“But when I can, I try to get up fairly early, when the sun’s still rising, when email is quiet, and when much of the world is still asleep. You’re still a bit closer to the dream space of sleep, and the part of the mind that fiction comes from feels a little more accessible. All the weird jellyfish that floated closer to the surface of thought while I’ve been asleep are more available. When I invite them to show themselves, they do. And I think those jellyfish would be pushed down by the demands of the day if I waited until late afternoon or evening to try to write.
This wonderful piece from Brain Pickings in which the magisterial William Stryon is quoted .. love it. He makes the point that the word “depression” just does not cut it.
“When I was first aware that I had been laid low by the disease, I felt a need, among other things, to register a strong protest against the word “depression.” Depression, most people know, used to be termed “melancholia,” a word which appears in English as early as the year 1303 and crops up more than once in Chaucer, who in his usage seemed to be aware of its pathological nuances. “Melancholia” would still appear to be a far more apt and evocative word for the blacker forms of the disorder, but it was usurped by a noun with a bland tonality and lacking any magisterial presence, used indifferently to describe an economic decline or a rut in the ground, a true wimp of a word for such a major illness. It may be that the scientist generally held responsible for its currency in modern times, a Johns Hopkins Medical School faculty member justly venerated — the Swiss-born psychiatrist Adolf Meyer — had a tin ear for the finer rhythms of English and therefore was unaware of the semantic damage he had inflicted by offering “depression” as a descriptive noun for such a dreadful and raging disease. Nonetheless, for over seventy-five years the word has slithered innocuously through the language like a slug, leaving little trace of its intrinsic malevolence and preventing, by its very insipidity, a general awareness of the horrible intensity of the disease when out of control.”
A really well written paragraph from Maria Popova on the subject of depression:
“In my own experience, the most withering aspect of depression is the way it erases, like physical illness does, the memory of wellness. The totality of the erasure sweeps away the elemental belief that another state of being is at all possible — the sensorial memory of what it was like to feel any other way vanishes, until your entire being contracts into the state of what is, unfathoming of what has been, can be, and will be. If Emily Dickinson was correct, and correct she was, that “confidence in daybreak modifies dusk,” the thick nightfall of depression smothers all confidence in dawn.”
And yet daybreak does come, with a shock and a rapture, to find us asking ourselves in half-belief: “What hurt me so terribly all my life until this moment?”
This is how Hilary Mantel got started, from The New Yorker
“The first novel that Hilary Mantel wrote was about the French Revolution. It did not start out as a novel, exactly, nor did she start out as a novelist. It was 1975, and she was twenty-three, living in Manchester and selling dresses in a department store. She had realized that she didn’t have the money to finish her legal training, and, after a year working in a geriatric hospital, that she didn’t want to be a social worker. She was bored with selling dresses; she had started taking books about the French Revolution out of the library, one after another. Then she began taking notes. After she had been doing this for some time, she asked herself, What am I doing? And the answer came: I am writing a book.”
Phillip Roth on Trump:
“I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But, whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”
For the last day of this incomprehensible year of 2016 I have pulled together a few quotes from that master chronicler of the American condition, Don DeLillo. I have not yet read his latest, a meditation on death and how to cheat it, Zero K (only dipped into it), but even as far back as the much earlier Great Jones Street (1973), DeLillo has consistently shown his fascination with that American obsession, death .. and how we think to cheat it.
“Television. Maybe it was all a study in the art of mummification. The effect of the medium is so evanescent that those who work in its time apparatus feel the need to preserve themselves, delivering their bodies to be lacquered and trussed, sprayed with the rest of pressurized jellies, all to one end, a release from the perilous context of time. This is their only vanity, to expect to dwell forever in hermetic sub-corridors, free of every ravage, secure as old kings asleep in sodium.”
Don De Lillo, Great Jones Street (1973)
Making things difficult for the reader is less an attack on the reader than it is on the age and its facile knowledge-market.
When it comes to writers being obsessed, I have one notion. Obsession as a state seems so close to the natural condition of a novelist at work on a book, that there may be nothing else to say about it.
DonDeLillo, from the 1979 interview with Tom LeClair.
The future belongs to crowds -DonDeLillo, Mao II (1991)
From The Atlantic:
“I once asked a talented and fairly famous colleague how he managed to regularly produce such highly regarded 8,000 word features. “Well,” he said, “first, I put it off for two or three weeks. Then I sit down to write. That’s when I get up and go clean the garage. After that, I go upstairs, and then I come back downstairs and complain to my wife for a couple of hours. Finally, but only after a couple more days have passed and I’m really freaking out about missing my deadline, I ultimately sit down and write.”
This is from the LRB, 4 December 2014:
“She (Rachel Cusk) was reading Knausgaard, and coming to think that the whole idea and practice of fiction, as conventionally understood, is ‘fake and embarrassing .. utterly ridiculous’. The real point of writing, her piece quotes Knausgaard as saying, is not to do with making things up, but with ‘drawing the essence of what we know out of the shadows… Not what happens there, nor what actions are played out there, but the there itself’ — and this is where, in Cusk’s view, creative writing courses come in. People come along as a first step in the effort to start uncovering and developing their own self-relations and their relations to the world. ‘Very often a desire to write is a desire to live more honestly through language … The notion of “finding your voice”, simplistic as it may sound, is … a social goal.””
My problem is that I wake up in the morning and look at the stoppages in my upcoming day – those deadlines and times which determine when your privacy begins and ends again, those times of the day which require you to do something with somebody else. Visits are that way. Doctor’s appointments are that way. Picking up your child from school is that way. For many years I have contrived to create more and more spaces of uninterrupted “me time” for myself, time uninterrupted by any obligation to anyone. It’s somewhat like the Bill Maher joke about “that kind” of party, where it’s Friday night and you don’t have to be anywhere until next Tuesday. Though it’s not the partying I crave so much as that stretch of time, opening up, unblocked by stoppages of any kind. Summer brings this on.
I remember a funny little movie I once saw, some experimental short of some kind. In this movie a man would get into an elevator and press the down key. As he went down to ground floor he used the time in the elevator for himself, performing little acts of rebellion, at first doing little things like maybe taking off his shoes one day and putting them back on before getting to ground floor. The next day he did shoes and socks, getting more and more efficient. Then shoes, socks, and tie, and back again, then trousers, then shirt, etc .. all frenetically speeded up actions in faster motion, then a final brush down and wipe of the comb before he strode manfully out of the elevator, on his way to work. He may have drunk tea at one point … I have entered ghost memory now.
If anybody knows of this movie, or how to search for this movie, I would love to know. We’re going back about 35-40 years. I always thought of the movie as a deep metaphor for how we create pockets of time for ourselves, inside the crush of our everyday lives and duties. I thought that the first time I saw it, perhaps long before I was able to put into words what the movie meant to me.
I also remember a New Yorker cartoon (or was it Paris Match?) of two little cartoon character men, inside two cages. Actually one cage contained the smaller one, and inside the smaller one was a hapless little man, being taunted by the other man because he was not locked in the little cage, but was in fact still in a cage. Constraints.
But getting back to the “stoppages” in my day… I have in the past felt guilty at times for being such an introvert, which in my book simply means “quite happy to be alone.” I was cheered to hear on NPR that Burt’s Bee’s founder, Burt, had a saying… “Any day that nobody’s visiting and I don’t have to go anywhere, that’s a good day.”
Time. Feel it. It is ample. Summer is ample.
“Remember what April was like when we were young, that sense of liquid rushing and the wind taking blue scoops out of the air and the birds beside themselves in the budding trees?”
by John Banville