“We all have to find the entry point that makes us write work that feels alive. And whatever that is, like, grab it. I would try again and again to write about myself thinking it really bothered me that I was so bad at it… and think, come on, like, get better. And then I finally thought you know what? So I won’t write about people like me. There’s no point in trying to make something happen that just doesn’t seem to want to happen.”—
I’m the opposite. I can only seem to write about myself in some way. And even when I’m writing about somebody else, I’m much better doing it in first person. Third person feels wrong to me. I think finding the narrator’s voice is the whole fun of the thing. That’s the entry point. You know, for me.
“I think the single most defining characteristic of a writer” – I found myself saying to a friend the other day, when she asked my thoughts on the teaching of writing – “I mean the difference between a writer and someone who ‘wants to be a writer,’ is a high tolerance for uncertainty.”—
The impulse to die and the impulse to start over are really the same thing. I’ll do the one so long as I can’t do the other. The reasons why I can’t are many. And the reasons why I can’t are not impressive. Maybe my house is too messy. Or maybe it’s wet outside and I like rainy days. But the dialogue. This either/or proposition. It runs like a soundtrack. And seven years ago, with it playing at full volume, I sat in my car with my daddy’s gun, which was now my gun, which I’d taken as my own when I found it in a shoebox in his closet after his own tragic ending, and I thought about my boredom and how I felt betrayed by it, and how the day before, for whatever reason, had been the best day, and how today it wasn’t, and I put my lips around that hard steel choice. And my mouth watered a little the way it does before you’re about to vomit, and after some amount of time that might have been minutes and might have been hours, I decided that, instead of dying, I would start over. Because I remembered that today was the day they served my favorite soup at the sandwich shop down the street. Corn chowder. And so I took the gun out of my mouth. And I put it under the seat. And I applied some lip balm to my dry cracked lips. And I went to that shop, and it was hot that day, and it was even hotter inside the shop, and I told the guy behind the counter, who I think was the owner, You know, your soup saved my life today. And he had sweat on his forehead and he smiled and he said, Thanks. Because he thought I was simply paying him a compliment. Because he thought I was just making some friendly conversation about corn chowder. Because he didn’t think I’d just been in my car with a gun in my mouth.
The phone woke me from a sleep that was in no way natural. A sleep that had been brought on by a number of chemicals, some of which, if you want to be technical about it, do occur naturally, I suppose. But if you think, like I do, that you should define sleep as something that happens organically, like when you’re tired, something that you fall into as a result of natural fatigue, a byproduct of natural activities—you know, like talking and engaging in the world and going for walks and stuff—well, then this sleep wasn’t that.
I didn’t look at the number. I just answered to stop the ringing……
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he had asked when he first appeared. Easy one: Who, aside from Keith Richards and certain legal authorities, has ever kept Keith Richards from doing anything? But an hour has gone by, and he hasn’t touched the cigarettes. He hasn’t even looked at them. He has done not one thing to make him resemble the sullen, haunted, diabolically beautiful creature on the cover of his book, the one with hellfire blazing up from his hand to meet the blurry white thing he’s smoking.”—
“It’s a sticky situation for a fiction writer. When authors avoid the technological reality in their fiction, they seem to be writing about a bizarre parallel universe. However, when they directly address the contemporary moment, they risk creating fiction that seems ripped-from-the-headlines and almost instantly out-of-date.”—
There’s a way to incorporate technology into fiction. I think part of the problem is that the “book” medium is itself out of touch with the connectedness of the Internet. So I’d go a step further and say that authors who aren’t writing online in some meaningful way increasingly seem out of touch to me. And I kind of like that because it gives me a chance to scoff at them.
Some excerpts from Timothy “Speed” Levitch’s Speedology (2002)
1. The Fastest Way to Adventure is to Stand Still
Boredom is an illusion. Boredom is the continuous state of not noticing that the unexpected is constantly arriving while the anticipated is never showing up. Boredom is anti-cruise propaganda.
2. The City as Autobiography
We are not visitors, tourists, nor inhabitants of New York City; we are New York City. The city is our moving self-portrait and a living art installation carved out on an island of rock, even the cracks of the sidewalk are crying out on the topic of our lives. The city is a profound opportunity to understand ourselves.
3. This is No Time for Historical Accuracy
Nothing I say can possibly be defended. I am not interested in being right or wrong; my priority is to be joyous.
As a tour guide, I approach history the same way Charlie Parker would approach a jazz standard. I am not here to recapitulate the notes exactly as they were composed but to find myself within the notes and collaborate with what has been before me to chase after everything I could ever by. My study of history is mostly an attempt to impress women.
4. Fear is Joy Paralyzed
Society— the greatest self-hatred the earth has ever witnessed— is a mediocre improv comedy piece we’re all loving despite ourselves, one that would be impossible without fear effectively taking on ingenious disguises throughout the adventure of each and every day […] We do not have agendas, agendas have us.
5. Gregariousness is Great
New York City is a summoning of souls and a tribal ceremony of collected ancient agonies and conflicts brought to a new landscape for healing. A New Yorker is someone who runs wild with healing.
6. The Soul is the Only Landmark
Salvation is seeing everything as it already is.
7. Being Alive is Sexy
The world is an involuntary orgy.
8. What is Created is Destroyed
Many decry the destruction of Pennsylvania Station, the great beaux arts railroad terminal that was knocked down and replaced by the fourth Madison Square Garden. They ask, “If the city is a great teacher, why would it destroy a great building and put a lousy one in its place?” the answer: Pennsylvania station was too beautiful. The anecdote may be a catastrophe from a preservationist’s point of view, but it is a masterpiece from a dramatist’s. It’s just the way Tennessee Williams would have written it. Many will then ask, “Why is the city issuing forth these dramas?” The answer: the city wants to entertain us.
9. The Most Significant Thing About Suffering is That We’re All Doing It
10. Our True Selves Are the Greatest Parties Ever Thrown
You are a better party than you have ever been to. […] To live in a city is to realize that life is a procession of different versions of ourselves that we meet over time. Evolving is the meeting between who you were and who you just became.
11. Having Faith in Humanity is Supposed to be Fun
Fun is active faith. Faith is the celebration of “I don’t know.” The city is a bravely unfolding movie entertaining us so effectively we are hypnotized by it. The movie is a comedy about mammals in a movie taking the movie seriously and deciding it is a tragedy.
12. I Am Not Getting Laid
I want to make it clear, from the begging, that I am not currently getting laid as I write this and this fact colors everything I say. It’s the one statement that makes perfect sense of Nietzsche’s work.
Bennett Miller’s 1998 documentary, The Cruise is one of the greatest films ever made about New York City.
Watch it on Netflix instant play immediately.
I’m don’t normally endorse such optimism. But it sounds real good.