The Rumpus Book Club Chat With Joshua Shenk (via therumpus)
Writers and painters and stand-up comics and other creative types where solitude is so critical—these folks often think that the pair phenomenon is for others. But creative intimacy is so much more than “collaboration.” In writing especially, the problem of the hidden partner is rife. Most good editors don’t talk about what they do. It’s often indiscrete, or even disrespectful. I just heard the story of a magazine editor who lost his job because he’d lost the confidence of his writers by talking so promiscuously about how he rescued their work. Michael Pietsch, who edited David Foster Wallace, said that “The editor works in disappearing ink. If a writer takes a suggestion, it becomes part of her creation. If not, it never happened. The editor’s work is and always should be invisible.”
And some writers don’t even have an editor yet, or an agent, but many of the same functions of muse, critic, sounding board—these get played by members of writing workshops, spouses, special readers. (John McPhee calls them his “listeners.”)
And when the event, the big change in your life, is simply an insight—isn’t that a strange thing? That absolutely nothing changes except that you see things differently and you’re less fearful and less anxious and generally stronger as a result: isn’t it amazing that a completely invisible thing in your head can feel realer than anything you’ve experienced before? You see things more clearly and you know that you’re seeing them more clearly. And it comes to you that this is what it means to love life, this is all anybody who talks seriously about God is ever talking about. Moments like this.
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
"When the sun began its ascent the next morning, weak and still a little gray behind the trees, the Klee house was scattered with the young, in various states of sleep and undress, pushed up against corners and balled at the feet of heavy furniture, some sleeping four to a bed, some in a dumb sprawl on the hallway carpet—no pillow, no blanket, just a small escape of drool and the rise and fall of deep, dead, sleep. It had only been a few hours since the music was shut off, the beer pong table abandoned, the flames in the outdoor fireplace left to smolder.
It had not been Kelley’s favorite party on record. The vomit hadn’t helped. The smell of it lingering in the high pile carpet in her room had been enough to drive her out. She had slept in her mother’s bedroom instead, which she normally had the good sense to locked up during parties. On her way downstairs she peeked into her bedroom. The windows and fan had been left on all night in hopes that it would ease out the smell. It had, slightly, but as soon as she’d close the windows it would sit and fester some more. She rolled her eyes. Curtis was asleep in her bed looking characteristically pale, if not a shade puce. She closed the door behind her and padded down the stairs, past Omar asleep on the landing with a throw pillow from the couch. She stepped over a few more bodies, and none stirred. The air smelled of that familiar sourness; she knew that all the surfaces would be sticky, that half the content of the cups she’d empty in the sink would be gray with discarded cigarettes, flakes of ash free floating. She heard the toilet flush in the bathroom off of her mother’s office. She paused a long moment to see who might emerge but no one did—another moment and the sounds of heaving, a cough, a splatter-splash, another flush.
Not bothering with the backyard and the amount of detriment she’d imagine she’d find there, she sat out front on the stone bench at the main door. The long pebbled driveway, with its million washed white stones, looked not unlike a pristine sheet of snow. Kelley puffed on a cigarette and picked at a blister on her heel. Why did it feel that some of the fun had gone? Why had it felt—last night in the basement with everyone wanting her attention, everyone tacking their good time onto her—that the air had thinned? Some nights were just off, she concluded. Maybe she shouldn’t have invited the MCA trio. Although James had seemed to be fine, down beneath the house palling around with the other big muscled boys who loved the strange sounds they could summon when they exerted themselves. She missed Khalid. Or maybe she didn’t. Maybe she missed having someone to hang on to at a party, to look sidelong at when it got late, to nod towards the bedroom and exit the fray together—believing all the while that they were the lucky ones who did not have to suffer through aloneness. Khalid had been kind in new ways, or perhaps he had just been slower to jealousy and accusation. She had mistaken that slowness for patience, and patience for kindness—it did not eradicate his need for control, his sharp dismay when it was not given to him.
Tomorrow it was back to school. She had a fleeting moment of anxiety imagining her mother and Pastor Dick rolling up the driveway, envisioning the snowfall of pebbles undulating beneath the tires and what her mother’s face would look like behind the windshield—happy to see her daughter at first, and then she would know, as Monica always seemed to when she took stock of the façade of her prized home, that something was amiss. Some swath of ivy on the trellis would be askew. She’d spy one smashed cigarette butt amid the cobblestone leading towards the side door. No matter how hard Kelley scrubbed the marble counters, scoured the even lawn for disruption and refuse, sprayed the upholstery and carpeting and each high-ceilinged room with expensive French deodorizer—Monica knew.
She and the house shared a mysterious pulse. Perhaps it was because it was all hers. The money had come from Frank, but Monica had scouted it out herself, had haggled with the sellers and had spent evenings in a wiry ball at her desk, drafting renovation plans, reimagining the location of the flagstone pavers in one, two, seven different locations. She had spent the years since selecting each detail of the house, from the installation of the stone swimming pool to the shined antique brass and crystal of the doorknobs. She had assembled her dream home and all it had cost was a malignant brain tumor the size of kumquat. Of course, Kelley knew, it was no one’s fault and that these things happen. The link between her mother’s fortune and her stepfather’s death was only technical, not some lethal orchestration. But the link existed. Kelley thought of it often when she wrenched open the expensive built-in refrigerator and heard the mechanical sigh it made as it accounted for the change in temperature and pressure. She thought of it when she lounged on the back deck, with its opulent herd of chaises, its array of antique lanterns lit with hand-dipped candles, their fragrances blooming out over the yard on summer nights—linden and dark moss, goji and tarocco, volcano and chartreuse. It somehow mattered less that she too benefitted—a hefty allowance, weekly manicures, expensive toiletries with minimalist labels, a wardrobe that, until MCA’s incumbency, had been extensive and well curated with all the best designer brands (though Kelley had elected to wear them all a size smaller than would’ve been appropriate). The sumptuousness of fortune surrounded her in ways large and small, but each accouterment felt just a shade borrowed. Perhaps everything had only been unpacked for their temporary enjoyment and comfort, and the boxes it all had arrived in were stashed somewhere in wait—just until the jasmine scented fantasy, the buttery marbled illusion they sailed inside, eventually expired.”
“We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species…There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”
“I was often told that I wasn’t a thing…‘She’s not pretty enough, she’s not tall enough, she’s not thin enough, she’s not fat enough.’ I thought, ‘O.K., someday you’re going to be looking for someone not, not, not, not, and there I’ll be.’ ”
“I’ve been with a man for 35 years who looks at me and loves what he sees.”