Tuesday, July 28, 2015
A link to the full story is here.
Gratitude is here but also where nobody but me can see it.
Because people don't see you or see what you're doing doesn't mean you don't exist. When Robert [Mapplethorpe] and I spent the end of the '60s in Brooklyn [NY] working on our art and poetry, no one knew who we were. Nobody knew our names. But we worked like demons. And no one really cared about Fred and I during the '80s. But our self-concept had to come from the work we were doing, from our communication, not from outside sources.
They burned yellow and white, and some of them changed to blue or a cold green or orange—Swede should've been there, she'd have had words. She'd have known that orange to be volcanic or forgestruck or a pinprick between our blackened world and one the color of sunsets. I thought of God making it all, picking up handfuls of whatever material, iron and other stuff, rolling it in. His fingers like nubby wheat. The picture I had was of God taking these rough pellets by the handful and casting them gently, like a man planting. Look at the Milky Way. It has that pattern, doesn't it, of having been cast there by the back-and-forward sweep of His arm?
Q: Although the narrator tells the story in retrospect, we see the world through the eleven- year old eyes of Reuben. How were you able to capture the wonder, fears, and curiosity of such a young protagonist?
A: First, my parents gave me the sort of childhood now rarely encountered. Summers were beautiful unorganized eternities where we wandered in the timber unencumbered by scoutmasters. We dressed in breechclouts and carried willow branch bows, and after supper Dad hit us fly balls. It was probably most idyllic for me as the youngest of four, since three worthy imaginations were out beating the ground in front of me; who knew what might jump up? Now I see that same freedom in the lives of our two sons, whose interests cover the known map. It's easy to witness the world through the eyes of a boy when you have two observant ones with you at all times. But the ruinous thing about growing up is that we stop creating mysteries where none exist, and worse, we usually try to deconstruct and deny the genuine mysteries that remain. We argue against God, against true romance, against loyalty and self-sacrifice. What allows Reuben to keep his youthful perspective is that he's seen all these things in action -- he is the beneficiary of his father's faith. He is a witness of wonders. To forget them would be to deny they happened, and denying the truth is the beginning of death.
I want to raise my son to pursue wisdom over winning. I want him to channel his passions and talents and personal politics into rivers of his own choosing. I'd like to take the chance that I feel it is my right to take on contentment over credentials, imagination over conquest, the idiosyncratic point of view over the standard-issue one. I'd like to live in a world where that's okay.
Some call this folly. Some make a point of reminding me of all the most relevant data: That the imagination has lost its standing in classrooms and families nationwide. That storytelling is for those with too much time. That winning early is one bet-hedging path toward winning later on. That there isn't time, as there once was time, for a child's inner life. That a mother who eschews competition for conversation is a mother who places her son at risk for second-class citizenry.
As parents and teachers, as writers and people with more than a few wrinkles by their eyes, let us do what is right by our young people. Let us not rewrite their stories. Let us not allow them to think that winning is more important than knowing. Let us remind them that honesty, authenticity, goodness is the ultimate aim, not stars or unearned privilege. Let them find out who they are.
This destruction of self-esteem and erasing of voice is exactly what Nora Raleigh Baskin, author of the new book Ruby on the Outside, fears. Having taught for almost 15 years at organizations including Gotham Writers Workshop, Raleigh Baskin has seen those mindsets trending. She refuses to critique manuscripts to send off to literary magazines or to judge competitions on the grounds that budding writers’ voices shouldn’t be “held up against a random opinion. This is the time for exploration and for encouragement … Writing is all about process and setting these arbitrary achievements takes away from that.”For some young writers, that pressure can be far more insidious than the pain of rejection. The competitive spirit may persuade parents to hire well-known writers to tutor, edit, or even rewrite their children’s work. It may even lead minors down the path of plagiarism.
Finally, I'd like to add that, as a University of Pennsylvania student who moved off campus this semester feeling utterly alienated and unable to communicate with my contemporaries, the group discussion session proved extremely valuable to me. It was an experience as necessary as it was fun.Perhaps I write today because I gave myself room for the poetic at Haverford. Perhaps much of the way I teach now at Penn stems from what I learned about the importance of creating classrooms where names are known, ideas are valued, and affection is absolute. We learn better in those environments. We take what we learned forward.
How does it interact with reality?
In what kind of weather does it thrive?
What kinds of arguments does it have?
What secrets has it shared with no one?
What questions does it chase?
What is its shoe size?
How does it deal with crisis?
Where does it find peace or solace?
How does it exercise its curiosity?
How does it greet or ignore the skies?
What does it miss?
What will it stand up for?
What would it change about itself?
Who are its heroes?
Does it dance, and if it does, to what music?
What songs was it sung when it was young?
Does it seek to be rooted in or to escape?
Does it crave lonesomeness?
Does it have faith in another day?
If it were colorblind would it be heartbroken?
What is its favorite word?
Who and what does it trust?
And from the writers:
What haunts it?
What is its least favorite vegetable?
What sense would it most not like to lose?
What does it value more than its own life?
How far would it go to achieve its goal?
Who or what gives it meaning?
Where would it like to travel?
Is it experiencing an existential crisis?
Is it afraid of crowds?
What makes it hopeful?
Does it like water?
What superpower does it wish for?
Where is it from?
How was it raised?
Does it long for the past or dream of the future?
Did it sleep last night?
What is its greatest fear?
What does it fear of the future?
What is its favorite color?
INTERVIEWERYou once said that the word fiction is a crude word. Why?
SALTERThe notion that anything can be invented wholly and that these invented things are classified as fiction and that other writing, presumably not made up, is called nonfiction strikes me as a very arbitrary separation of things. We know that most great novels and stories come not from things that are entirely invented, but from perfect knowledge and close observation. To say they are made up is an injustice in describing them. I sometimes say that I don’t make up anything—obviously, that’s not true. But I am usually uninterested in writers who say that everything comes out of the imagination. I would rather be in a room with someone who is telling me the story of his life, which may be exaggerated and even have lies in it, but I want to hear the true story, essentially.
INTERVIEWERYou’re saying it’s always drawn from life?
SALTERAlmost always. Writing is not a science, and of course there are exceptions, but every writer I know and admire has essentially drawn either from his own life or his knowledge of things in life. Great dialogue, for instance, is very difficult to invent. Almost all great books have actual people in them.
Words I will share at Arcadia later today. Words that will help keep me balanced as I continue to reflect on what sort of osmotic project I might wrestle next.
This is what I will say to you most urgently: there are many obvious differences between middle age and youth, between having lived more and done more and being newly energized and fresh to the race. But the greatest difference is patience. Youth is notoriously impatient, even though there is no need for impatience early on, when people have the time to be patient. In middle age, the wisdom of patience seems more straightforward, but there aren’t so many days left. But Rilke is correct that we must all write as though eternity lay before us. Enjoy the flexibility that span of eternity offers. The discourse between the young and the nostalgic retains some of its inherent poetry in the form of a longing intimacy. The freshness of younger people awakens memories in older ones—because though you, young writers, are yourselves at the brink of your own future, you evoke the past for those who came before you.
She'd looked the way she always had for as far back as he could remember, and she still did right up until the day he happened to see a photograph of her from before he was born, and the difference floored him. He tried to work out what could have happened to her, and then he realised it was time that had happened and it was happening to him too, every second of the day. He held his hands to his face as if to keep his skin in place and for many nights he lay clutching his body, feeling time sweeping through it like little explosions. The palms of his hands were quivering and he tried to resist time and hold it back. But nothing helped, and with every pop he felt himself getting older.
He cried, and said to his mother:
'I don't want to get older. I want to stay like I am now! Six and a half, that's enough, isn't it?' But she smiled sadly and said, to every age its charm. And time withdrew to the large clock on the wall in the living room and went round alone in there, like a tiger in a cage, he thought, just waiting, and Mum became Mum again, almost like before.