Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Zadie Smith’

Habits of a blogger

In Books, Creativity, Reading, Writing on January 12, 2013 at 6:00 am

I am a rigid and determined creature of habit. I wish it were otherwise. It would be nice to go dancing through life on a whim, bending to curiosity, twisting to spontaneity. I admire the carefree force, that personality moving through existence on the juice of life alone. (Undoubtedly the French have a name for it.) But no, my ancestors were too Germanic for that. I have habits, routines to keep. This is stuff of my twisted double helix. Too, I am a mid-westerner by up-bringing. Mid-westerners are notorious for stoic productivity. As I’ve said, you cannot escape your biography.

When I retired a few years ago the form of my existence became fluid, like water, filling the shape of any containing vessel. It didn’t take me long to construct a new vessel, filling the hours with projects and schedules. So, to finish off our three-part conversation about habit, here is how I filled the vessel specific to my so-called creative thinking life.

It begins with a short walk at sunrise–and the hope that my muse is out and about. Wrestling your muse to the deck is a bit like catching trout: you can trick her or seduce her, but if you go straight for the kiss, she’ll slip away, a watery sprite at once beautiful yet invisible. If I’ve been successful, the walk ends with a notion of what the day’s creative output is going to look like. That is a thing akin to grace, I suspect.

The production side of the creative ledger finds me at my desk every afternoon. The routine is 1:00 to 4:00, three hours of pecking away. But often, like now, it starts at the breakfast table, trying to tie down a thought or two before the sun vaporizes them. Two years ago I stopped writing …the house… in an effort to collect my thoughts on a larger canvas. I thought I’d write a book, the working title of which was, appropriately, Notes of an Autodidact. Sounds like a yawner, doesn’t it? That did not work out but in the attempt, I discovered my daily rule of 500. That is, write five hundred words a day, minimum. Three hours, five hundred words–whichever comes first. That is the writer-blogger at work.

On the intake side of the creative ledger is the reading. Books are the oxygen by which we fill our lungs. Reading is counting pages for me. Fifty pages a day is the minimum tempo, the metronome of my reading day. That is, fifty pages of the current book. Periodical reading, though entertaining, is too often a time-consuming distraction (much like computer time, a sin factored slightly less grave than tv watching (though I commit that sin, guiltily, too frequently)). The New Yorker, The Paris Review (a quarterly, read for the interviews!) and The New York Review of Books are the extent of the periodicals. The morning paper too and a handful of blogs on my RSS reader round out my reading day.

That’s it. Reading and writing, putting in the time, day after day. Breath in, breath out.

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…and, in the news flash department, philosopher Gary Gutting takes a look at Zadie Smith’s thoughts on Joy over at the New York Times’ Opinionator page. Gutting’s piece, The Joy of Zadie Smith and Thomas Aquinas, is artless, but well structured and precise–exactly what one would expect, sadly, of a philosopher. It is, however, thought provoking. It makes for chewy reading.

Here we have a nice, serendipitous, wrinkle demonstrating how a well-articulated notion, Zadie’s essay, starts a thinking process, the birth of an idea’s history–like a Big Bang of  thought it expands and washes over spectator and participant alike. In this instance, as a bonus, because it is rendered artistically, there is pleasure involved (to walk the edge of Smith’s arguement). I read it and send it to you; you absorb it; Gutting writes about it; we visit and entertain his thoughts, her thoughts, and so forth; layered, and inclusive, all of us suddenly part of a larger conversation. That is a function of art, indeed.

Thanks for reading and have a terrific weekend.

d

Joy at The New York Review of Books

In Creativity, Writers, Writing on January 10, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Sorry to intrude on your afternoon, but I just read an essay by Zadie Smith in The New York Review of Books and am compelled to share. Zadie Smith is one of the best writers working currently–you know this, I know–and this essay is masterful. This is the art of non-fiction, folks, as practiced by a master. I’ve copied and pasted the first few of paragraphs then linked to the full essay where you can finish if inclined.

(Notice the journey she takes as she explores the concept of Joy, the by-ways she travels, the secrets she shares with us. You begin to notice, indeed, feel, as the narrative picks up, that she is displaying as well as describing Joy–telling and showing. So dexterous!)

Okay, here you go.

Joy, by Zadie Smith

It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience. And if you asked me if I wanted more joyful experiences in my life, I wouldn’t be at all sure I did, exactly because it proves such a difficult emotion to manage. It’s not at all obvious to me how we should make an accommodation between joy and the rest of our everyday lives.

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Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
George Bellows: Geraldine Lee, No. 2, 1914; on view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s ‘George Bellows’ exhibition until February 18, 2013

Perhaps the first thing to say is that I experience at least a little pleasure every day. I wonder if this is more than the usual amount? It wasthe same even in childhood when most people are miserable. I don’t think this is because so many wonderful things happen to me but rather that the small things go a long way. I seem to get more than the ordinary satisfaction out of food, for example—any old food. An egg sandwich from one of these grimy food vans on Washington Square has the genuine power to turn my day around. Whatever is put in front of me, foodwise, will usually get a five-star review.
You’d think that people would like to cook for, or eat with, me—in fact I’m told it’s boring. Where there is no discernment there can be no awareness of expertise or gratitude for special effort. “Don’t say that was delicious,” my husband warns, “you say everything’s delicious.” “But it was delicious.” It drives him crazy. All day long I can look forward to a popsicle. The persistent anxiety that fills the rest of my life is calmed for as long as I have the flavor of something good in my mouth. And though it’s true that when the flavor is finished the anxiety returns, we do not have so many reliable sources of pleasure in this life as to turn our nose up at one that is so readily available, especially here in America. A pineapple popsicle. Even the great anxiety of writing can be stilled for the eight minutes it takes to eat a pineapple popsicle.

 

As you were…

Review of Miscellany

In Books, Reading, Technology, Wisdom on November 5, 2010 at 8:17 am

In a piece called Generation Why? one of my favorite contemporary writers, Zadie Smith, reviews The Social Network in The New York Review of Books. I mentioned it because I found the movie an unlikely favorite, a sort of Melvillian study in obsession, à la Moby Dick, but with a computer replacing the whale.

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There is a terrific article in the current The New Yorker on Daniel Patrick Moynihan‘s collection of correspondence and letters. I confess to infrequently investing in a full reading of a New Yorker article, but this one was different. I knew of Moynihan, of course, but didn’t really know why I knew of him.  Moynihan: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” The piece is a nice introduction. Where are the Moynihans of today?

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My favorite local beer–local or not, always a favorite–is Allagash White. But there is a contender, though not local, but close. Three Philosophers beer from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown. I mention it because of the label description, which reads: “cultured yet wild, curious yet wise.” If one were so inclined, there is an apt and wonderful epitaph.

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In the category: Not yet read but going to read: Hamlet’s Blackberry. As you may know from reading my occasional rants here, I am conflicted over the import of technology on our lives. This book takes up the question. One reviewer, quoted on the author’s homepage, states: “To those dithering over whether to close down Facebook accounts, resign from the Twitterati, and resume a more contemplative and more properly connected life, this remarkable book presents the answers and the validations for which you have been hoping.  William Powers, brave in intent and wise in argument, offers in these pages an oasis of serenity and sanity, a sanctuary from a world fast turning into a limitless digital Sahara.

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There are three blogs I read regularly. I thought I should link them here. There is The Millions, a site for readers. It was here I started my David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest journey. There is The Rumpus, a terrific site for all things cultural (popular). And then, The Nervous Breakdown, an energetic blog of ideas and notions, leaning in the writerly direction. I contribute regularly to The Nervous Breakdown (TNB). To wit, a new essay, “I have no natural capacity for anything.”

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I leave you with a quote: “Doubting pleases me no less than knowing.” ~ Dante