Once a month a group of Minneapolis/St. Paul writers gathers together under the leadership of master writer Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew to talk about the connections between our writing and the world, between our writing and the greater good, meaning things like community building, justice, responsibility, care for others, transformation - spiritual and otherwise. At the October meeting of Andrew’s Book Binders' Salon, the topic was love. We talked about the role of love in writing, whether writing should and must be fueled by love, whether love was a prerequisite to art, what is the source of love in our writing and what is the love's object, what love contributes to writing that other emotions - such as anger or grief - do not.
In the discussion sheet Elizabeth sent out before the meeting, she included this quote from an interview with David Foster Wallace:
“I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent…. Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that love can instead of the part that just wants to be loved. I know this doesn’t sound hip at all…. But it seems like one of the things really great fiction-writers do–from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, or like the Tolstoy of “The Death of Ivan Ilych” or the Pynchon of “Gravity’s Rainbow”–is “give” the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out.”
That paragraph offers so much to think about not only for writers but for readers as well. What’s behind those words on the page in front of us? The paragraph’s challenge extends beyond words, though, to actions in any sphere. Me, working at my job today; you, working at yours. Interacting with other people from the part of ourselves that can love instead of the part that wants to be loved. Leaving something of weight and substance with them instead of taking.
[Photo: taken of a seasonal feast. Did you know the fabulous Honeycrisp apple, as well as the newer also fabulous Sweet Tango apple, were developed by the University of Minnesota? Every time you buy one you send the U of M a royalty. On behalf of my state, thank you. And you're welcome.]