Yesterday I complained so much I feel almost cheerful today. Like many Canadians, I tend to revel in “a woe is me” attitude. Blame it on our weather. In the days when I did performance art, I once performed a show about self-pity called “Down and In” at the Detroit Institute of Modern Art.” Dressed in scarfs, shorts and toques, my fellow performer, Louise Garfield, and myself lowered ourselves into the gallery’s fountain chanting sad sack phrases. It was funny until we realized we couldn’t touch our microphones on stage. Then we really felt sorry for ourselves. So what did we do? We made our situation part of the show.
This is a good thing for me to remember because the labour of writing a novel, with its long, hard, dry spots and sometimes baffling dead ends, can make you feel sorry for yourself. According to the late teacher and novelist John Gardener, the profession of novel writing gives joy to a certain kind of person. But he warned that no other profession is so fraught with professional and spiritual difficulties. He should know. He died drunk driving his motorcyle.
Gardener wrote two excellent books about writing, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist. That’s why he has my respect. He didn’t just write powerful novels; he taught fiction for over 20 years before he gave into his demons. (His brother died in a horrible farm accident while he was driving the machine that caused it.)
In other words, writing novels can be a painful way to spend your time. Yet it’s satisfying to live in the world of your imagination. Satisfying and seductive. Who has more freedom than the novelist? (On Monday, the long, dry hard spots of novel writing.)