- Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

“As far as language goes, we have to live contentedly, and discontentedly, with our own, making it do what it can and, also, a little of what it can’t.“

 

Happy birthday, Lorrie Moore! 63, today!

 

“I try to start a project with at least a small sense of urgency—one has to feel there is some reason for it, and something must propel it. That said, one often continues work with an intermittent sense of lostness, despondency, and an inner voice chanting why why why. But that is merely falling down a little, and one gets back up and continues. (Cliché alert! I would like to fall down and just lie there for a very long time—but almost never do.) Working on anything for anyone—as far as I know—is like that.”

 

“Better to think of writing, of what one does as an activity, rather than an identity—to write, I write, we write; to keep the calling a verb rather than a noun; to keep working at the thing, at all hours, in all places, so that your life does not become a pose, a pornography of wishing.”

 

“Writing is both the excursion into and the excursion out of one’s life. That is the queasy paradox of the artistic life. It is the thing that, like love, removes one both painfully and deliciously from the ordinary shape of existence. It joins another queasy paradox: that life is an amazing, hilarious, blessed gift and that it is also intolerable. Even in the luckiest life, for example, one loves someone and then that someone dies. This is not acceptable. This is a major design flaw! To say nothing of the world’s truly calamitous lives. The imagination is meant outwardly to console us with all that is interesting, not so much to subtract but to add to our lives.”

 

“[T]he main struggle for every writer is with the dance and limitations of language—to honor the texture of it but also to make it unafraid. One must throw all that one is into language, like a Christmas tree hurled into a pool. One must listen and proceed, sentence to sentence, hearing what comes next in one’s story—which can be a little maddening.”

 

“Art has been given to us to keep us interested and engaged—rather than distracted by materialism or sated with boredom—so that we can attach to this life, a life which might, otherwise, be an unbearable one.”

 

“[T}he compulsion to read and write—and it seems to me it should be, even must be, a compulsion—is a bit of mental wiring the species has selected, over time, in order, as the life span increases, to keep us interested in ourselves.”

 

“What writers do is workmanlike: tenacious, skilled labor. That we know. But it is also mysterious. And the mystery involved in the act of creating a narrative is attached to the mysteries of life itself, and the creation of life itself: that we are; that there is something rather than nothing. Though I wonder whether it sounds preposterous in this day and age to say such a thing. No one who has ever looked back upon a book she or he has written, only to find the thing foreign and alienating, unrecallable, would ever deny its mysteriousness.”

 

“‘That is what is wrong with cold people. Not that they have ice in their souls—we all have a bit of that—but that they insist every word and deed mirror that ice. They never learn the beauty or value of gesture. The emotional necessity. For them, it is all honesty before kindness, truth before art. Love is art, not truth. It’s like painting scenery.'”

 

“What draws me to humor is the mordant and paradoxical way people actually speak in times of worry and despair.”

 

“The ‘artist’ doesn’t matter. Just the art.”

 

“When people say, ‘I have writer’s block. What do you suggest?’ I say, ‘If you can’t write, don’t write. No one needs your writing. Don’t torture yourself.'”

 

“A writer can’t control the reception of one’s work or the perception of its author—as much as one would like to. You just have to put on your helmet and boots and get out your pen. At some point, to some extent, what is both right and wrong with your work is what’s right and wrong with you. What is in it is what’s in you—and that’s if it’s going well.”

 

“If prose can cast a spell we will listen to it no matter what it’s saying (and maybe decide afterward whether we like what it’s saying—how else could, say, Lolita work?) If a narrative uses language in a magical and enlivening way, we will listen to the story. But if the language doesn’t cast a spell, we will listen to it only if it is telling us something that actually happened. So in this way, there is a wider range of prose abilities in memoirs, it seems to me.”

 

“Narrative combines elements of vision and sound, like little else, as well as the psychological and the social. You get to design the set, write the lines, and be in the play. It is glorious. It is musical, dramatic, intellectual, and historical in its record of inner and outer. There are usually a few false starts in a story’s finding its true form—so intuition is only a small part.”

 

“But awkwardness is where tension is, and tension is where the story is. It’s also where the comedy is, which I’m interested in; when it resolves it tends to resolve toward melancholy, a certain resignation, which I find interesting as well.”

 

“As for the relationship of my writing to politics—in the broadest sense, of course, everything is political, and I am interested in power and powerlessness as it relates to people in various ways. I’m also interested in the way that the workings of governments and elected officials intrude upon the lives and minds of people who feel generally safe from the immediate effects of such workings. All the political things we discuss with our friends are things my characters consider, too. Or almost all. Of course, in short fiction, things are put forward in abbreviated ways.”

 

“I’m just trying to register the way we, here in America, live. Everyone’s life is deforming, to some extent, but some more than others.”

 

“I’m not recording from the real world all the time, because that’s just dull. … I want to create something that doesn’t exist exactly in the real world, but exists in a kind of parallel to the real world.”

 

“I work from images in my mind’s eye and let the associations occur. Then I try to get the rhythm of the sentence right.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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