This is a long haul. Writing is a long haul. I’m hoping that none of the stuff that I’ve done so far is anywhere close to the best stuff I can do. Let’s hope we’re not fifty-five and doing the same thing. I’d say avoid burning out. You can burn out by struggling in privation and neglect for many years, but you can also bum out if you’re given a’ little bit of attention. People come to your hotel room and think you have interesting things to say. You can allow that to make you start to think that you can’t say anything unless it’s interesting. For me, 50% of the stuff I do is bad, and that’s just going to be the way it is, and if I can’t accept that then I’m not cut out for this. The trick is to know what’s bad and not let other people see it.
I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Il’yich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the thereminvox. I played a piece [of music].
After I played the piece they applauded, including Vladimir Il’yich [Lenin], who had been watching very attentively during my playing. I played Glinka’s “Skylark”, which he loved very much, and Vladimir Il’yich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try himself to play it. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him. He started to play “Skylark”. He had a very good ear, and he felt where to move his hands to get the sound: to lower them or to raise them. In the middle of this piece I thought that he could himself, independently, move his hands. So I took my hands off of his, and he completed the whole thing independently, by himself, with great success and with great applause following. He was very happy that he could play on this instrument all by himself.
“It’s worth knowing about ten times as much as you ever use, so you can move freely.”—Ian McEwan
From an interview with Jimmy Carter:
Q: You’ve written memoirs, a historical novel, a children’s book, poetry—all while running the Carter Center. How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?
A: Well, I get up early. (Laughs.) I’m a farmer, still. I get up around 5 o’clock in the morning when I’m home, so I have three hours of good time to think and write before the normal events start happening in Atlanta at the Carter Center.
You don’t know how to play better just because you’ve suffered. The blues don’t come from picking cotton.
I’ve never read anything quite like Miles on Miles: Interviews and Encounters with Miles Davis. The book collects about four decades’ worth of his life, broken up across a couple dozen interviews that were published in small jazz magazines all the way up to big serials like Newsweek and Rolling Stone. Some were with notable music journalists, a few with overmatched college radio station DJs.
The interviews start up in the late 1950s, about 10 years after he got his start with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and a couple years after he kicked his heroin habit. The general consensus, even back then: he was bleeping brilliant, charismatic, deeply flawed. Behind the gruff, badass facade was a sensitive, needy man. As the book goes on, it’s cool to see how the different interviewers sum up the career to date, through the shifting bands, radical changes in style, divorces, illness, new addictions. At some points in his life, he’s gregarious, absurdly fit from boxing, full of ideas. Later, for several years, he pretty much didn’t do much aside from drugs, rarely even leaving his house.
I don’t like to lay back. I don’t like to relax. Show me a motherfucker that’s relaxed, and I’ll show you a motherfucker that’s afraid of success.
You might have to like Miles to make it through his harangues. There weren’t a whole lot of brilliant comments or analysis of music. He usually avoided commenting on his own music, insistent that the past is dead, and I didn’t see a whole lot of criticism of other artists.
I usually don’t buy jazz records. They make me tired and depressed.
But I loved seeing how he phrased things, how he responds to similar questions over the years, and how he remembers and retells things differently. And there are occasional asides that I never would have expected:
I don’t know where I want to live. But the best time I ever had in my life, other than playing trumpet, was when I was out in the country riding horses.
Yeah, you know, I stopped for a while. I really started to sketch again after I married Cicely. Because she takes so long. You know how actresses are. They take so long to get ready for anything, you know. Rather than scream at her, I just started sketching.
“How did you become a poet?””Reluctantly.”
If I’ve written this written this properly, it’s like condensed soup… it should be reconstitutable in the mind of the reader and it should come out just about right if you’ve had a chance to read it.
I mistrust inspiration… I find it necessary to begin before I have any inspiration.
From an interview with Anthony Bourdain, a passage on those beautiful moments and how they feel kind of sucky at the same time:
IÄôve talked elsewhere about there are times in your life… IÄôll use the example of youÄôre standing alone in the desert, and you see the most incredible sunset youÄôve ever seen and your first instinct is to turn to your left or right and say, ÄúWow, do you see that?Äù Okay, thereÄôs no one there, what do you do? Next, whereÄôs the camera? Look through the viewfinder and you realize you know, what you see through that little box is not what youÄôre experiencing. There comes this terrible moment when you realize well, this is for me. There is no sharing this. Worse: if you try to share it with old friends or someone you love itÄôs almost an insult. “How was your day?” “Well, we did three hundred covers tonight, somebody sent back a steak…” “Well, in the Sahara there was this sunset and you wouldnÄôt believe it.” You know?
“I don’t avoid repeating myself. I rip myself off all the time.” –Chip Kidd
This interview with Bill Bishop, about the increasing social segmentation in America, has some cool tie-ins with a book I’ve been loving lately, Lawrence Levine’s Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America. Levine touches on the changing use of public space in the early 1900s as “Culture” was increasingly associated with the wealthy, and patrons and directors exerted more control over how we experience art:
The relative taming of the audience at the turn of the century was part of a larger development that witnessed a growing bifurcation between the private and public spheres of life. Through the cult of etiquette, which was so popular in this period, individuals were taught to keep all private matters strictly to themselves and to remain publicly as inconspicuous as possible… People were similarly taught to remove from the public to the private universe an entire range of personal reactions… The individual mirrored the increasing segmentation of society in a segmentation of self.
Bishop mentions in the interview that “The best-educated citizens are the least likely to have a political discussion with someone with a different opinion.” Public spaces and self-selection. Two interesting ideas that I hope Bishop talks about in his upcoming book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. It’s on my reading list. [via book design review]
There’s a really good, really funny interview with Richard Price in the Believer:
I have to be a little intimidated by what IÄôm writing about. I have to feel a little bit like I donÄôt think I can do this, I donÄôt think I can master this, I donÄôt think I can get under the skin of this, because when youÄôre a little scared, youÄôre bringing everything to the table because youÄôre not sure you can do it unless you bust your balls and really, really get into it. Terror keeps you slender. I need a sense of awe. Oh, shit! I canÄôt believe I just saw that! But then what do you do with what you saw? ThatÄôs the bottom line. ThatÄôs the novel.
On writing novels vs screenplays:
BLVR: Do you wake up every morning and write right away?
RP: It depends. It depends if thereÄôs anybody waiting for it. If thereÄôs not anybody waiting for it, I can get slack. ThatÄôs also the good thing about screenwriting, is that there are other people involved. If youÄôre writing a novel, once you sign a contract and have a couple years to write it, thatÄôs it. YouÄôre on your own. You can have cobwebs, you can look like Miss HavershamÄôs wedding cake before anybody gives a shit.
We’re just trying to see what happens. And we have relatively little time and a whole lot of curiosity, so the most efficient way to get there is what we do, and that often happens to be some form of science… That being said, the fact that we don’t have formal training, that makes what we’re experiencing a little bit more accessible to the viewers. If we actually knew what we were doing ahead of time, it would just be like talking at you, instead of experiencing the situation with you.
This fictional Paris Review Interview with “Constance Eakins” is a clever bit of promotion for The Mayor’s Tongue. Here’s a pdf of the interview [1.5mb]. Eakins started with comics:
Interviewer: Was it when you ran away from home that you began to feel that you were going to be a writer?
Eakins: No, I always wanted to be a writer, even before I was born. My first story was what I like to call an image-story. When I hadn’t yet learned how to speak, my dear mother would give me a parcel of rusty nails, which I used to draw abstract shapes on the walls of our home.
I: How do you know that these were stories? I mean, doesn’t every child make drawings if given some sort of writing implement?
E: They were image-stories and if you went to look at them now they would make you weep from the beauty of their narrative swoop.
The classic nuts and bolts…
I: When do you begin writing each day? As soon as you wake up?
E: Yes, when I wake up in the morning I always have the desire to sit down to write. The first thing I do is write down my dreams, then I get to my fiction, poetry, theater, film scripts, monographs, critical essays, and journalism—in that order. But then I constantly am receiving telephone calls, gawking fans come up to my house, friends try to visit, and I am all the time interrupted. Somehow I manage to keep on writing.
[via maud newton]