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I've Never Known a Writer up Close

jrlewis's picture

“Tell me a story” because I feel very alone. 

Or tell me what novel I’m quoting.  Say that you love Jeanette Winterson’s writing.  Maybe you know Pew and have felt the salt spray breaking against the lighthouse walls too.  I haven’t touched a bald man’s head since Pew’s.  I could feel sweat and veins, the life in your brain.  The brain is wider than the sky I was taught in neurobiology and behavior. 

To be a writer is to write, I think.  You were a writer.  When was the last time?  How long is a long long time?  How do you think writing evolves?  Do writers need other writers in their lives?  Could you trace your intellectual lineage back to a famous author?  Tell me your favorite book?

Truthfully, I’ve never known a writer up close. 

I’ve read back cover paragraphs, biographical articles, and blogs.  Even at book signings and lectures, there is always a wall of words.  Conscious care for phrase and punctuation are what make an author.  It is a polished presentation.  But that is not the person who is writing, pawing through the mud for that single green blade, the precise word.  It is a beast, thick of coat and short on patience. Their offspring are wild things, breaking out of genre and evolving past our grasp.  Both bookshelves and fences are wooden boards nailed together at right angles for the purpose of containment.  Books are objects that belong on shelves.  Stories are live zebras, hooves beating the hard ground.  I suppose I can’t keep a zebra and a retired show pony in my yard together! 

Once upon a time, books were bound with yarn, a story wrapped around a story.  If only I could tie you to me with a roll of yarn, like that little girl I was when we met.   As a young woman I fear you will leave me with the sorrows of an American for an ending to our story.  It was all in my mind.  My mind-body problem is that I want more from a lover than some sticky residue.  I want resonance; a hybrid of two rapidly converting structures.  So you see, it isn’t a lack of people to fill my bed that makes me turn to literature.  By and large, books are less boring than people.  Even the people who write them, I’m learning.  It might turn out that I like your writing better than you.

Is it possible to be a writer and not a reader?  I offered you a present- the story that Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster’s relationship is equivalent to our own- but you didn’t take possession of it.  You left the tenor to catch a cold and the vehicle rusted over in that unparsed metaphor.  It’s a shame you didn’t take the compliment.  Or trace the metaphor to its breaking point.  It’s hard work learning from a text, any text.  What is the point if not to learn from the parallels and the cracks?  I know you didn’t grow up hearing about Grobstein’s crack, but still… I never pretended to be an easy read! 

“Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like Braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes, never unfold too much, or tell the whole story.”  -Jeanette Winterson

Frankly, I still find you provocative…