Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Art Monster” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.
The narrator of Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation is a fact-checker of “fun facts” at a science magazine. The novel, split into fragments, is peppered with these facts. Some are more fun than others. The narrator applies the same discipline to her own story–we are granted small glimpses into her life, her family, her neuroses and ambitions. Some of these ambitions grind against one another. Art and family is the defining conflict of Dept. of Speculation. Here is a representative fragment:
For years, I kept a Post-it note above my desk. WORK NOT LOVE! was what it said. It seemed a sturdier kind of happiness.
Of course many artists manage to love their families and produce meaningful, satisfying work. But they aren’t usually lauded for this act of sustained balance. We prefer stories about madmen and madwomen scribbling away in some hole and leaving a wake of familial destruction in their pursuit of artistic immortality. This is why reading biographies of writers you admire is so dangerous. It often seems they produced the art you so strongly identified with–those words that made you feel less alone–despite themselves. Their work is a shield, a way to demonstrate their understanding of humanity while embodying many of our species’ worst qualities. These are not your friends.
The balance between art and life is a shifting ground of boredom and compromise. For one thing, many of us need to eat and warm our modest shelters. Benefactors are hard to come by. Despite the expanding market for online content there are few paying jobs for literary writers. The marketplace has produced a wave of freelancers with expensive degrees who cobble together a few bucks here and there pitching ideas to over-worked editors, blogging and posting, oversharing in the name of recognition.
It’s a spectacularly unprofitable hobby.
Over the past two weeks I’ve been pruning grape vines at a vineyard. I wear pink gardening gloves. I had a professor who said menial labor was the best work for a writer. He recommended farming in the morning and writing in the afternoon. I’ve tried to keep his words and eventual success in mind while clipping the canes.
For the vast majority of writers life consists of doing one thing while a voice in your head insists you should be doing something else. We hate the voice but fear the day it packs up and leaves in search of a better vessel. If the voice abandoned us we’d be left with just the menial labor. Just the life.
Your 7 links:
1. If you have the means and opportunity to attend the PEN World Voices Festival, writers Geoff Dyer, Justin Go, Liesl Schillinger and Janne Teller will “explore the influence of WWI literature on writers working today.”
2. Read the fiction debut of Words After War Policy Fellow David Eisler!
3. David Foster Wallace’s estate is not happy with The End of the Tour.
4. This excellent piece in The Awl explores the murkiness of Faulkner scholarship.
5. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner goes By the Book.
6. Mary Gaitskill on coolness and Celine Dion.
7. Arresting visuals perfect for writing prompts: LAPD photo archive.
Have a great week.