Last evening, we attended a reading at McNally Robinson Booksellers. It was the launch of Home Place 3, a Prairie Fire publication featuring Manitoba writers living outside Winnipeg. We enjoyed hearing samples of work, quite varied, including lovely “wilderness” poems by my friend Fran Bennett, poems by J.L. Bond whose work also appeared in the MB Herald some years ago and by well-known poet/professor Di Brandt; fiction by accomplished short story writer Lois Braun and by Paul Krahn, who once taught our sons at MBCI (his was a delightful excerpt about shopping at an MCC Thrift Store); and much more.
All well and good it was indeed, but there’s something about being at McNally’s, that amazing emporium of words, that pulls me two ways. As a reader, it’s heaven — I mean of the kid-in-the-candy-store variety: all this, available for me? As a writer, it’s overwhelming too but with a little anxiety to boot. So many hundreds of books seeking readers, mine on a shelf among them, one voice in a massive chorus of them all bleating, “pick me, pick me!”
In the latter frame of mind (I imagine the question hits most writers some days: why am I doing this, why do I persist?), I found two of the pieces posted at today’s Arts and Letters Daily encouraging. Alix Christie asks why, in light of the odds, in the midst of “this tsunami of freshly published words,” anyone would bother writing a novel. She sets the angst up well, quotes Mario Vargas Llosa that “fiction is an art of societies in which faith is undergoing some sort of crisis,” suggests it’s about courage, “an act of faith.” She provides something of a pep talk.
Then, an interview with South African writer Nadine Gordimer offers additional reasons to write. “For me, all writing is a process of discovery… the process of what it means to be a human being.” She makes a helpful distinction when she says it wasn’t the “problems” of her country that set her to writing (such writing would be propaganda) but rather, “it was learning to write that sent me falling, falling through the surface” of South African life. Great image that, and true: writing can send one “falling, falling” through the surface of things.
Last night, surrounded by books, we heard from established and beginning writers. Many of them will persist, as I will, in spite of the odds. I don’t generally like to talk about the discouragements of those odds. (Everyone, after all, no matter what they work at, has their challenges, and if there’s grousing to be done, it’s best done with colleagues in the same business. Enough to admit one has such moments.) Today I’m grateful for these two pieces of writing at Arts and Letters, for yesterday’s showcase of writers, and for the readers each of us finds for the words we add to the flood.
Once again you share wonderful material, Dora. Power to you as you continue to hone your craft and share what you learn with others. I am honored to be in your cheering section. Sometimes the only reward comes from the effort–work and hope, yes?
Dora, as I was browsing in McNally’s before the reading last night I saw copies of your novel on a shelf. It gave me a thrill to think, ‘my friend wrote that book’. I also had the thought that others are going to come along, pick it up and buy it and enjoy reading it just as much as I did.
Thank you for your encouraging words about my poems.
As a musician, I can identify with you “tsunami” analogy easily, especially since technology has made even the near-talentless be “musicians”. “Why are THEY part of the tsunami?” I ask. I think your blog reflects others who are tempted to give up: job seekers among them. “Who am I in this big crowd of unemployed.” I find you inspirational Dora. Thanks for the novel and the blogging. One further thought…
Perhaps as a writer you feel a pressure to KNOW about all these books? I’ve experience an internal shame when speaking with other musician that, for example, I’m not that familiar with Neil Young or even less so, Bob Dylan. All these wonderful books or albums, and there’s no possible way to be well-aquainted with them all. That’s the other side of the unfortunate tsunami.
Peace and love all!
Thanks all, Shirley, Fran, Martin, for your responses and encouragements, which I want to circle back to you as well — Shirley and Fran in your writing, and Martin in your songwriting.
@ Martin: Certainly the keeping-up is a factor too, as you note. One wants to, for various reasons, for awareness, for enjoyment, but also for learning and inspiration. My writing emerges from reading which sends me back to writing and on it goes. So if one discerns reasons to keep writing, one should also discern reasons reading one book over another, or in your case, immersing yourself in the work of one musician rather than another.