How does history, politics, society, or spirituality affect your work?
[Laughing] Goodness, how do these NOT affect my work? The novel form is, for me, a kind of repository for all these, which swirl around in my head chaotically. In the novel, everything can exist in the single universe that you, the author, create. The heterogeneity of the form is what I love most — you don’t have to choose politics OR history OR spirituality; it can all co-exist, mingle, collide, layer. In most contexts in life, you are forced into narrow specialization; in the novel, you can wander and cross boundaries and try to make whole what feels atomized in life.
Ooh, nice! More and more I want to read this book.
Thank you. Please do.
I will. Maybe in the summer when I can read a book for enjoyment instead of because I have to review it. So then, what spiritual journey — if any — did you have to work through in order to finish it? Or, did you learn anything spiritual about the world or yourself as you wrote it? And what do you think of art and its power in society?
When I was writing Long For This World, I was very isolated; my solitude was both necessary and deeply challenging. I had quit my full-time job in order to finish my draft, was struggling to find/maintain freelance work, fell into debt, was living in a rural place; most of my peers were getting married, having children, advancing in their careers, acquiring material things. It felt crazy and fantastical to be doing what I was doing, like I was regressing in life. It was a very unstable time. And yet, I never really doubted in my core that this was what I needed to be doing.
I suppose that’s the spiritual journey — connecting with your truest self and living your life out of that place, no matter what else is going on around you or how out of sync you are with “everyone else,” or how shaky you feel sometimes trying to manage the day-to-day. You have to access a new and deeper inner solidity. It’s a kind of growing up, even though it looks like a second adolescence. No one is going to do it for you — write your novel, take these risks — you have to do it yourself.
As for the power of art, I’ll refer to the late poet Jane Kenyon, who said that journalists report on the externals of life, whereas artists report on our inner lives (my paraphrase). David Foster Wallace talked about fiction as showing us what it means to be a f*&^ing human being on the planet. I think it’s terribly unfortunate when “art” and “society” become dichotomized in an either/or way. The poet Denise Levertov wrote much about the integration of these — how art nourishes our capacity for empathy and compassion, without which we cannot be full human beings in society. There are certain politicians, for example, whom I think could benefit from authentic engagement with art. Where is our Vaclav Havel? I sometimes wonder.