Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.
This week, we bring you Jane Smiley’s 2015 Writers at Work interview, where she describes writing in a fugue state; Raymond Pettibon’s portfolio “Real Dogs in Space”; and May Sarton’s poem “A Farewell.”
Jane Smiley, The Art of Fiction No. 229
Issue no. 214 (Fall 2015)
You’ve described writing as a source of relaxation.
Do you know the writer Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi? He’s a Hungarian psychologist who writes about the state of flow. If you’re in a creative state, then essentially things sort of coagulate and you enter a state of hyperconsciousness—you can write for an hour or so, but it only seems like a few minutes because you’re so concentrated on it. I’ve experienced that a lot, which doesn’t mean there’s no frustration, but I don’t really remember the frustration very well. I remember more when the writing comes together. And I’m willing to seek out that coming together. If I get frustrated, I’ll go eat something, I’ll go open another Diet Coke, I’ll go to the barn, I’ll distract myself, and then the parts in my brain that were working click and I get an idea. I read an article about how to learn to play a musical instrument. You practice, practice, practice on Friday, then you walk away. And then when you sit down on Saturday, you’re better. Not only because of all the practice, but also because of the walking away. I’m a firm believer in walking away.
Real Dogs in Space
By Raymond Pettibon
Issue no. 209 (Summer 2014)
A 1999 work gathers several dogs from Pettibon’s past. The animals drift weightlessly in the bottom half of the drawing, which reads REAL DOGS IN SPACE. PROFILES IN COURAGE. It’s a tribute to those canines who were first in spaceflight. “Real dogs in space,” Pettibon exclaims, “those were heroes.” One of the dogs is Bick-a-bo, a cocker spaniel who once escaped, Pettibon says, out the window of his father’s turquoise ’64 Chevy Malibu at the post office; Pettibon found him about a month later, living comfortably with a new family. The dog’s name comes from the song “Swingin’ the Alphabet,” from the 1938 Three Stooges film Violent Is the Word for Curly, in which the trio masquerades as professors at a women’s college. Pettibon sings me the line from memory: “B-A-bay, B-E-bee, B-I-bicky-bi, B-O-bo, bicky-bi-bo, B-U-bu, bicky-bi-bo-bu.”
By May Sarton
Issue no. 89 (Fall 1983)
For a while I shall still be leaving.
Looking back at you as you slip away
Into the magic islands of the mind.
But for a while now all alive, believing
That in a single poignant hour
We did say all that we could ever say
In a great flowing out of radiant power.
It was like seeing and then going blind …
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