“If someone died each time I checked my inbox, there’d be no one left.”
I’ve been reading the interview between Elissa Bassist and Cheryl Strayed on Creative Nonfiction. Bassist wrote the letter that Strayed responded to in the famous essay “Write Like a Motherfucker.” In some ways the interview is too staged. It is meandering and irritating, but also inspirational.
It’s like reading Poets and Writers. You can hate all the smug-looking writers who say canned things about writing, or you can shut the fuck up and get back to work. Said writers would probably rather be writing too.
I have a friend who just wants a Book desperately. (This is not to say the rest of us don’t want books.) But she is getting a Ph.D. and a Book would mean a Job. She is a good writer, but equating Book and Job means that she wants the Book yesterday. She wants to have arrived, and is impatient with the slog.
It’s not that I don’t want a book. Obviously I want my book to be an IndieBound bestseller and to make Oprah’s book club. I would like to win the National Book Critic’s Circle award, since I’m daydreaming. It’s not that I don’t see other writers published and wish I were in their place.
Sometimes this conversation comes up around age. Young Things are getting published and I am inching ever-closer to forty, and my book is still snugly tucked into my Mac documents folder. Like we need another way to fuck ourselves up about age.
Bassist writes “Now, you [Strayed] are in Elizabeth Gilbert’s position: an incredibly successful, rich, best-selling woman writer whom so many of us would like to loathe for the aforementioned reasons. And, of course, you are an incredibly human, real, serious, worthy-of-our-sisterhood writer who, we’d all do well to remember, worked her tail off. What would you say if I said I was jealous of you?”
That last question. It is cringeworthy, and yet she’s just saying things that other people feel and don’t say. Strayed addresses it well, saying that jealousy is not good for a writer, and that when she was in her twenties she did not envy the successful writers in their forties. There’s age again.
The interview is also about fame, jealousy, and ambition. In some ways I think being trained (I almost wrote “raised”) as a poet protects you from certain ambitions. You are never going to be famous. Never. Who here knows Louise Gluck or Kay Ryan, recent poet laureates? But poets are just as jealous and hungry as the rest of the writers.
Writers trade in words. I often read extremely interesting, well-written essays that are jealousy and hunger for fame, ambition, and thoughtfulness all wound together. Do you let your jealous, petty, awkward, [insert your own adjective here] self out, or do you swaddle it in pretty, considered words?