Posts Tagged ‘Marilynne Robinson’
November 26, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
No, a mystical experience would be wasted on me. Ordinary things have always seemed numinous to me. One Calvinist notion deeply implanted in me is that there are two sides to your encounter with the world. You don’t simply perceive something that is statically present, but in fact there is a visionary quality to all experience. It means something because it is addressed to you. This is the individualism that you find in Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson. You can draw from perception the same way a mystic would draw from a vision.
How would one learn to see ordinary things this way?
It’s not an acquired skill. It’s a skill that we’re born with that we lose. We learn not to do it.
—Marilynne Robinson, the Art of Fiction No. 198
November 5, 2013 | by John Freeman
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 »
April 23, 2013 | by Kelly McMasters
Just before dawn all is blue: I barely see the lark bunting light on a fence post. I stop to admire its white, plump breast, and for a moment the two of us are alone in this world, and at peace.
The bunting flies away: white on black on white on black.
—“Weather Report: April 14,” from Dakota, by Kathleen Norris
After working the day at the bookshop a few weeks ago, I pulled into the long driveway of our old 1860s farmhouse about thirty miles outside town. The light had started to go that dusky blue-gray, turning the hills around us the ruddy red of new buds. I stepped out of my car and a wave of noise came at me from the swamp just beyond a stand of trees in front of our house. This time of year, the northern green frogs are so insistent, so loud, like the twang of thousands of rubberbands snapping, snapping, snapping, and the bullfrogs and peepers complete the chorus. It is eerie, and it is wonderful, and up here in northeast Pennsylvania it is our signal that spring has begun.
Our little collective of shops at Maude Alley also burst into spring this month in its own way. Named for one of the owner’s grandmothers, the alley reminds me of the kind of meandering wooden walkways you find at the beach, but instead of winding toward the ocean ours ends in a sweet secret garden along with a cheese shop, a gallery, and us. On either side of the alley is Milkweed, our anchor store, whose fanciful window displays alone are worth the trip. Hoping to catapult us far from the long winter, the Maude Alley shops decided to throw a party.
When Mark and I lived in the city, we threw crazy cocktail parties in his painting studio down on Great Jones Street. We’d buy cases of pinot noir and chardonnay from Astor Wines up the block and drag bulging bags full of Camembert, manchego, and pecorino from Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker. Filmmakers and hairdressers and painters smoked on the fire escape, uptown collectors mixed with writers from Brooklyn, burlesque dancers bartended and choreographers gulped whisky with bankers, and usually at some point in the party I would lock eyes with Mark across the room and worry the crush of people was about to get out of hand, though it never did. Read More »
October 30, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.
—Marilynne Robinson, The Art of Fiction No. 198
September 13, 2012 | by Casey N. Cep
One of Mary Oliver’s poems begins “Something has happened / to the bread / and the wine.” A most unusual mystery, the comestibles have not gone the way of the plums in William Carlos William’s “This Is Just to Say.”
Oliver’s wine and bread, as she explains in the second stanza, “have been blessed.” These two central elements of the Christian faith have been lifted from their ordinariness, isolated in order to show the extraordinariness of even the most ordinary of things. The bread and the wine join water and words to become what believers call sacraments: Eucharist is a sacrament made from staple food and festive drink; baptism is a sacrament made of clean, clear water.
One way of understanding the sacraments, perhaps best articulated by liturgist Gordon Lathrop, is that simple things become central things. When Christians refer to the bath and the table, they refer not only to the specific sacraments of bathing and eating, but they point also to the sacramental character of every bath and every table. The setting apart of one table and one bath shows forth the splendor of all tables and all baths.
That setting apart is the calling of Christians but also the vocation of the writer. Read More »