Then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging,it seems like some long, dirty lie ... and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?
Other people's words are so important. And then without warning they stop being important, along with all those words of yours that their words prompted you to write. Much of the excitement of a new novel lies in the repudiation of the one written before. Other people's words are the bridge you use to cross from where you were to wherever you're going.
We are split people. For myself, half of me wishes to sit quietly with legs crossed, letting the things that are beyond my control wash over me. But the other half wants to fight a holy war. Jihad! And certainly we could argue this out in the street, but I think, in the end, your past is not my past and your truth is not my truth and your solution-it is not my solution. So I do not know what it is you would like me to say. Truth and firmness is one suggestion, though there are many people you can ask if that answer does not satisfy. Personally, my hope lies in the last days. The prophet Muhammad-peace be upon Him!-tells us that on the Day of Resurrection everyone will be struck unconscious. Deaf and dumb. No chitchat. Tongueless. And what a bloody relief that will be.
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[..] as midnight inevitably came and went without the horsemen of the apocalypse making an appearance, Clara surprised herself by falling into a melancholy. For ridding oneself of faith is like boiling sea-water to retrieve the salt something is gained but something is lost. Though her friends Merlin, Wan-Si, et al. clapped her on the back and congratulated her for exorcizing those fervid dreams of perdition and redemption, Clara quietly mourned the warmer touch she had waited for these nineteen years, the all-enveloping bear hug of the Saviour, the One who was Alpha and Omega, both the beginning and the end; the man who was meant to take her away from all this, from the listless reality of life in a ground-floor flat in Lambeth. What now for Clara? Ryan would find another fad; Darcus need only turn to the other channel; for Hortense another date would of course materialize, along with more leaflets, ever more faith. But Clara was not like Hortense. Yet a residue, left over from the evaporation of Clara's faith, remained. She still wished for a saviour. She still wished for a man to whisk her away, to choose her above others so that she might Walk in white with Him: for [she] was worthy. Revelation 3:4.
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But I cannot be worrying-worrying all the time about the truth. I have to worry about the truth that can be lived with. And that is the difference between losing your marbles drinking the salty sea, or swallowing the stuff that comes from the streams. My Niece-of-Shame believes in the talking cure, eh?" says Alsana, with something of a grin. "Talk, talk, talk and it will be better. Be honest, slice open your heart and spread the red stuff around. But the past is made of more than words, dearie. We married old men, you see? These bumps" - Alasana pats them both - "they will always have daddy-long-legs for fathers. One leg in the present, one in the past. No talking will change this. Their roots will always be tangled. And roots get dug up. Just look in my garden - birds at the coriander every bloody day...
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And in the past, Archie wondered, was it just that fewer people cheated? Were they more honest, and did they leave their front doors open, did they leave their kids with the neighbors, pay social calls, run up tabs with the butcher? The funny thing about getting old in a country is people always want to hear that from you. They want to hear it really was once a green and pleasant land. They need it.
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Then you begin to give up the very idea of belonging. Suddenly this thing, this belonging, it seems like some long, dirty lie... and I begin to believe that birthplaces are accidents, that everything is an accident. But if you believe that, where do you go? What do you do? What does anything matter?
I have known many true connoisseurs, with excellent tastes that range across the humanities and the culinary arts-and they never fail to have a fatal effect on my self-esteem. When I find myself sitting at dinner next to someone who knows just as much about novels as I do but has somehow also found the mental space to adore and be knowledgeable about the opera, have strong opinions about the relative rankings of Renaissance painters, an encyclopedic knowledge of the English civil war, of French wines-I feel an anxiety that nudges beyond the envious into the existential. How did she find the time?
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This has been the century of strangers, brown, yellow and white. This has been the century of the great immigrant experiment. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O'Rourke bouncing a basketball, and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course. Names that secrete within them mass exodus, cramped boats and planes, cold arrivals, medical checks. It is only this late in the day, and possibly only in Willesden, that you can find best friends Sita and Sharon, constantly mistaken for each other because Sita is white (her mother liked the name) and Sharon is Pakistani (her mother thought it best - less trouble).
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Now, how do the young prepare to meet the old? The same way the old prepare to meet the young: with a little condescension; with low expectation of the other's rationality; with the knowledge that the other will find what they say hard to understand, that it will go beyond them (not so much over the head as between the legs); and with the feeling that they must arrive with something the other will like, something suitable.
Last year, when Zora was a freshman, sophomores had seemed altogether a different kind of human: so very definite in their tastes and opinions, in ther loves and ideas. Zora woke up this morning hopeful that a transformation of this kind might have visited her in the night, but, finding it hadn't, she did what girls generally do when they don't feel the part: she dressed it instead.
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They were married before they were friends, which is another way of saying: Their marriage was the occasion of their friendship. They were married before they noticed many small differences in background, aspiration, education, ambition. (...) Noting such differences, Leah was in some sense disappointed in herself that they did not cause real conflict between them. It was hard to get used to the fact that the pleasure her body found in his, and vice versa, should so easily overrule the many objections she had, or should have had, or thought she should have had.
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It starts innocently. Casually. You turn up at the annual spring fair full of beans, help with the raffle tickets (because the pretty red-haired music teacher asks you to) and win a bottle of whiskey (all school raffles are fixed), and, before you know where you are, you're turning up at the weekly school council meetings, organizing concerts, discussing plans for a new music department, donating funds for the rejuvenation of the water fountains-you're implicated in the school, you're involved in it. Sooner or later you stop dropping your children at the school gates. You start following them in.
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These days, it feels to me like you make a devil's pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started... but you mean to go back! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers - who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained.
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When my little group get together, if we disagree about something, we can sort it out. Example: Mohona Hossain hates Divargiit Singh. Hates all his movies. Hates him with a passion. She likes that other fool with the eyelashes like a lady! But we compromise. Never once have I burned a single video of hers.
Right. I look fine. Except I don't, ' said Zora, tugging sadly at her man's nightshirt. This was why Kiki had dreaded having girls: she knew she wouldn't be able to protect them from self-disgust. To that end she had tried banning television in the early years, and never had a lipstick or a woman's magazine crossed the threshold of the Belsey home to Kiki's knowledge, but these and other precautionary measures had made no difference. It was in the air, or so it seemed to Kiki, this hatred of women and their bodies- it seeped in with every draught in the house; people brought it home on their shoes, they breathed it in off their newspapers. There was no way to control it.
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Boys are just boys after all, but sometimes girls really seem to be the turn of a pale wrist, or the sudden jut of a hip, or a clutch of very dark hair falling across a freckled forehead. I'm not saying that's what they really are. I'm just saying sometimes it seems that way, and that those details (a thigh mole, a full face flush, a scar the precise shape and size of a cashew nut) are so many hooks waiting to land you.
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People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel - before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.
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It became clear that Keisha Blake could not start something without finishing it. If she climbed onto the boundary wall of Caldwell, she was compelled to walk the entire wall, no matter the obstructions in her path (beer cans, branches). This compulsion, applied to other fields, manifested itself as "intelligence." Every unknown word sent her to a dictionary-in search of something like "completion"-and every book led to another book, a process that, of course, could never be completed. This route through early life gave her no small portion of joy, and, indeed, it seemed at first that her desires and her capacities were basically aligned. She wanted to read things-could not resist wanting to read things-and reading was easily done, and relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, that she should receive any praise for such reflexive habits baffled the girl, for she knew herself to be fantastically stupid about many things. Wasn't it possible that what others mistook for intelligence was in fact only a sort of mutation of the will?
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Some writers are the kind of solo violinists who need complete silence to tune their instruments. Others want to hear every member of the orchestra-they'll take a cue from a clarinet, from an oboe, even. I am one of those. My writing desk is covered in open novels. I read lines to swim in a certain sensibility, to strike a particular note, to encourage rigour when I'm too sentimental, to bring verbal ease when I'm syntactically uptight. I think of reading like a balanced diet; if your sentences are baggy, too baroque, cut back on fatty Foster Wallace, say, and pick up Kafka, as roughage. If your aesthetic has become so refined it is stopping you from placing a single black mark on white paper, stop worrying so much about what Nabokov would say; pick up Dostoyevsky, patron saint of substance over style.
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When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment - once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in - what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception.
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USURY: Everybody's looking for the job in which you never have to pay anyone their pound of flesh. Self-employed nirvana. A lot of artists like to think of themselves as uncompromising; a lot of management consultants won't tell you what they do until they've sunk five pints. I don't think anybody should give themselves air just because they don't have to hand over a pound of flesh every day at 5pm, and I don't think anyone should beat themselves with broken glass because they do. If you're an artist, well, good for you. Thank your lucky stars every evening and dance in the garden with the fairies. But don't fool yourself that you occupy some kind of higher moral ground. You have to work for that. Writing a few lines, painting a pretty picture - that just won't do it.
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Q: Where and when do you do your writing? A: Any small room with no natural light will do. As for when, I have no particular schedules... afternoons are best, but I'm too lethargic for any real regime. When I'm in the flow of something I can do a regular 9 to 5; when I don't know where I'm going with an idea, I'm lucky if I do two hours of productive work. There is nothing more off-putting to a would-be novelist to hear about how so-and-so wakes up at four in the a.m, walks the dog, drinks three liters of black coffee and then writes 3, 000 words a day, or that some other asshole only works half an hour every two weeks, does fifty press-ups and stands on his head before and after the "creative moment." I remember reading that kind of stuff in profiles like this and becoming convinced everything I was doing was wrong. What's the American phrase? If it ain't broke...
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Early on, for better or worse, I chose whose child I wanted to be: the child of the novel. Almost everything else was subjugated to this ruling passion, reading stories. As a consequence, I can barely add a column of double digits, I have not the slightest idea of how a plane flies, I can't draw any better than a five-year-old.
That feeling. That's the real difference in a life. People who live on solid ground, underneath safe skies, know nothing of this; they are like the English POWs in Dresden who continued to pour tea and dress for dinner, even as the alarms went off, even as the city became a towering ball of fire. Born of a green and pleasant land, a temperate land, the English have a basic inability to conceive of disaster, even when it is man-made.
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In the middle of a novel, a kind of magical thinking takes over. To clarify, the middle of the novel may not happen in the actual geographical centre of the novel. By middle of the novel I mean whatever page you are on when you stop being part of your household and your family and your partner and children and food shopping and dog feeding and reading the post-I mean when there is nothing in the world except your book, and even as your wife tells you she's sleeping with your brother her face is a gigantic semi-colon, her arms are parentheses and you are wondering whether rummage is a better verb than rifle. The middle of a novel is a state of mind. Strange things happen in it. Time collapses.
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Keisha Blake, whose celebrated will and focus did not leave her much room for angst, watched her friend ascend to the top deck in her new panda-eyed makeup and had a mauvais quart d'heure, wondering whether she herself had any personality at all or was in truth only the accumulation and reflection of all the things she had read in books and seen on television.
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They caught up with each other's news casually, leaving long, cosy gaps of silence in which to go to work on their muffins and coffees. Jerome - after two months of having to be witty and brilliant in a strange town among strangers - appreciated the gift of it. People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two lovers, but this too was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. ~ on the comforts of home.
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This, after all, was the month in which families began tightening and closing and sealing; from Thanksgiving to the New Year, everybody's world contracted, day by day, into the microcosmic single festive household, each with its own rituals and obsessions, rules and dreams. You didn't feel you could call people. They didn't feel they could phone you. How does one cry for help from these seasonal prisons?
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I tap danced for ten years before I began to understand people don't make musicals anymore. All I wanted to do was be at MGM working for Arthur Freed or Gene Kelly or Vincent Minelli. Historical and geographical constraints made this impossible. Slowly but surely the pen became mightier than the double pick-up time step with shuffle.
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The golden age of Luncheon Vouchers ended ten yearsago. For ten years Mickey had been saying, "The goldenage of Luncheon Vouchers is over." And that's what Archieloved about O'Connell's. Everything was remembered,nothing was lost. History was never revised orreinterpreted, adapted or whitewashed. It was as solid andas simple as the encrusted egg on the clock.
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Asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands.
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