Draw everyday, that’s what art students were told. Draw all the time, in your head and on the page. Start with what stays put, and move on to everything else, the in between; the positive and the negative space, the real and the imaginary—dragging lead across a blank page I did just that. What properly belonged in a book, on a wall, to a life span, I didn’t know. But I was searching for it. Listening to teachers by day, and the ancient ones by night. Looking for “my people”. Alert to the uncanny combination of familiar and complete surprise that allows you to say to yourself, this is mine, meant for me, stick around, pay attention, overlook the possible dangers—ignore risk, and follow your often-faulty instincts to their natural conclusions.
I’ll return to the unknown part of myself and when I am born shall speak of “he” or “she.” For now, what sustains me is the “that” that is an “it.” To create a being out of oneself is very serious. I am creating myself. And walking in complete darkness in search of ourselves is what we do. It hurts. But these are the pains of childbirth: a thing is born that is. Is itself. It is hard as a dry stone. But the core is soft and alive, perishable, perilous it. Life of elementary matter.
—Clarice Lispector, AGUA VIVA page 38
Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three short unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:
In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
—Joan Didion (via suzannescanlon)
Leaving is not enough. You must stay gone. Train your heart like a dog. Change the locks even on the house he’s never visited. You lucky, lucky girl. You have an apartment just your size. A bathtub full of tea. A heart the size of Arizona, but not nearly so arid. Don’t wish away your cracked past, your crooked toes, your problems are papier mache puppets you made or bought because the vendor at the market was so compelling you just had to have them. You had to have him. And you did. And now you pull down the bridge between your houses, you make him call before he visits, you take a lover for granted, you take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic. Make the first bottle you consume in this place a relic. Place it on whatever altar you fashion with a knife and five cranberries. Don’t lose too much weight. Stupid girls are always trying to disappear as revenge. And you are not stupid. You loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand. Heart like a four-poster bed. Heart like a canvas. Heart leaking something so strong they can smell it in the street.
Once the cord was cut you took off, your nothing of a childhood done. Nobody said don’t go, stay here. Nobody said, keep in touch. They knew better. Let her go, is what they muttered, we can’t stop her now. She thinks she’s an artist you can’t tell her different. She thinks she knows what she’s doing, where she’s going, so just let her go. Now she’s grown she’ll find out, she’ll discover soon enough she’s a girl, just a girl, and a sad girl at that.
A novel worth reading is an education of the heart. It enlarges your sense of human possibility, of what human nature is, of what happens in the world. It’s a creator of inwardness.
Susan Sontag, Paris Review, The Art of Fiction No. 143
Interviewed by Edward Hirsch