thinking about the osmotic work of writers, today at Arcadia, and with the help of James Salter and Andrew Solomon

Saturday, June 27, 2015

In a few hours, I'll be at Arcadia University for the Creative Writing Summer Weekend. I'll be teaching a private master class. At 3:00, my reading will be free and open to the public. I invite you to join us on this rainy day.

I've decided to focus on the idea of the osmotic for both the class and the reading. How we move from truth to fiction and back. How we empathize with both the real people in our lives and the characters that emerge from our dreams. How we maneuver imagination and compassion.

Today, choosing against the gym after a physically exhausting week, I had an extra hour to read and have spent that time in the company of James Salter. There, in the midst of a Paris Review Art of Fiction interview (with Edward Hirsch), I found Salter reflecting on this very topic:


You once said that the word fiction is a crude word. Why?


The notion that anything can be invented wholly and that these invented things are classified as fiction and that other writing, presumably not made up, is called nonfiction strikes me as a very arbitrary separation of things. We know that most great novels and stories come not from things that are entirely invented, but from perfect knowledge and close observation. To say they are made up is an injustice in describing them. I sometimes say that I don’t make up anything—obviously, that’s not true. But I am usually uninterested in writers who say that everything comes out of the imagination. I would rather be in a room with someone who is telling me the story of his life, which may be exaggerated and even have lies in it, but I want to hear the true story, essentially.


You’re saying it’s always drawn from life?

Almost always. Writing is not a science, and of course there are exceptions, but every writer I know and admire has essentially drawn either from his own life or his knowledge of things in life. Great dialogue, for instance, is very difficult to invent. Almost all great books have actual people in them.

Words I will share at Arcadia later today. Words that will help keep me balanced as I continue to reflect on what sort of osmotic project I might wrestle next.

Finally, today, I leave you with this—more words to be shared today at Arcadia. This time the writer is Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker and this time the osmotics concern youth and age:

This is what I will say to you most urgently: there are many obvious differences between middle age and youth, between having lived more and done more and being newly energized and fresh to the race. But the greatest difference is patience. Youth is notoriously impatient, even though there is no need for impatience early on, when people have the time to be patient. In middle age, the wisdom of patience seems more straightforward, but there aren’t so many days left. But Rilke is correct that we must all write as though eternity lay before us. Enjoy the flexibility that span of eternity offers. The discourse between the young and the nostalgic retains some of its inherent poetry in the form of a longing intimacy. The freshness of younger people awakens memories in older ones—because though you, young writers, are yourselves at the brink of your own future, you evoke the past for those who came before you.


Jerry Waxler said...

These are *beautiful* quotes. Thanks for sharing them. I have often thought that all memoir requires the art of storytelling to turn real life into Story, but this is by far the best explanation I've seen for going in the other direction, and acknowledging how much real life is embedded in fiction.

I wish I could be there today. It sounds great!

Best wishes,
Jerry Waxler
Author of Memoir Revolution

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