Woke up this morning with a terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read. Fought against it for a minute. Then looked out the window at the rain. And gave over. Put myself entirely in the keep of this rainy morning. Would I live my life over again? Make the same unforgivable mistakes? Yes, given half a chance. Yes.
I've crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I've come to a place I never thought I'd have to come to. And I don't know how I got here. It's a strange place. It's a place where a little harmless dreaming and then some sleepy, early-morning talk has led me into considerations of death and annihilation.
Happiness So early it's still almost dark out. I'm near the window with coffee, and the usual early morning stuff that passes for thought. When I see the boy and his friend walking up the road to deliver the newspaper. They wear caps and sweaters, and one boy has a bag over his shoulder. They are so happy they aren't saying anything, these boys. I think if they could, they would take each other's arm. It's early in the morning, and they are doing this thing together. They come on, slowly. The sky is taking on light, though the moon still hangs pale over the water. Such beauty that for a minute death and ambition, even love, doesn't enter into this. Happiness. It comes on unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really, any early morning talk about it.
happiness quotesearly quotesdark quoteswindow quotescoffee quotesusual quotesmorning quotesstuff quotespasses quotesthought quotesboy quotesfriend quoteswalking quotesroad quotesdeliver quotesnewspaper quoteswear quotescaps quotessweaters quotesbag quotesshoulder quoteshappy quotesboys quotesothers quotesarm quotesmorning quotesthing quotesslowly quotessky quotestaking quoteslight quotesmoon quoteshangs quotespale quoteswater quotesbeauty quotesminute quotesdeath quotesambition quoteslove quotesenter quoteshappiness quotesunexpectedly quotestalk quotes
I loved you so much once. I did. More than anything in the whole wide world. Imagine that. What a laugh that is now. Can you believe it? We were so intimate once upon a time I can't believe it now. The memory of being that intimate with somebody. We were so intimate I could puke. I can't imagine ever being that intimate with somebody else. I haven't been.
She serves me a piece of it a few minutes out of the oven. A little steam rises from the slits on top. Sugar and spice - cinnamon - burned into the crust. But she's wearing these dark glasses in the kitchen at ten o'clock in the morning - everything nice - as she watches me break off a piece, bring it to my mouth, and blow on it. My daughter's kitchen, in winter. I fork the pie in and tell myself to stay out of it. She says she loves him. No way could it be worse.
serves quotespiece quotesminutes quotesoven quotessteam quotesrises quotesslits quotestop quotessugar quotesspice quotescinnamon quotesburned quotescrust quotesshes quoteswearing quotesdark quotesglasses quoteskitchen quotesten quotesoclock quotesmorning quotesnice quoteswatches quotesbreak quotespiece quotesbring quotesmouth quotesblow quotesdaughters quoteskitchen quoteswinter quotesfork quotespie quotesstay quotesloves quotesworse quotes
And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, is that if something happened to one of us-excuse me for saying this-but if something happened to one of us tomorrow, I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough. All this, all of this love we're talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory.
It's possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things- a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring- with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader's spine- the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That's the kind of writing that most interests me.
poem quotesshort quotesstory quoteswrite quotescommonplace quotesthings quotesobjects quotesprecise quoteslanguage quotesendow quotesthings quoteschair quoteswindow quotescurtain quotesfork quotesstone quoteswomans quotesearring quotesimmense quotesstartling quotespower quotesline quotesseemingly quotesinnocuous quotesdialogue quotessend quoteschill quotesreaders quotesspine quotessource quotesartistic quotesdelight quotesnabokov quoteskind quoteswriting quotesinterests quotes
Evan Connell said once that he knew he was finished with a short story when he found himself going through it and taking out commas and then going through the story again and putting the commas back in the same places. I like that way of working on something. I respect that kind of care for what is being done. That's all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they an best say what they are meant to say. If the words are heavy with the writer's own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some other reason - if the worlds are in any way blurred - the reader's eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved. Henry James called this sort of hapless writing 'weak specification'.
evan quotesconnell quotesknew quotesfinished quotesshort quotesstory quotesfound quotestaking quotescommas quotesputting quotesback quotesplaces quotesworking quotesrespect quoteskind quotescare quotesfinally quoteswords quotespunctuation quotesplaces quotesmeant quoteswords quotesheavy quoteswriters quotesunbridled quotesemotions quotesimprecise quotesinaccurate quotesreason quotesworlds quotesblurred quotesreaders quoteseyes quotesslide quotesachieved quoteshenry quotesjames quotescalled quotessort quoteshapless quoteswriting quotesweak quotesspecification quotes
V.S. Pritchett's definition of a short story is 'something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.' Notice the 'glimpse' part of this. First the glimpse. Then the glimpse gives life, turned into something that illuminates the moment and may, if we're lucky - that word again - have even further ranging consequences and meaning. The short story writer's task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power. He'll bring his intelligence and literary skill to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things: of how things out there really are and how he sees those things - like no one else sees them. And this is done through the use of clear and specific language, language used so as to bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader. For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given. The words can be so precise they may even sound flat, but they can still carry; if used right they can hit all the notes.
pritchetts quotesdefinition quotesshort quotesstory quotessomething quotesglimpsed quotescorner quoteseye quotespassing quotesnotice quotesglimpse quotespart quotesglimpse quotesglimpse quoteslife quotesturned quotesilluminates quotesmoment quoteslucky quotesword quotesranging quotesconsequences quotesmeaning quoteswriters quotestask quotesinvest quotespower quoteshell quotesbring quotesintelligence quotesliterary quotesskill quotesbear quotestalent quotessense quotesproportion quotesfitness quotesthings quotesthings quotessees quotesclear quotesspecific quoteslanguage quoteslanguage quoteslife quotesdetails quoteslight quotesreader quotesconcrete quotesconvey quotesmeaning quotesaccurate quotesprecisely quoteswords quotesprecise quotessound quotesflat quotescarry quoteshit quotesnotes quotes
If we're lucky, writer and reader alike, we'll finish the last line or two of a short story and then just sit for a minute, quietly. Ideally, we'll ponder what we've just written or read; maybe our hearts or intellects will have been moved off the peg just a little from where they were before. Our body temperature will have gone up, or down, by a degree. Then, breathing evenly and steadily once more, we'll collect ourselves, writers and readers alike, get up, "created of warm blood and nerves" as a Chekhov character puts it, and go on to the next thing: Life. Always life.
lucky quoteswriter quotesreader quotesalike quotesfinish quotesline quotesshort quotesstory quotessit quotesminute quotesquietly quotesideally quotesponder quoteswritten quotesread quoteshearts quotesintellects quotesmoved quotespeg quotesbody quotestemperature quotesdegree quotesbreathing quotesevenly quotessteadily quotescollect quoteswriters quotesreaders quotescreated quoteswarm quotesblood quotesnerves quoteschekhov quotescharacter quotesputs quotesthing quoteslife quoteslife quotes
sai quotesbene quotesche quotessogno quotesma quotesieri quotesnotte quotesho quotessognato quotesassistevamo quotesfunerale quotesnel quotesmare quotesallinizio quotesero quotesattonito quotespoi quotespieno quotesdi quotesrimpianti quotestu quotesmhai quotessfiorato quotesbraccio quotese quoteshai quotesdetto quotesno quotesva quotestutto quotesbene quotesera quotesmolto quotesvecchia quotespoi quoteslui quoteslha quotesamata quotestutta quotesla quotesvita quotes
It's akin to style, what I'm talking about, but it isn't style alone. It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There's plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.
That was in Crescent City, California, up near the Oregon border. I left soon after. But today I was thinking of that place, of Crescent City, and of how I was trying out a new life there with my wife, and how, in the barber's chair that morning, I had made up my mind to go. I was thinking today about the calm I felt when I closed my eyes and let the barber's fingers move through my hair, the sweetness of those fingers, the hair already starting to grow.
crescent quotescity quotescalifornia quotesoregon quotesborder quotesleft quotestoday quotesthinking quotesplace quoteslife quoteswife quotesbarbers quoteschair quotesmorning quotesmade quotesmind quotescalm quotesfelt quotesclosed quoteseyes quotesfingers quotesmove quoteshair quotessweetness quotesfingers quoteshair quotesstarting quotesgrow quotes