Last weekend I fell in love with a book. Every time this happens to me it takes me by surprise, even though it happens to me all the time; this helps me to understand people who fall in love with people all the time (I don’t.) The author is alive but all her books are out of print, though they seem to have been a big deal when they were published. One of the things that struck me about the book was its author’s lack of ambition; her books are full of lavish descriptions of her endless-partyish life, but she never describes the role that writing plays in it except in one memorable line about how when she’s asked how she writes she replies “on a typewriter in the mornings when there’s nothing else to do.”
I found this attitude, even if feigned, refreshing. I think because I’ve read so many books about being a writer now (and also written two) and also because this cheerful attitude made me feel hopeful: maybe writing can be effortless and fun, one part of a full life, and not an endless source of anxiety. Maybe there could be a way to eliminate the aspect of having a writing career where you scheme and calculate about how to position yourself and worry about alienating people who might help you or worry endlessly about how to do enough non-writing work to support the writing that you want and need to do. Maybe the problem is New York!
But then I came back down to earth as I started to research the later part of this writer’s career. If you are not ambitious on your own behalf, people will rarely be ambitious for you.
I also reread Lee and Elaine this week and it struck me for the first time how meta of an Emily Books selection it is. In Lee and Elaine, the narrator becomes obsessed with ghosts of women artists whose work wasn’t recognized in their lifetimes, except as sort of a shadow corollary of their husbands’ work. She’s partly making up new stories for them, inventing what their stories could or should have been. What Ruth and I are doing is similar, except that luckily some of these ghosts are still alive and their stories can still be revised, or can come alive to new readers. There are all these random circumstances that collude to repress this kind of writing but when you start to do archiving/revival work, patterns begin to emerge, and then the patterns start to look like an apparatus that’s been in place for years and is not going anywhere unless we work to dismantle it.