A Person-to-Person Call

“All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Earnest Hemingway

“Beauty plus pity — that is the closest we can get to a definition of art.” – Vladimir Nabokov

“Writing isn’t about applause. It’s about humiliation.” – Steve Almond

“The most exquisite sensations in art are not love and loss, but humiliation and disappointment.” – Lunette Glass

The first time I knew I wanted to create some kind of art was listening to the blues. The content was miserable, but the spirit soared. The music, in its beauty, leant meaning to the sorrow, gave it sweetness and depth, made it a kind of victory rather than a loss.

Years later I’ve given up my musical aspirations, but I try to apply this same sensation to writing. Literature at its best (and the names under this heading, for me, are Nabokov, Carroll, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, Capote, Chekov, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Cheever, Carver, McEwan, Dahl, Fitzgerald, and Babbitt) does not create a glimmer-glammer image of the author, nor does it evoke a rough and rugged, weather-beaten soul chewing a cigar and cuffing convention. RATHER, the best writing is a last-minute, desperate communiqué from single writer to single reader: “We have both wept, have said the wrong thing, lost utterly the ones we loved, expected too much, given too little, we are ugly, we are scared, we have been the least loved and the last considered, we have given up too soon, held on too long, you and me have failed and tried and survived and yet still our souls float along, knowing there are words for what we feel, there are always words, and if we can’t find them, someone else can, and those words will find us in our corner, in our bed, in our car as we drive recklessly through the rain, toward a train we will not catch, our ticket tucked happily under a book on our bed table.”

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