Sunday, March 16, 2008

Maggie Nelson interview

CV: What's the most helpful creativity technique you know?
MN: I know there are many who believe in the Trollope school of thought, that one should wax one's ass to the chair and spit out novels or sestinas or whatever without waiting around for that elusive, romantic, ghost-in-machine, inspiration. But for me the work of being a writer is the easy part. I like being at work. What I like less are the soggy, ill-defined but probably necessary periods between monsoon and drought. The periods of silence, inactivity, and aimlessness that inevitably punctuate a life. Being possessed is pleasurable -- it feels good to lose control of the car while also somehow staying behind the wheel. But abiding with a dead or resting or paused brain, or numbness, or ordinariness, or sanity -- that's harder for me. So the best trick I know has less to do with tapping into creativity and more to do with cultivating the capacity to live without it. To let it go, and not feel as if the plug has been pulled on life. This abiding demands a certain kind of acceptance: If it is better that I write something again, let me write something again. If it is better that I never write again, let me never write again. (The prayer I'm cribbing from actually requires a more radical acceptance: If it is better for me to be dead, let me be dead.) I wouldn't call this a trick, exactly; it's more of a renunciation.
Poet Anthony McCann didn't teach this to me, but he smartly reiterated it to me the other day. We were talking about these periods, and he just said something simple like, the hard part is learning how to bear them. Just knowing that someone else is up against a similar problem is often enough to help me in a profound way. More profound, probably, than any nugget of advice. Neither he nor I, as relative newcomers to Los Angeles, has yet figured out how to write about the city, so we keep taking long hikes at dusk, looking for coyotes, and, at the summit, staring in awe at the ridiculous expanse of the city below. Waiting for the lights to come on, I guess. There is no guarantee that they will, but every time I've been up there, they have.

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