I’ve written nine books, two of them novels. I’m at work on a tenth. But you won’t find copies of them laying around my house. I guess that’s because they are not that important to me. What else can I say? I mean, I wrote them, I worked hard on them. They meant something to me at the time, but they don’t mean the same thing to me now. Things change. The books remain the same, but I’ve changed in relation to them.
So if you ask me, why do I write, if I am to answer honestly (writers are notorious liars, especially when asked about writing) I have to say that it is not about making a book, and it is certainly not about publication.
So what is it?
I don’t really know. But I think it is has something to do with the sound of that funny little IBM Selectric ball striking the page in the 70s and 80s, or earlier, those blue spiral notebooks I filled in high school with my spidery handwriting. My cursive was nearly illegible, so I printed my letters in a tiny script that I cannot read now without glasses. Maybe I couldn’t afford many notebooks in those days, or maybe I wrote small because I knew my ideas were small, and I didn’t want anyone to see them? Or these days, maybe it is about the magic cursor floating, moving with me, accompanying me, left to right, and deeper down the lighted screen of my laptop.
And I’m aware that this thing I do, writing, is not about me at all.
I’m just a way for the work to get itself written.
There are times when I am bored, writing. Frequently, I write with little hope. On my best days, I write through it. I’ve written, or been written through, things I never set out to write. Nevertheless, it arrives. I’d be a liar if I said I knew how.
A marriage of mine is gone. The kids, too, in different cities. One day, you just look around, and it’s gone, all of it.
So increasingly, I write these things because these are the things that I remember. And I want them back. At the same time, I guess I like the idea of them moving forward, into someone else’s life. A reader, sure. OK, why not. But I feel that I am less and less a part of the picture. Just in the draft of thought, as Heidegger put it.
Maybe writing is that thing you do when you are yourself under erasure. You are the least of it, that’s for sure.
Writing is a negative capability, for me. As in last night, at my friend Kate’s house, looking out at an empty field while children played at a birthday party. In the field, I am the absence of field.
For months now, for over a year, really, I have found myself saying repeatedly, I don’t care. The list of things I do not care about is growing, rapidly. Opinions. Pronouncements. Newscasts. The puffed chest. Television. Academic conferences. Fiction & poetry readings. Social media. Food. Politics. New York City, my home. I don’t care. It is in the emptying that I am finding happiness, in the daily letting go, of everything except the children. Writing, then, becomes the act of receiving, transmitting, what is happening without me.