Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Where I’ve Been (In Three Parts)


The past weeks have flown by at a manic pace. Each day seems to start and end without giving me even a fighting chance to accomplish everything I’d like to accomplish. I’ve missed blogging, and reading everyone else’s blogs! I think I’ve caught up on nearly all of my blog reading, and since I’m not inspired to write anything too in-depth today, to help me catch up on my blog posting I’ll instead explain what I’ve been up to.

Part 1: Work (and excuses)


Work has taken more time than usual lately and, more importantly, more mental energy. Coming into work for 8 hours each day for a moderate pace is one thing; coming into work for 8 or 9 hours each day for a hectic, harried pace and a list of responsibilities and worries that I carry home with me in the evening is a different thing all together. I know it’s only an excuse (cite: Charles Bukowski’s poem “Air and Light and Time and Space”—visit this web site to read it:
http://www.crownfarmer.com/333/dirt/jenkinsbuk.html), but it is difficult to create anything when that mental exhaustion sets in. I’m working to regain my balance.

Part 2: Biking (and raising money)


At the very end of last summer, I bought a bicycle. That may sound like a simple purchase, but I see it more as the beginning of a love affair. My bike is red and white and absolutely fabulous. Last fall, before the weather began to chill, I rode and rode the bike trails in the Cincinnati area. On unseasonably warm days this winter, I broke it out of its garage hibernation for rides. Now at last, the weather has begun to improve again, and I’ve decided to “bike with a purpose.” I’ve signed up for the Tour de Cure, to raise money for the American Diabetes Association. If you’d like to support the cause (or just see a cheesy picture of me on a bike), you can visit this web site: http://main.diabetes.org/site/TR?px=2781023&pg=personal&fr_id=3245&et=lLfM8aVJzFZLEtk5eBwmUA..&s_tafId=42172
. Since I plan to bike 30 miles, and haven’t biked 30 miles straight since middle school, I’m training for this event by doing two longish bike rides each week. A good cause, good exercise, and a good time—but also something that makes my days and weeks zip by!

Part 3: Books & Movies (those that engage and linger)


Last weekend, when at last my pace slowed, instead of catching up on all of the things I could have (and perhaps should have), I instead started to read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. I’ve wanted to read this book since I saw the first preview for the movie of the same name that came out near the end of last year. The images of dancing and passion, the costume and color, were so appealing to me that I wanted to see the movie, but more so wanted to experience the story, which is generally best done (at least in my experience) by reading the book. Once I’d started the story, I just couldn’t stop reading. I spent a portion of Friday evening, much of Saturday, and a portion of Sunday in the mind of a young geisha, dealing with the hardships and glories of her life.

In the past month, I also experienced two very good movies that got me thinking. The first is American History X. The environment of intolerance, as well as the eventual growth of the characters presented in this movie linger.

The second movie (which I started but never completed a blog entry on the day after I saw it in early March) is Capote. I find that my mind keeps wondering back to this film, as well, and in particular to one question that came to mind as I watched it.

The movie brings a viewer through Truman Capote’s journey as he wrote In Cold Blood, the classic that more or less created the “nonfiction novel” genre. In an epigraph at the close of the film, it says that Capote never finished another novel after In Cold Blood. It makes me wonder—why? Was the experience of writing that novel too much for him to bear, too emotionally tasking for him to think about writing another novel? Did he run out of topics to which he wanted to devote the time and energy to write a novel? Was it the alcoholism? Why would you stop writing novels, when you were at the very top of your game? I am intrigued and somewhat bothered. At this point, I can’t imagine a point in my life when I would stop writing. I wonder what could bring that on. (This is not to say that he stopped writing entirely. I have no idea if he did so! If anyone does know, I’d love to hear!) Another player in the film—Harper Lee—also drove this question home for me. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, published it to great success, and then never published another book.

My question is: Is there often a point when a writer simply stops writing? And if so, why?

6 Comments:

  • As ever, you pose an interesting question that compels me to ponder, formulate an answer, scrap it, formulate another, monkey with the wording eat a sandwich pace in circles and ultimately chuck that as well.

    I tried very hard to put myself in a position where I would find myself unwilling to write. Be it an addiction, profound success, failure, or simple sloth.

    All I can express, and this may be my greatest curse as a writer, is how I understand things in my own head. I can't possibly explain what Capote or Lee were thinking, strong though my will may be. I can try to put myself in the position of someone else, but because of who (and perhaps, what) I am and the experiences that have shaped me, I can say with utmost certainty that no matter my success (or failure) in writing I will always always always have something more to say.

    I can imagine a point where responsibilities tied to writing might limit my time to do so. I can see myself reaching a point where I look at a work of mine and think "I'll never top this." But even if I do, I will never ever think "This is the end of the road. There's no point going on. I had better stop." Probably because everything I've written amounts to a big heap of slag, but that's beside the point. I don't see myself finding a habit that supercedes writing. It is the best affliction in the world to have an addiction that prompts you to think hard, fight with yourself to improve, and hopefully affect someone or something in the world around you in a positive fashion by doing so, be it through the sheer escapist moment of leaving this world for another or prompting someone to realize something is the matter and needs to be changed for the better.

    Perhaps the pressure on Capote and Lee was too great to outdo themself (It happens. Look at poor Dave Chappelle). Maybe the only way to go was down in terms of quality. Those are perspectives I can understand, but cannot accept. Because there is nothing more exhilerating and cathartic than looking down at a paper covered in worming scribbles and saying "I made this. I brought this to life to make the lives of others better. This scrap is your little garden of Eden. Don't screw it up."

    By Blogger Sean DeLauder, at 1:16 AM  

  • Erin,

    It is so hard to work and keep up your creative life. I am forever warning students about this. But it really is something each person has to discover and wrestle with all alone. I'm so glad that you have kept your desire to write, and I am sure good things are going to come from your heart and mind. Now for Capote. I HAVEN'T SEEN IT YET! I hope to rent and watch it over the weekend, although I shouldn't with all the papers I need to grade. I've wanted to see it forever. As a girl, I loved watching Capote on TV. He used to be Johnny Carson all the time. He fascinated me! I've seen the movie IN COLD BLOOD more than once and have read the book. I have always felt like he made a deal with the devil, you know, like Robert Johnson, selling his soul. Capote's early work is so fragile, so sweet. I think his experiences with gathering information for the book and the subsequent fame robbed him of an essential part of himself that was devoted to writing. I certainly don't want that to ever happen to me. It is sort of like the old adage: Be careful what you wish for; you might get it. As ever, I love reading your entries.

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 2:06 AM  

  • I wonder sometimes if Truman's own mind was part of the problem. I suspect that inside every serious writer is a big fat, lazy, ill-tempered sort of fellow who constantly tells you how poor and awful your writing is and how you could never make it as a novelist, poet, etc.

    After I finished my first "serious" novel, I decided to take a short break, as I had devoted so much time and energy to writing that project. But that break, which was intended to be a week, stretched into a month and then onward. It almost became crippling. . . knowing how badly I wanted to write, but also worried that I had now done my best work and nothing any better could be written. It was paralyzing; I was afraid to write, simply because I didn't want to fail in my own mind. Fortunately, I've grown out of it. . . .I think it's important to write just for the sake of creativity: write something silly, or fun, something you have no intention of sending out. Some would say it's a waste of time; I say it's keeping the creative engine well-maintained.

    After that movie, I wondered and worried about this a lot. My guess is that Truman's own success swallowed him up: there was a public image of himself that he had created, someone he likely wasn't, and it became too much to be a serious writer and maintaing that public persona.

    But that's just me....

    By Blogger Tripp_Fontaine, at 8:51 AM  

  • I think Capote was deeply troubled by the effect of his drivenness; on how he took advantage of Perry.
    He was certainly a narcissist but some of his actions bordered on sociopathy.
    V

    By Blogger V, at 7:31 AM  

  • Erin, you ask, "Is there often a point when a writer simply stops writing? And if so, why?" I mulled over this question and the way I thought of it is this: that perhaps a writer develops a relationship with her writing as if it's another living, breathing being, as if it's herself (after all, what more important relationship can we have but the one with ourself). I guess I could expound on this but that's the gist of it anyway. It may be that at certain times stopping writing is best, or happens inadvertantly, or for other reasons. I had a teacher who said his wife was murdered; he could not write for 10 years. But the relationship needs to be nurtured. Stopping may be part of the process. Or it may be just...stopping. ~Beth

    By Blogger beths front porch, at 9:20 PM  

  • Erin,

    Over at my blog you wrote: I wonder--was the book that resulted worth it?
    ------------------------------
    For me, it wouldn't be worth it. I don't know if it was for Capote or not. Those who knew him say he had a great need for approval, which is understandable, considering how he grew up. He was also extremely intelligent, so he must have bored quickly in social life. But as I think about his early work and if I were to surmise based on that early work, I'd say it wasn't worth it for him, either. Have you ever seen BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S?

    2:55 PM

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 2:57 PM  

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