Isaac Bashevis Singer (November 21, 1902 – July 24, 1991)
“When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer.” -Isaac Bashevis Singer
Perhaps you have read Philip’s fine blog post today about his (almost) studio in Mount Carroll, IL, where we have a nice old house. If you have, you know that he has hit some snags along the way, and has not been able to complete his dream studio as originally planned.
As I read that piece, I was reminded how lucky writers are in that they can create just about anywhere. On a train, in a coffee shop (where I am now,) and in our very own writing rooms. I am one of those folks who really likes to have things set up the way I want them, and my writing space in Mount Carroll is a good example of that.
The necessary things are there: computer, journal, coffee, comfortable chair, cats, a view that I need to turn in my chair to see (like I talked about in an earlier post, and in this case, Philip’s (almost) studio building through the screen over my window.) My desk is a small old piece that I believe one of my great-great aunts used as her art table.
The not so necessary things–the ones that give me delight: an old portable (!!!! it weighs about twice as much as my laptop and the carrying case is even heavier) typewriter that Philip bought me for my birthday; pictures of my mother and of Hemingway in Cuba with a six-toed cat in his arms; a wedding day photo of me, mom and mother-in-law Maggie; a plate with the muses dancing around its edges; a collection of bells, some that were my mom’s, another I bought in a delightful antique store in Empire, Michigan; a tiny sock monkey (I LOVE sock monkeys); a miniature typewriter that is really a pencil sharpener; a small letterpress stamp of a secretary at the keyboard; a bunch of paperclips in a bowl that my mother brought back from some exotic place; a bobble-head turtle; mug from Maine that the delightful Anne-Marie Oomen gave me once when we were teaching together at Stonecoast Writers’ Conference.
And here, then is a bit of the novel-in-progress I’m working on. Today, I think it might be called Climbing the House of God Hill. Allison, one of the pivotal characters, is playing her first game of Truth or Dare with a bunch of kids at a 4th of July party. Perhaps you don’t need me to tell you that, though.
Climbing the House of God Hill (excerpt)
And even though the kissing was nice now, now that Trevor stopped all that crazy moving around (and good practice, she figured, why not) she was done with all of this already; it wasn’t what she expected, wanted, desired. It seemed silly now, this Truth or Dare they were playing. Kids’ stuff. Baby game. And why wasn’t it enough for her to be here with them, to be like them, tiptoeing into the next part of their lives? Why did she want so badly to have more, to do more? She knew, as she pushed Trevor’s hand harder against her own breast, held it there and moved it slowly instead of that fast rubbing in circles thing he’d been doing, that it was part hormones, probably, sure, the stuff they warned them all about in bible study, and it was partly the books she’d been reading, her mother’s books. But it was partly those other books, too, the ones her father actually allowed her to read, the ones that talked about sin and redemption and always—to Allison at least—made the sinning part sound more exciting, more rewarding (except maybe the burning in hell thing.) And then there was that other feeling, that awareness that she carried with her always about how she was going to die sometime unexpectedly, who knew when, like her sister, like her mother, like those people on the planes and in New York, and what if she died and she never had the chance to—you know—have sex? Even when Rebecca talked about sex with her (when Bud was away, obviously, and only when Allison asked) she talked about it being something special, miraculous. And what if Allison died—she could, you know, maybe fall and break her neck, maybe get terminally ill, maybe a terrorist attack, these things happened—and never got to feel what this is supposed to feel like, this special, miraculous thing? And she pulled Trevor to her even more closely and she wound her legs around his, impressed her body on him. She held on.
→Do you have your own View From the Keyboard? Find submission guidelines under “categories” at the right. Enrique (top cat,) Pablo (cat at bottom,) and I thank you for stopping by. -PMc←
John Steinbeck’s 1962 Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
I thank the Swedish Academy for finding my work worthy of this highest honor. In my heart there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel Award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect or reverence–but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself.
It is customary for the recipient of this award to offer scholarly or personal comment on the nature and direction of literature. However, I think it would be well at this particular time to consider the high duties and responsibilities of the makers of literature.
Such is the prestige of the Nobel Award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to speak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.
Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches–nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tin-horn mendicants of low-calorie despair.
Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it and it has not changed except to become more needed. The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.
Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal physical fear, so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about. Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer’s reason for being.
This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.
Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man’s proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit–for gallantry in defeat, for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally flags of hope and of emulation. I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man has no dedication nor any membership in literature.
The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world. It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed, it is part of the writer’s responsibility to make sure that they do. With humanity’s long, proud history of standing firm against all of its natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.
Understandably, I have been reading the life of Alfred Nobel; a solitary man, the books say, a thoughtful man. He perfected the release of explosive forces capable of creative good or of destructive evil, but lacking choice, ungoverned by conscience or judgment.
Nobel saw some of the cruel and bloody misuses of his inventions. He may have even foreseen the end result of all his probing–access to ultimate violence, to final destruction. Some say that he became cynical, but I do not believe this. I think he strove to invent a control–a safety valve. I think he found it finally only in the human mind and the human spirit.
To me, his thinking is clearly indicated in the categories of these awards. They are offered for increased and continuing knowledge of man and of his world—for understanding and communication, which are the functions of literature. And they are offered for demonstrations of the capacity for peace–the culmination of all the others.
Less than fifty years after his death, the door of nature was unlocked and we were offered the dreadful burden of choice. We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life and death of the whole world of all living things. The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.
Having taken God-like power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have. Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope. So that today, saint John the Apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the word, and the word is man, and the word is with man.
→What more need be said? -PMc←
Another great photo from Flavorwire and Life Magazine. Dorothy Parker at the keyboard in 1937. Do you suppose her magazines were always lined up so beautifully? And look at the view! Man and landscape. All very inspiring.
My invitation still stands to submit your writers’ space photos and brief excerpts from your work. Click the View From the Keyboard Guidelines button in the blogroll at the right and you’ll see how.
Coming soon: writers at the kitchen table.