I am looking again at my manuscript which Jessica said is too “dark,” a complaint I can’t understand. And I am thinking of how to edit a short piece I wrote which was inspired by Walter Pater’s Child in the House, but I wonder if it’s too obscure. I want to rewrite my unpublished novel, The Only Home I Have, so that all the minor characters don’t seem like cliches. I want to rewrite my novel draft, The Secret Bible Club, based on the American Eugenics Movement, so that the front story is at least as interesting as the back story. I want to develop a collection of short stories, but first I need to read more Chekov. I want to finish my book about Ten Mile. I want to write a screenplay. I just want to be a writer. But I need to work in the garden and I want to play with the baby and I need to cook and I want to organize my closet. And I have to finish my syllabus for class, which starts Monday.
I’m in a coffee house and a man is sitting across from me, carrying on a lively conversation with himself. He is looking in my direction. For a while I nodded and made small exclamatory statements, but then I realized he wasn’t really talking to me. I’m reading Jenny’s story about Artemis, but I’m also trying to hear what the man is saying. Earlier today someone said that Truman Capote practiced paraphrasing so he became good at remembering dialogue and could forgo a pad and paper when conducting interviews. I used to be able to recall long conversations, but now I can’t. I like what Norman Mailer said about Truman Capote: that it took so much courage for him simply to be himself, yet he never pretended to be anything but who he was. I heard Truman Capote speak once in Bloomington, Illinois and he had a panic attack, but then he started reading his Christmas story and calmed down. I read In Cold Blood when I was twelve and it ruined my adolescence, which I suppose means it’s good.
The structure … is always the story of how the birds came home to roost. –Arthur Miller
I’ve been watching Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallender series. I like crime movies. but I don’t like to dwell on the crime, which is what American crime movies usually do, as if the crime is what’s interesting. I went to see The Life of Pi, even though I don’t like movies or books that take place on boats. The Life of Pi was visually interesting, but the film itself only becomes interesting retrospectively, as revealed in the final five minutes of the movie, and by then it is too late. I went to see Cloud Atlas and I’m sure I would have liked it more if I hadn’t gone with David who is an atheist, but I do wish they would have resisted sentimentality. I also saw Lincoln and was, first of all, surprised to discover a popular American film that relied so completely on interesting dialogue.
It’s Christmas and Christmas always makes me feel that I fall short. My goal: to have a job that allows me to be gone every winter. I told Sarah yesterday that living in Oregon in the winter is like being wrapped in a tarp. She said that was exactly right, but I said I should stop describing it like that. But no, it’s exactly right, she insisted. But still, that’s not the way to think of it, even if it is true. I should walk more, even if it is like being under a tarp. I am morose in the winter. I’ve finished the final chapter of my novel, Watching Rhonda Honey, which I’ve renamed Little Bird. Crystal says there is a restaurant in Portland named Little Bird, but surely that won’t matter.
In DC we went to an atheists rally, but I am not an atheist. It was the biggest atheist rally in history, or something like that. The periphery was lined with people wanting to save our souls, which is something I never understand. I went with Chuck and Maggie. Two atheists whose souls no one should ever worry about.
Afterwards, we went to the National Gallery of Art and looked at paintings by Cassatt, Monet, Manet, Degas, Matisse, Renoir, and Cézanne . In his essay “Impressions of Ernest Hemingway,” Paul Smith says that from Cézanne, Hemingway learned to write sentences that “end just short of verbal or discursive meaning.” Hemingway himself says, “I was learning something from the paintings of Cézanne that made writing simple true sentences far from enough to make the stories have the dimensions that I was trying to put in them. I was learning very much from him but I was not articulate enough to explain it to anyone. Besides it was a secret.” From Cézanne Hemingway saw that what we leave out is as important as what we put in. I used to disparage Hemingway but that’s when I was an ideologue. That’s when I thought I knew so much. When I was like the people on the periphery holding signs warning us about hell.
It’s Saturday and I’m reading Virginia Woolf. About five minutes ago, I received an email from my mother. It is made up of two sentences: “I lost her address and I want to thank her for the Xmas card. Sun is pretty on the snow and I see 2 cardinals in the tree.”
This tendency of my mother to start in the middle of a conversation used to drive me crazy. It is a little like reading Virginia Woolf, I think: we are thrust into someone’s consciousness and must struggle to orient ourselves. And then, abruptly, some sharp unexpected sensual image. I love that sudden leap from sender of Christmas card to two red cardinals on a branch in the snow. So vivid. I recently realized that often when my writing is strongest I am writing like my mother talks.
I thought of a short story last night while I did the dishes and it was all whole in my mind but then I worked on math, watched an episode of Twin Peaks, drank a glass of wine, read a little of Henry James and went to sleep and now I haven’t the slightest idea about that story, even though, at the time, is was complete in my mind.
First of all, I don’t like Gertrude Stein’s writing. Conceptually what she is doing might be interesting, and I appreciate the fact that she was brave and that she wrote what she wanted to write even if she had to publish it herself, but her writing is awful to read. I was sitting in the train station this morning reading Tender Buttons and a young man was pacing up and down, somewhat agitated, muttering to himself or occasionally talking out loud. His conversation sounded like this: one more time, I’m telling you, cartwheels, yes, last chance, and that’s spelled C-H-A-N-C-E. I thought he sounded an awful lot like Stein.
I think the purpose of language is to say something. Otherwise why don’t we just grunt and groan and make barking noises?
People say that Stein “reacquaints” us with language.
I can do it too (if I may be so audacious). My version of Gertrude Stein’s poem Orange.
Lemon (a poem that was more satisfying to write than to read)
Why is a smell crab an eyebrow run. Why is a round yellow why is a sad color a round round a broken show and give me back my pieces just give me yellow round tart table round canter clop in the heat be okay I just want to be okay be okay I just want the yellow sun.
Last week a woman sitting next to me on the train was reading my book. I’ve always wanted this to happen.
Last night I was at a party and realized the man I was talking to is the ex-husband of the woman on the train.
I’ve been depressed and I think it’s because I’m in school and don’t have a moment for my own thoughts and have only written one small paragraph of my new book in the past two weeks and also because I’ve started looking for a home for my novel, Watching Rhonda Honey, which is nerve-wracking, and most of all because we wanted to use our air miles to go to Hawaii over spring break but realized we only had $8 in our checking account and surely that’s not enough.
Frieda decides to run away from home. What song would it be?
On the radio this morning an actor described making a film about the rape of Nanking. He worried because the actresses were required to cry so much and he said prolonged emotion is hard on actors but then, as he watched, one of the girls turned to him and winked. Can you do it even when don’t feel it? Larry McMurtry said he hated writing Lonesome Dove, but how could he not enjoy writing something that is such a pleasure to read?
It’s flooding in Oregon. The school where I work is an evacuation center. It’s selfish, but I love big weather. I wouldn’t feel this way if it were my family washed away or my home or anyone I knew or maybe if I had more imagination or heart.
Virginia Woolf said that we should write what interests us, what moves us. I ran away from home when I was fifteen, but now it feels like someone else.