Jayne Anne Phillips on the writing life
From Jayne Anne Phillips’s essay “Outlaw Heart” on her web site:
The writing life is a secret life, whether we admit it or not. Writers focus perpetually on the half-seen, and we live in the dim or glorious shadows of partially apprehended shapes. We could bill ourselves as perceptually challenged—given that we live two lives at once, segueing from one to the other with some distress—but we accept, long before we publish, the outlaw’s mantle. We occupy a kind of border country, focused on the details that speak to us. Ask those who marry us, or those who don’t: we’re too intensely involved, yet never quite present. Perhaps we’re difficult to live with as adults, but often we were precocious, overly-responsible children—not in what we accomplished, necessarily, but in what we remembered, in the emotional burdens we took on. . . .Writers begin as readers, and words become a means of survival. At some juncture deep within family life, the child sees in written language a way to embrace her own burden. When I was young, words themselves seemed secret because I read them in my mind and no one else could hear. Knowledge was often secret; the most interesting things were repeated in low tones.
Rumpus guy’s metaphors
From The Rumpus editor Stephen Elliott’s recent email about a dinner party he helped host for author Nick Flynn:
Nick arrived last to his own party. He’s here for the Lou Reed celebration tonight at the Apollo and I’m his date. I said this was a prime example of bromance, and then I pointed out to people, maybe more than once, that the OED credits me with the term “bromance.” Though I’ve never looked inside the OED. Apparently I was the first to put the term in writing in 2003 or something, referring to Josh Bearman when we were covering the presidential election which was interesting when Howard Dean was running on health care and tragic when we all ended up solidifying like chillled bacon fat behind John Kerry who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq, the thing we were all most against. I mean, they just squandered our country.
Which is why when it was over I was out there in the Atlantic, floating off the shore of Hollywood, Florida, struck by waves like calm fists, when I was overtaken by nausea. Brent Hoff was on the beach contemplating the birds. The sun was smokey orange and low. Florida is like an enormous apartment with seven foot ceilings. The sky is so close to the earth it makes people violent. It makes you want to live in a swamp, or St. Petersburg. I was taken to the judge’s house and I lay recuperating in their attic with four years to kill.
Anyway, now I have very high ceilings. I would say the ceilings in my apartment are fourteen feet. Plus, we were all sitting on the floor so the ceiling was even further away. And we talked about Snowden, and the holidays, and Almost Human, and Friday Night Lights, and Vancouver, and food, and relationships.
It’s the second paragraph I really adore, what with Elliott’s similies of waves “like calm fists,” Florida “like an enormous apartment with seven foot ceilings,” the line about the low sky, and the crack about St. Petersburg. Plus its lack of connective tissue and plainly surrealistic quality—he feels nauseous and suddenly is in a judge’s house’s attic “with four years to kill,” such wonderful mixes of details and exaggeration. And can the ceilings in his apartment—where? New York? or was he just traveling?—really be 14 feet? That’s airy, even for the South.
Ah, well. Don’t try this at home, kids. But I’d like to. Go for it.