Proof, evidence, witness…
Why is it we want so badly to memorialize ourselves? Even while we’re still alive. We wish to assert our existence, like dogs peeing on fire hydrants. We put on display our framed photographs, our parchment diplomas, our silver-plated cups; we monogram our linen, we carve our names on trees, we scrawl them on washroom walls. It’s all the same impulse. What do we hope from it? Applause, envy, respect? Or simply attention, of any kind we can get?
At the very least we want a witness. We can’t stand the idea of our own voices falling silent finally, like a radio running down.
—Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood will be a guest of the 2013 Perth Writers Festival in February.
From one of my favourite books on the craft of writing…
Mastery [of the art of writing] is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt, but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like weather.
—John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
What happens to our past when we can no longer remember?
What an amazing, complicated, unpredictable, enduring and fragile thing is memory. It is like a river. It can silt up and need dredging, it can flood and destroy, it can lose its way. It is like a river of moonlight, evanescent. When it goes dark, navigation is treacherous.
—Janette Turner Hospital, ‘Moon River’, Forecast: Turbulence
… life would be terrible … without death to give it gravitas and shape.
—Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Good Squad
But it’s a shape that Western society generally prefers not to acknowledge.
Once you begin looking, you see punctuation everywhere…
One night they fell asleep, side by side, on Maud’s bed, where they had been sharing a glass of Calvados. He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her pale elegant phrase.
—A. S. Byatt, Possession
I’m not sure where I saw this quote from the wonderful Tillie Olsen, but it lodged in my memory:
Any woman who writes is a survivor.
Or perhaps is trying to be? Is writing always an act of survival?
An editing colleague put me on to Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s quirky book years ago, and I often dip into it. Grammar with drama and a touch of goth…
The verb is the heartthrob of a sentence. Without a verb, a subject would be abandoned, stranded in a sentence, incapable of sensing the void. There would be nothing between words but meaningless space or a clutter of adjectives, phrases, and pronouns, and maybe something to eat, but no way to reach for it or bite it, since action and feeling are missing.
—Karen Elizabeth Gordon. The Deluxe Transitive Vampire: the ultimate handbook of grammar for the innocent, the eager, and the doomed
Another impossible, heroic attempt at defining love:
Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs
—Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
The quote: from the eponymous story in Josephine Rowe’s brilliant 2012 collection. The butterfly: discovered in my attic room on arrival at Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, in winter 2010, where I went to work on a novel in which butterflies are everywhere.
How little it takes to be changed, and how difficult to know of it. How little we can see, even from here.
—Josephine Rowe, Tarcutta Wake