"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, July 31, 2008

"I don't know much about creative writing programs.

But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer." -- Doris Lessing.

I found this quotation on John Baker's blog (see sidebar), and Googled it, and found a couple of interesting interviews and lists of quotes. Lessing talks a bit about what a writer's life requires, and the life of a single parent who is a writer. She's more realistic than most, I think, about the sacrifices entailed. We who like to think we can have it all should consider ourselves warned.

I think -- and she might well agree -- that "having it all" is a recently created concept, a marketing strategy, a way to get people to consume more things, services, etc. I believe there was a time when everyone expected to make choices that limited their options. Few people expect that now, and we are encouraged to call it progress. But it turns from progress into a burden at a certain point, and I think we've reached that point, both psychologically and in terms of the load on the planet.

A friend from Russia put this succinctly. He described standing in the supermarket looking at the huge number of different varieties of toilet paper for sale -- white, green, pink, blue, scented, unscented, extra-soft, two-ply, recycled, packed in separate rolls, in twos, fours, sixes, eights, dozens. The real question, he said (I'm paraphrasing; it was a long time ago), is why do you need so many choices?


Cheryl said...

I think the comment about having it all, especially in the last 30 years or so, specifically relates to women and the notion that having children necessarily restricts your ability to have a career of any type, including a writing career. I think it's much more unusual to find the expression "you can't have it all" directed at a man, any man, who expects to be able to have a family, children, a wife and a career of any type. But maybe that was the point. Lessing's quote was made as a single parent attempting to create a career that necessitates a whole lot of alone time. There are exceptions, but the time it takes to raise children and the time it takes to create wonderful writing is most often, imo, mutually exclusive. Some great exceptions exist, but these folks are, imo, super geniuses and saints who have done what is impossible for us mere mortals.

Zen of Writing said...

I think we're all being told we can have it all, and now, and the current crisis in housing and consumer spending is the result -- oil prices were just the last straw -- but the psychological aspect is what I'm thinking about, the mutual delusion that we can have everything at no or low cost. It makes a person feel like she is somehow defective for not having it all, or wanting it.

sheri said...

Very well said! My husband has never been able to understand why I am so stressed when I come back from the grocery store, until he ran out to buy hot dogs a few weeks ago. He came home completely aggravated and exclaimed, "I just wanted a #%*# hot dog! Why do I have to have 40 options, it is a hot dog!"
There is so much out there now that we are suffering from overexposure and ultimately our stress and unhappiness levels are through the roof.

John Baker said...

The toilet paper and hot dog stories point up the lie in the marketing man's definition of choice. There comes a time in the proliferation of anything where the idea of choice slips into the negative. I could add canned beans, tomatoes or the thousands and thousands of novels published every year, but none of these make me feel grateful.