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Posts Tagged ‘Don DeLillo’

The Pram in the Hall

January 29, 2014 | by

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Photo: Silver Cross UK, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular quotations about creativity and parenthood is Cyril Connolly’s: “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.” This aphorism, snobbish in its dismissal of human distraction, has been passed down through generations of artists as a black warning banner—Have Children, Be Creatively Screwed Forever.

Having a child isn’t easy, of course. When my son, Julian, was born sixteen months ago, I became intimately acquainted with sleep deprivation and time constraints. The third night after we’d brought him home, I remember being in bed, so mentally and physically exhausted that when I looked up at where the ceiling and the wall met, I saw the seam crack open, revealing a horizon of white light and red lava.

I slept in naps, and although I found the first several months to be brutal and strange and basically a new realm of reality, my role as a father worked as a kind of energizer. The pram in the hall was no “somber enemy”—rather, because I was baggy-eyed, vein-drenched in coffee, and blindly stepping into the new world of fatherhood, producing work had never felt more important to me. I was creatively explosive, if a little loose and wild. I can’t remember showering or looking in the mirror for weeks. Given the sudden constrains on my time, the pockets in which I could work were like mines where I hacked away with a speed I’ve never experienced before, discovering and polishing work.

What’s been most difficult, really, is balancing the weird mix of father and writer online, where the community I know is mostly childless. This online world, which I love and cherish, is also detached and ironic and so image-based that being a dad doesn’t seem to fit. To age out, a writer must pass through three stages: First, you turn thirty, thus becoming “online old.” Second, you get married. Third, you have a child. I’ve done all three, and now I’m having to define myself online: Am I a writer or a dad or a husband? Can I be all three? Read More »

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Fourth Wall

November 20, 2013 | by

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“When my head is in the typewriter the last thing on my mind is some imaginary reader. I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards. But when I think of my work out in the world, written and published, I like to imagine it’s being read by some stranger somewhere who doesn’t have anyone around him to talk to about books and writing—maybe a would-be writer, maybe a little lonely, who depends on a certain kind of writing to make him feel more comfortable in the world.” —Don DeLillo, the Art of Fiction No. 135

 

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In Conversation

November 5, 2013 | by

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Seven years ago I was walking up Fifth Avenue with David Foster Wallace. He wanted to know what I thought of The Names. That one’s the key, he said, speaking of Don DeLillo’s work like it was a safe which contained its own code. It was hat-and-glove weather. Wallace wore a purple sweatshirt. Where did I get my coat? he asked. That’s a great coat, he said. It was like something James Bond would wear. Had I been to this restaurant before?

We had just walked into Japonica, a sushi restaurant on University Place. Our interview was underway, and Wallace was already several questions ahead of nearly every writer I had ever profiled. Most writers, even the most curious one, don’t ask questions of a journalist. Nor should they, necessarily. They are the ones being interviewed, after all.

Wallace, however, seemed to think in the interrogative mode. He was tall and slightly sweaty, looking like he had just come from a run. But he seemed determined not to intimidate. He was like a big cat pulling out his claws, one question at a time. See, look, I’m not going to be difficult.

Once we got going, though—and there was a propulsive, caffeinated momentum to the way he talked—he returned, constantly, to questions. Had I ever written about my life? It’s hard, right? Are celebrities even the same species as us? Is it possible to show what someone was really like in a profile?

“These nonfiction pieces feel to me like the very hardest thing that I do,” he said, talking about Consider the Lobster, the book he had just published, “because reality is infinite.” And then. “God only knows what you are jotting.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this encounter lately. For the past fifteen years, I have interviewed a lot of writers. A few hundred—perhaps too many, but why not say yes? Shortly out of college a friend gave me a vintage set of The Paris Review Book of Interviews. They exhaled the flinty musk of a cigar smoker’s home, and were as snappy as the lining of a 1940s dinner jacket. Read More »

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Driving Mr. Murray

September 12, 2013 | by

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The author Albert Murray died, on August 18, after a long illness. He was ninety-seven. Among Murray’s eleven books are the essay collection The Omni-Americans, which infuriated the African-American intellectual establishment in the early seventies; the novel Train Whistle Guitar, likely headed for a classic’s long life; the essay South to a Very Old Place, not just as funny as anything written in last century’s second half, but a searching investigation of black-and-white relations; the jazz treatise Stomping the Blues, another probable classic and a life-changing text for musicians, and The Hero and The Blues, Murray’s bracing exposition of his aesthetic.

In the mid to late nineties, writer Tony Scherman spent a good deal of time with Murray; these memories are drawn from that period.

In 1996, having read most of Albert Murray’s published books, I decided to write about him. We spoke once or twice to arrange a meeting, and I drove in from the country to the middle-class Harlem apartment complex at 132nd Street and Lenox Avenue where Murray, his wife Mozelle, and their daughter, Michelle, had lived since 1962.

Ringing the doorbell, I got no response. Finally the chain was unfastened, the door swung open, and it was plain right away why it had taken Albert Murray so long to get to the door; he could hardly walk. Two spinal operations and severe arthritis had cruelly reduced his mobility. He inched along, entirely focused on the task at hand: reaching his destination. His condition must have been maddening, but in my three-hour visit, he never complained. Yet when his speech grew querulous and his patience short, I’m sure that such behavior came not merely from impatience with interlocutors who didn’t think as speedily as he did, but from being in permanent pain. I came to see his big, handsome grin as something designed to show that bad luck and trouble would never set him back. Read More »

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Notes from a Bookshop: Late Summer, or Summer Is a Kind of Island

August 28, 2013 | by

DeLillo

3. Arcana

Of one order are the mysteries of light
and of another are those of fantasy
Rider Tarot Deck instructions

—Brenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda

A good friend came to visit this spring, and a few times during her stay, she pulled a book off the shelves, either from Moody Road Studios or at my home, shuffled the pages under her thumb, and stuck a finger on a line like an arrow hitting a bull’s-eye. Then she’d read the single line aloud, a kind of party trick.

This would typically happen when we’d be in the middle of a conversation, talking about some big questions that we were swirling at the time, the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I, will-this-work-or-not, should-I-take-this-chance kind of conversations that tend to occur after some Southern Comfort on a patio. She used whatever book was in her hand as a literary tarot, and believed the line would tell us all we needed to know. Usually, bizarrely, it worked.

I tried this on my own, but it fell flat. After the house was asleep, I would pose a question in my head and stalk a book, pull it from the stack before it could resist, flip open its pages and point hungrily at it, waiting for its answer. Each time, the result was tinny, hard-pressed, wanting. It reminded me of late nights with my Ouija board as a kid, waiting desperately for something to speak to me when I was really just waiting for my own voice.

People ask a lot of their books. They want them to be amazing, they want them to be cheap, they want them the moment they walk through my door. I often feel like a kind of carnival showman, flashing bright colors in front of the customer, hoping something catches their eye. People’s personal restrictions always amaze me. “I don’t read books with dogs in them.” “I don’t like to have to think too hard.” “I can’t buy books with white covers.” Really? Read More »

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When Winning Is Everything

July 24, 2013 | by

Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

Durham Bulls mascot Wool E. Bull. Wet-plate tintype by Leah Sobsey/Tim Telkamp.

“Not really about baseball”: we’ve adhered pretty well so far to this watchword of our Bull City Summer documentary project, but cultivating indifference has been hard for me. I really care about baseball, and I watch the games closely. Still, I’ve made a season-long effort to notice the surroundings in a rather moony way—trying to soak up the ambient energy in the ballpark, its sheer quality and quantity.

That energy rises and falls throughout the game, but it does so unevenly and unpredictably, not always (in fact, usually not) in step with the action on the field. The video board command to MAKE SOME NOISE!, in huge, undulating letters, can whip the crowd into a lather, as can a Bulls home run, but these exclamatory moments have a short life span. As soon as the words leave the screen, as soon as the next pitch is thrown, the energy reverts, subject to its own mysterious forces.

There is plenty of early froth and surge: the singing of the National Anthem, the anticipatory buzz at first pitch, the grandstand up-and-down for hot dogs and beer and cotton candy, the breakthrough of early hits and runs, the sideshow pileup of mid-inning contests and mascot high jinks and blaring pop music. But then “the game turns inward in the middle innings,” as Don DeLillo puts it in his novella Pafko at the Wall (which is also the opening chapter of Underworld). At the deepest recess of this inward turn, there inevitably comes what I have dubbed “the nadir”: a quiet, satisfying, and almost narcotic moment when all of the energy, on the field and off, recedes, as if subdued by its own exuberance. The crowd noise falls to a low, warm murmur, like a dovecote. Read More »

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