Monday, March 13, 2006

On Faith and On Panicking

Someone once asked Samuel Beckett if he was an optimist or a pessimist.* He answered that if he was a pessimist, he wouldn't write plays. I have recently discovered this same sense of faith.

When you write a novel you start with nothing. "You wake up with a smile and a shoeshine," as Ms. Didion said once. And you have to have this trust, this unbridled faith: in yourself, in language, in the process, and--most importantly, I think--in art's ability to make the world better. Sounds corny, right?

You panic a lot. (Okay, maybe I panic a lot.) But you sit at your desk hour after hour and you look at your notes and you try to trust that they will either all come together beautifully, politically, artistically, or they will filter themselves out. A sampling of mine: Hindinberg, sperm banks, Agnes Martin, light pollution, Spice Wars, Frederick Jackson Turner and California frontier ideology. You can see why I panic a lot.

But you eventually get over yourself, and the book begins to take shape. Somehow. (Word by word is exactly how, but there's also some mystery to it that no writer I've ever met will attempt to explain or discount.) "It, um, happens," they will tell you. That's the faith.

*(I used to know who asked him this, but I have since forgotten.)

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