But what struck me was the book-madness of the place-books lay scattered across the unmade bed and the top of a battered-looking desk, books stood in knee-high piles on the floor, books were crammed sideways and right side up in a narrow bookcase that rose higher than my head and leaned dangerously from the wall, books sat in stacks on top of a dingy dresser. The closet door was propped open by a pile of books, and from beneath the bed a book stuck out beside the toe of a maroon slipper.
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Martin thought of the iron El trestles winding and stretching across the city, of department store windows and hotel lobbies, of electric elevators and street-car ads, of the city pressing its way north on both sides of the great park, of dynamos and electric lights, of ten-story hotels, of the old iron tower near the depot at West Brighton with its two steam-driven elevators rising and falling in the sky-and in his blood he felt a surge of restlessness, as if he were a steam train spewing fiery coal smoke into the black night sky as he roared along a trembling El track, high above the dark storefronts, the gaslit saloons, the red-lit doorways, the cheap beer dives, the dance halls, the gambling joints, the face in the doorway, the sudden cry in the night.
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After all, we were young. We were fourteen and fifteen, scornful of childhood, remote from the world of stern and ludicrous adults. We were bored, we were restless, we longed to be seized by any whim or passion and follow it to the farthest reaches of our natures. We wanted to live - to die - to burst into flame - to be transformed into angels or explosions. Only the mundane offended us, as if we secretly feared it was our destiny. By late afternoon our muscles ached, our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires. And so we dreamed and did nothing, for what was there to do, played ping-pong and went to the beach, loafed in backyards, slept late into the morning - and always we craved adventures so extreme we could never imagine them. In the long dusks of summer we walked the suburban streets through scents of maple and cut grass, waiting for something to happen.
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That afternoon he told me that the difference between human beings and animals was that human beings were able to dream while awake. He said the purpose of books was to permit us to exercise that faculty. Art, he said, was a controlled madness... He said books weren't made of themes, which you could write essays about, but of images that inserted themselves into your brain and replaced what you were seeing with your eyes.
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And again it snowed, and again the sun came out. In the mornings on the way to the station Franklin counted the new snowmen that had sprung up mysteriously overnight or the old ones that had been stricken with disease and lay cracked apart-a head here, a broken body and three lumps of coal there-and one day he looked up from a piece of snow-colored rice paper and knew he was done. It was as simple as that: you bent over your work night after night, and one day you were done. Snow still lay in dirty streaks on the ground but clusters of yellow-green flowers hung from the sugar maples.
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As I train myself to cast off words, as I learn to erase word-thoughts, I begin to feel a new world rising up around me, The old world of houses, rooms, trees and streets shimmers, wavers and tears away, revealing another universe as startling as fire. We are shut off from the fullness of things. Words hide the world. They blur together elements that exist apart, or they break elements into pieces bind up the world, contract it into hard little pellets of perception. But the unbound world, the world behind the world - how fluid it is, how lovely and dangerous. At rare moments of clarity, I succeed in breaking through. Then I see. I see a place where nothing is known, because nothing is shaped in advance by words. There, nothing is hidden from me. There, every object presents itself entirely, with all its being. It's as if, looking at a house, you were able to see all four sides and both roof slopes. But then, there's no 'house, ' no 'object, ' no form that stops at a boundary, only a stream of manifold, precise, and nameless sensations, shifting into one another, pullulating, a fullness, a flow. Stripped of words, untamed, the universe pours in on me from every direction. I become what I see. I am earth, I am air. I am all. My eyes are suns. My hair streams among the galaxies.
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So imagine a fire going -- wood snapping the way it does when it's a little green "" the wind rattling the windows behind the curtains -- and one of those Chopin melodies that feel like sorrow and ecstasy all mixed together pouring from the keys -- and you have my idea of happiness. Or just reading, reading and lamplight, the sound of pages turning. And so you dare to be happy. You do that thing. You dare.
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What I dislike is conventional realism - a system of gestures, descriptions, psychological revelations that was once a vital way of representing the world but has become hackneyed through endless repetition. I'd argue that a conventional realist isn't a realist at all, but a falsifier of the real.
One thing I learned is that the park by the river in a recent story, 'Getting Closer,' is the same park by the river that appears for a moment near the end of 'The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad,' a story first published 23 years earlier. This echo at first irritated me, then pleased me deeply.
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I think of childhood as an explosion of creativity. For most people, growing up and earning a living means leaving all that behind. But an artist never leaves that behind. Edwin Mullhouse was my way of exploring the child as artist and, under the guise of childhood, something larger.
When a story or part of a story comes to me, I turn it over in my mind a long time before starting to write. I might make notes or take long drives or who knows what. By the time I give myself permission to write, I know certain things, though not everything. I know where the story is headed, and I know certain crucial points along the way.