Nabokov

“This is, I believe, it: not the crude anguish of physical death but the incomparable pangs of the mysterious mental maneuver needed to pass from one state of being to another. Easy, you know, does it, son.”

-Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things

(Spent the predawn hours rereading my favorite author. Feeling good.)

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Find What the Sailor Has Hidden

This morning I took a break from writing to stand on my roof and admire the New York skyline. I can see all the way from the Bayonne Bridge and the Statue of Liberty up to Central Park. Today, amid a flock of pigeons and an airplane taking off from Newark, there was a cruise ship approaching Manhattan from the south, its smokestack like a red tower constructed overnight between the brownstones to the left and One Hanson Place to the right. It reminded me of this passage from Speak, Memory:

There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbor, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady’s bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship’s funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture- Find What the Sailor Has Hidden- that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.

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.”