that. (from here)  George Saunders interviewed by Kate Harloe in The Rumpus Interview , Feb 20, 2017

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Pretending everything is normal

People near me don’t know how difficult it is to pretend that nothing

happened, that everything is normal.

Czeslaw Milosz, Notebook, 

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The artist’s responsibility

Interview with George Saunders

What is the intersection between your duty as a citizen and as a novelist?

As an artist, you have to have no responsibilities. Art has to radically have the right to be useless, and that way it discovers its true use. I don’t do a lot of thinking about these different roles. It’s just trusting that whatever you’ve got in your thought cloud is going to find its way in organically.

(from here)

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To cherish doubt

Every Catholic is raised to be devout and love the Gospels, but I was spoiled by the Old Testament. I was very young when I started reading, and the Old Testament sucked me in. I was at the age of magical thinking and believed sticks could change to serpents, a voice might speak from a burning bush, angels wrestled with people. After I went to school and started catechism I realized that religion was about rules. I remember staring at a neighbor’s bridal-wreath bush. It bloomed every year but was voiceless. No angels, no parting of the Red River. It all seemed so dull once I realized that nothing spectacular was going to happen.

I’ve come to love the traditional Ojibwe ceremonies, and some rituals, but I hate religious rules. They are usually about controlling women. On Sundays when other people go to wood-and-stone churches, I like to take my daughters into the woods. Or at least work in the garden and be outside. Any god we have is out there. I’d hate to be certain that there was nothing. When it comes to God, I cherish doubt.

Louise Erdrich, interview in The Paris Review

(from here) 

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The journalist’s lawnmower

That spring when life was very hard and I was at war with my lot and simply couldn’t see where that was to get to, I seemed to cry most on escalators at train stations. Going down them was fine but there was something about standing still and being carried upwards that did it. From apparently nowhere tears poured out of me and by the time I got to the top and felt the wind rushing in, it took all my effort to stop myself from sobbing. It was as if the momentum of the escalator carrying me forwards and upwards was a physical expression of a conversation I was having with myself. Escalators, which in the early days of their invention were known as ” travelling staircases” or “magic stairways”, had mysteriously become danger zones.

I made sure I had lots to read on train journeys. This was the first time in my life I had ever been pleased to read newspaper columns about the things that happened to the journalist’s lawnmower.

Deborah Levy, Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing

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Girl reading at airport

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Being in the public eye

Publication on social media is in part a performance, as is everything “social” that human beings do; but what happens when that brightly lit arena expands so much that there is no green room in which the mascara can be removed, no cluttered, imperfect back stage where we can be ‘“ourselves”? What happens to us if we must be “on” all the time? Then we’re in the twenty-four-hour glare of the supervised prison. To live entirely in public is a form of solitary confinement.

Margaret Atwood: When Privacy is Theft, Margaret Atwood reviews The Circle by David Eggers, The New York Review of Books, Nov 21st 2013 (from here) 

 

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