September 20, 2009 Leave a comment
I just ate two tamales happily microwaved into melty Trader Joe’s delight, and feel fortified to write what I was going to originally try to work into my earlier post. On one of my recent library scavenging hunts, I picked up Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing. I read it yesterday while waiting for Glee to buffer on Hulu (to no avail). Yes, dearest, the majority of my literary intake happens while I wait to watch shit television without interruption. It was an appropriate window for Mr. Mailer, who stoked my ire triple time for every nugget of ye olde writing advice.
He is a self-mythologizer, very much in love with the idea of the hungover writer who understands the virility of being. Writing is dangerous: you risk alcoholism, depression and madness if you let yourself go into your art. Writing is dull: only stupid people choose it as a profession (but this is so much in the vain of self-de/precation that we are supposed to begoggled). The world doesn’t want your art, but you have to dare to look in that great void and understand it will takes its toll for doing so. Picasso was a jerk, Vidal Gore could have learned some things from him, The Last Tango in Paris needed actual cock and vagina. He adores Hemingway, but understands what got him killed. Mailer reads like the writer that the young men in Mad Men are hoping to be.
I would like to say his sexism is part of his generation, but as the book was published in 2003, I’m surprised there wasn’t more editing. Generally, when he refers to an aspiring writer, it is a he. He also mentions that women “might be less comfortable” writing about war:
How often have women shown the same inventiveness and hellishness that men have at war? How can they approach the near psychotic mix of proportion and disproportion which is at the heart of mortal combat?
However, we can write about bravery (he goes into a long example how brave an old woman must be crossing a street, so therefore, women do have bravery in their lives).
Some other doozies:
- He is anti-masturbation, calling it a “miserable activity…all that happens is everything that’s beautiful and good in one goes up the hand.” And then, “it strikes me that masturbation, for a variety of reasons, does not affect the female psyche as directly.”
- In a chapter on writerly identity, he tells a story where a friend was at a party where he didn’t know anybody. He apologizes to Mailer because is a moment of recklessness, he decided to introduce himself as Mailer at the party. He took a girl home. “Were you good with her?” Mailer asks. “Yeah. It was a good one. Real good,” the friend says. “Then I’m not mad.”
- “The novel is like the Great Bitch in one’s life. We think we’re rid of her, we go on to other women, we take our pulse and decide that finally we’re enjoying ourselves, we’re free of her power, we’ll never suffer her depredations again, and then we turn a corner on a street, and there’s the Bitch smiling at us, and we’re trapped. We know the Bitch has still got us.”
- “Every novelist who has slept with the Bitch (only poets and writers of short stories have a Muse) comes away bragging afterward like a GI tumbling out of a whorehouse spree — –“Man, I made her moan,” goes the cry of the young writer. But the Bitch laughs afterward in her empty bed. “He was just so sweet in the beginning,” she declares,”but by the end he just went, ‘Peep, peep, peep.”
I think the heat that rises when I read this is the sexiness of it all, the great drama of writing. The great manfeat of it all.
But, some of his advice is really helpful. For example, he says that if you tell yourself that you are going to sit at your desk and write tomorrow, it is important that you actually do it. Otherwise, you unconscious quits trusting you, and won’t show up as reliably. This is why it’s hard to get back in the habit of work after letting it go.
The rule in capsule: If you fail to show up in the morning after you vowed that you would be at your desk as you went to sleep last night, then you will walk around with ants in your brain. Rule of thumb: Restlessness of mind can be measured by the number of promises that remain unkempt.
So, there’s that.