I like to make stuff.
We write to negotiate our own relationships with momentariness and permanence, to speak with the dead, to bring them back to life, or try to, and of course we always fail to bring them back, and we call that failure art. Perhaps you’re like me in clinging for dear life to an uncertainty, sometimes powerful, sometimes faint, regarding the purpose and importance of what a writer or any artist does. Perhaps you share with me a reluctance to investigate that purpose and power too extensively, deeply, closely. Perhaps like me you cherish the lingering question: Is this thing that I do superfluous? Perhaps it is. And perhaps like me you agree with Bertolt Brecht when he wrote, “It’s the superfluous for which we live.”
I’m utterly unsuited to the task of telling you how to live a happy, disciplined writer’s life. I’m a slow reader, a deliberate tortoise of a thinker rather than the intellectual gazelle I would like to be; I’m undisciplined and unhappy writing and expect to be until the writing stops. I find a remarkable number of things to do in a day much more compelling than writing. I could give you absolutely sterling advice on how to avoid writing, how when you run out of things to do other than going to your desk and writing, when every closet is reorganized and you’ve called your oldest living relative twice in one day to see what she’s up to and there isn’t an unanswered e-mail left on your computer or you simply can’t bear to answer another one and there is no dignity, not a drop left, in any further evasion of the task at hand, namely writing, well, you can always ask your dentist for a root canal or have an accident in the bathtub instead.
Trying every day to tell the truth is hard. There are harder things, of course—arguably, living with lies and meaninglessness, living in despair is harder, but it’s hardship disguised as luxury and easier perhaps to grow accustomed to, since truth is usually the enemy of custom. There are harder things than writing, being President Obama, for instance, and having to deal with House Republicans, or trying to fix the leak at the Fukushima reactor, these are harder, but writing is hard.