In the two days following Mark’s big award, I’ve been asked more than once, “What’s it like for you?” Or more likely, Mark’s been asked, “what’s it like for Paul?”
These questions are not exactly unrelated to “What’s it like to be in a relationship with another writer?” My typically affirmative answer never seems to satisfy the person who asks it. They want dirt. Or something a lot less extended, complicated. (Me and my examples.) Sometimes it’s hard to keep the frustration out of my eyes, the weird sensation that I have to fight away an old story being written onto me, us. Could it be true that so many see their relationships as being shaped by competition rather than camaraderie? Or are some simply saying what they think they’re supposed to say?
Here’s a passage from Tillie Olsen’s Silences that Mark put on his blog just a few days back. I ended up reading it to my class this past Monday, asking them to consider Olsen’s words as a possible politics for how we might approach our work.
Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals - not a prize-fight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or one good book less?
One of my students smiled afterward, suggesting Tillie Olsen wouldn’t have said that back in the days of Tell Me a Riddle when she was likely getting nominations for awards left and right. Fair enough: those words were written in response to decades of silence, writers block. They’re standing up against self-doubt, rage, frustration. Still, Tillie Olsen knew better than anyone that the real joys here are the joys of making. The work itself. Thinking, feeling, shaping. Awards are great when, and if, they come, but that’s all. Am I saying something familiar? Perhaps. But it doesn’t hurt to say it all over again.
This is probably the kernel of a longer essay about such matters, but rest assured that this blogger is, in the words of Fiona Apple, “better than fine.” Well, a lot more than that. He gets fan mail every week, is grateful for the affection and respect he receives from his fellow writers, students, and readers. More than enough to share in his partner’s joy and feel increased by it.
(Thank you, Lord Krishna! Borders is filming outside, rather than inside, the apartment tomorrow. On the sidewalk. Fuck housecleaning! I’m off to the gym.)