The other night, I was laying in bed, reading a novel, as John and Barry pointed fingers at one another on my television screen. I found it remarkably easy to concentrate on my book and shut out the debate. The bailouts’ passing was like one last kick to my skull. I have no fight left in me.
This is a good thing.
My anger over where I see this country heading was getting me nowhere with my writing. I have been angry, frustrated for weeks. The evening would find me typing out long impotent letters to my senators and congressman. I was nasty to family, friends and unfocused at work, upset about a system that has very little to do with what really matters in my life.
In contrast, my mindset of the late eighties and early nineties was much healthier. I have always detested politics and politicians and had a healthy dislike for authority of any flavor. It is much better, for me, to live snugly wrapped in the assumption that neither of the major parties gives a damn about me or mine. I have a couple of core issues I care about. Beyond tracking those major concerns, I am better off keeping my head low, the powder dry – and writing my ass off.
That same night, I began to think about my thesis and what I wanted to write about. Suddenly, it all crystallized and I could see where I wanted to go. I am compelled to write a novel length story. That story will be influenced by my own obsession regarding race and class, but those issues will not be its motive force. It is extremely important, to me, that the stinking carcass of polarized, political ideology be kept out of my fiction. I know that my politics will always inform my working aesthetic just as they inform my taste in music, clothing and even food. But in the end, I believe my own ambivalence (or vehemence) regarding such things can only frustrate my fiction and my reader.
Recently, I read an introduction to Labyrinths, a collection of Borges stories, which helped to bring the idea of the effects of the historical climate on a writer into focus. One passage in particular caught my eye:
Borges’s and his companions’ situation as not unlike that of some North American writers of the same generation who suffered the impact of war, industrialism on modern European art on a tranquil Midwestern or Southern heritage.
But out of these general conditions, shared by many in our time, Borges has created a work like no other. Perhaps the most striking characteristic of his writings is this extreme intellectual reaction against all of this disorder and contingency of immediate reality, their radical insistence on breaking with the given world and postulating another.
I have always felt a deep connection to these stories. Borges has informed my own view of literature in a number of ways. However, I was never sure how it would impact my work. I feel I have solved part of the riddle, and I am comforted. There was a reason these brief, yet vast, stories spoke to me for so long. It was important enough to wait for, and I am humbled by it.