Just a few weeks ago, I was in New York (to read at the Guerrilla Lit Reading Series at Dixon Place). While it was a mini-vacation for me, I ended up taking a phone call from a reporter who wanted to write me up for the Suburban Life. You can read that story here.
I took the interview while wandering around Central Park at dusk. Save for occasional brisk gusts, the evening was ideal, with the lights of the buildings along Central Park West and then 5th Avenue shining through leafless trees, the moisture in the air anticipating spring. For a part of the interview, I sat on an outcrop and, as night had fallen, did not encounter a single soul.
The reporter asked me some very difficult questions, perhaps more difficult than the ones Amy Danzer asked in this live interview of me. As these things go, obviously, some of the answers were cast aside in the drafting process. But one question stayed with me ever since that private moment on a Central Park boulder, perhaps because I had such a hard time answering it.
What does writing mean to you?
I had no idea how to answer this. I remember sighing and looking at the grass. What does it mean? I said something but can’t remember what.
I love writing fiction because it’s enough to ask a big question, poor form to try to answer it. But shouldn’t I know the answer to this?
I think, to answer it, I should compare writing to something I care very little about, like my shoes. My shoes mean almost nothing. They keep my feet from pain and offer me some capacity to look decent in public. Writing means much more than this.
I could get Zen about it. Meaning is a construct. But that’s a cop-out, especially when a reporter intuits that writing means some very important thing. After all, I wrote a 480 page book.
Since that time, I’ve found myself wondering if I would go on living were I to lose the ability to write. Let’s say I ended up suffering brain damage and could only know I’m unable to write stories burning themselves out in my mind. If I could see those stories and know them, feel their narratives like rivers or currents in my body, but never release them, would I keep living?
Surely, this bombastic question points to some meaning. I can’t answer it because my imagination can’t take me to the necessary place.