It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the nonwritten becomes legible.
– If on a winter’s night a traveler
Katherine Mansfield, in “The Garden-Party.” I’ve been wrapped up this week in NaNoWriMo, about one-tenth of the way into the novel I will supposedly have written by the end of this month. So far it’s been going quite well; after some early jitters regarding pacing – I felt I was moving much to fast – I have settled into a good rhythm. I hope by next week I’ll really hit my stride. Like most people, I think, I look for inspiration and help in lines and quotes from my favorite authors, little things to provide motivation or jostle the brain into literary life.
One of my most inspirational quotes as a writer is this one from Katherine Mansfield’s short story “The Garden-Party.” Mansfield was a writer who dabbled in epiphany, years before Woolf and Joyce had really stepped into that realm of writing. Here in this example the main character has been slapped on the head with epiphany so profound she’s rendered speechless. I think we’ve all had these moments; where you look out on the world and find it so beyond description that you’re dumbstruck. For me, as a writer, this is what I seek. The irony, if you can call it that, is that it’s obviously quite hard to describe something that is indescribable, so the writer is left in a bit of a quandary. Still, though I think this is what really good literature does, or tries to do – it describes the indescribable.
By the way, if you’ve never read anything by Mansfield and you enjoy books by Woolf, Joyce, poetry by Eliot, etc. – do yourself a favor and pick something up of hers. I guarantee you will love it.
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil… . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Oh, she says, well, you’re not a poor man. You know, why don’t you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I’m going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don’t know. The moral of the story is, is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we’re not supposed to dance at all anymore.
Kurt Vonnegut, on telling his wife that he is going out to buy an envelope. Ironically posted and read via computer. Sorry Kurt! I’ll go outside now and play.
The man on the rock had pitched five outs in the losing game, and had given up two runs on a single. But he’d inherited loaded bases. The story of his life. The story of all our lives.
– David James Duncan, from The Brothers K. In honor of the baseball postseason starting tomorrow.