Sunday, 9 September 2012
I escaped. Drove into the fields. Past Verona. Over Mantova's seedy lake along the spit towards the tapestry of Gonzaga castles, turrets and cupolas.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o sitting in a bar. My heart began to thump. Three of my insolent teenagers studied this man's 'Devil on the Cross' for their IB exams, bringing scribbled-on copies to the table, talking about how the imprisoned author wrote his novel on scraps of paper - toilet paper! - while persecuted for his words.
I wanted to rush up. Sit down and talk. I've had a story accepted by a British review that has Ngugi on the Editorial Board, a story that took two years to go through their channels. I thought of the six degrees of separation theory from that film. Now there were none - between me and a world-famous writer!
** (Read my post Abuse, over on my short story blog)
Many years ago I went to Rome to visit a friend. She was huge with her first child. I was running circles around my toddler. It was so hot in Rome. She wore pigtails and we drank coffee.
She said to me some time later, when our boys were pre-teens and not too fond of each other. But how can you write? How can you write when you read the brilliant things that real authors write? The big ones? Doesn't that put you off?
It paralyses me, she said. She said she severed her writing dream because she knew she would never write like the writers she admired. Gave up. After that, I felt phoney and third-rate.
This week I remembered my friend's words. Her paralysis. Perhaps this is the risk you run when you are made tiny in a crowd swooning to Toni Morrison's words. You cannot help but think, Me? Call myself a writer? What on earth could I possibly have to say when there is this? These books? Already written and to be savoured?
I listened to Toni Morrison who is luminous and wise and I wanted to rush up and give her a hug. I listened to Aimee Bender with her views on craft swimming alongside the flux of magic on the page. I listened to Italian writer Ermanno Cavazzoni who said that a short story is 'qualcosa che meriti' - something that you deserve because you have put yourself in a position where you will be delivered a voice, a miracle. I listened to Nathan Englander and his stringent views on revisions.
How do you write? she had been asked earlier.
To write you must find out what you need. Do you need a sandwich? Do you need music? I find I need solitude. I don't like beautiful views, I don't want to be distracted.
All I need is a pencil and a yellow legal pad.