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Interview Kathryn Harrison

He wants to believe that love canít make mistakes, but what he knows is that itís like water, assuming the shape of the vessel, always imperfect, that holds it.
- Envy

Kathryn Harrison
Stacey Knecht


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SK — Will Moreland, the Ďleading maní in your novel Envy, is a psychologist, and his father is a veterinarian. Yet you mentioned just before I switched on the microphone that you were originally going to make Will the vet!

KH — Yes, thatís right. It was my own fantasy when I was fifteen that I was going to be a veterinarian, because I love animals and I find medicine interesting. One of the things thatís fun about writing is that you can pursue the fantasy that you didnít get to do in real life. I was doing the research Ė I had a really hard time getting vets to agree to talk to me about their work. I called my own vet and said, ĎI was wondering if I could hang out with you for a little while and see how you work, and he said, ĎUh... Why?í and I said, ĎWell, you know, Iím writing a book...í Most of my experience is that people have really liked that. But across the board: four vets, very unwilling. My own vet disappeared completely. Didnít return my calls. So I gave up on him, and then finally a friend of mine offered up her own vet, sort of strong-armed him into it somehow (laughs), and we hung out together. But he had nothing to say. Nothing at all! And I realized, hey, vets donít talk much, and they have patients who donít talk! Vets donít even like talking! So I thought, thereís not much I can do with a character who doesnít like to talk. So I sort of overcorrected and made Will a shrink, heís hyper-articulate, canít stop the flow of words.

SK — Envy opens with a quote by a poet I like very much, Lars Gustafsson: ĎIn those years I had a great need to be seen. And when one succeeds in seducing someone, one also succeeds in being seen.í

KH — Are you familiar with the novel that comes from? The Death of a Beekeeper?

SK — The quote is from a novel? I didnít even know that Gustafsson had written prose, Iíve only ever read his poetry....

KH — Itís a wonderful book. You really have something to look forward to. Itís Ė literally Ė about the death of a beekeeper. Itís a man who... who has cancer, although he doesnít really acknowledge that until maybe two-thirds of the way into the book. Heís ill, and you know that heís ill, and heís often in pain, and the book is really about his musing about his past, and about his relationship with his ex-wife. They have no children, and heís totally estranged from her. I suppose he could call her and let her know that heís ill, but he doesnít. Thereís a very interesting passage about him and his wife and the kind of relationship they had, which was characterized by dishonesty Ė especially on the part of the wife, who would lie for no reason. I think, actually, when reading it, I immediately recognized it as the act of somebody who was trying to create privacy for herself, and who felt sort of scrutinized, so she would lie about little things that didnít make any difference, like ĎWhat did you do this afternoon?í, ĎOh, I went to the movies,í when in fact sheíd done something else. Not what one could consider at all a malicious lie, simply a lie to disguise oneself, or to create privacy. There was also a section in which he talks about the fact that he and his wife had an unspoken agreement that they wouldnít ever look each other in the eye.

SK — Ever?

KH — Ever. They didnít ever look at each other. I myself, around the same time that I was reading the book, had done an exercise with my own husband in which you have to look into each othersí eyes, and realized how seldom people really do make, and keep, eye contact, and that there are many people who simply wonít let you do it at all. You can try to pin them down and they just squirt out from under you. So I was thinking a lot about that, and what it means to look at somebody and to be seen, and to know yourself as Ďseení, and how there are times in your life in which you want to be seen, and want your presence acknowledged by that interaction. And there are other times in your life when you absolutely donít want to have your eyes met by another personís eyes.
I think human beings are poised between two terrors. One is to be known, and the other is to not be known. And each of them presents real fear, there is a sense of horrible loneliness, of being completely bereft if you are never really known Ė not the face that you present, but who you are. On the other hand, there are times in which the idea of being known, at least by certain people, is equally frightening. The vulnerability it implies is also scary. The species is caught between a rock and a hard place. Iím very much aware of this in myself, because I think that I mostly... when I think about my life as a parent or as a member of the community, I seem to be somebody who slips through without very many interactions with people. Iím never the Ďclass Momí, and Iím not the one whoís present and there Ė

SK — By choice?

KH — Yes. I think because I like the anonymity, I like the fluidity of being able to pass through various circumstances. On the other hand, the counterbalance is that I have a sort of peculiar career, in which I can be totally naked in front of strangers... A book itself, when you think about it, is a strange thing. Itís a silent interaction Ė I mean, thereís a lot of words in it but theyíre not spoken aloud Ė a silent interaction between me and somebody I donít know, and on the page I can say anything, it gives me the opportunity to be completely stripped bare. In fiction and in non-fiction, Iím somebody who really wants to vivisect myself, to really just cut it open and to show. There is something in me that I suppose is exhibitionistic, but thereís also that insistence on being known, and being understood for who I am, and thatís sometimes more important than peopleís approval, or affection. Thereís always been Ė I think largely because of the relationship that I had with my mother, Iíve always had the sense of not being able to... of always having to push a relationship, so that I am seen completely and that thereís always that sense of, well, now do you love me? Now do you see who I am? Because my relationship with my mother was always so much the opposite. I was always trying to figure out what she wanted, and how to be attractive or lovable, I was constantly shape-shifting...

SK — Sounds exhausting.

KH — It was exhausting. On some level it sort of broke me. By the time I was through with my mother, it was like: Okay, I give up! (laughs) I performed every act of self-alchemy I could, and I still didnít secure her love, and now... I give up. Not gonna do that anymore.
So all these things run through the book, and I think are evoked by that quote. Gustafssonís novel is very unusual, it reads like a memoir, although I donít think it actually is a disguised memoir Ė it just has that weird immediacy...

SK — You never really know...

KH — No, you never really do.

SK — Your protagonist, Will, describes himself at one point as ĎGod-bereftí.

KH — As opposed to Ďgodlessí.

SK — Yes. And I wondered if the idea of being seen is perhaps more urgent for those who feel ĎGod-bereftí, or Ďgodlessí.

KH — Probably. We live in sort of a weird time, especially if you examine the whole issue of Ďbeing seení, because there are so many ways to be seen nowadays, we have so many means of recording things. When I was working on my second novel, Exposure, I had been to somebody elseís wedding, and I suddenly realized, with a sickening impact, that I was involved in what was actually some sort of production, that the transaction between these two people, in front of a priest, wouldíve had far less meaning for the participants if they hadnít had it recorded, caught on tape, so that they could replay it to themselves and see it. Since then, Iíve actually seen people redo parts of things for the tape of the wedding. Like, letís go back and do the cake-cutting Ė which is grotesque, in a way, but also sort of sad, because you realize that people are so dependent on these images they can create that theyíve taken precedence over the actual experience.

SK — Theyíre polishing, making it better.

KH — Yes, theyíre making it perfect. Theyíre actually compressing, or making Ďinstantí, the process of memory. Over the years, you or I might polish an event, so that it looks better than the reality. But this is actually being done in the moment Ė Ďpre-doneí, for the process of happy memories. So I wrote about that a lot Ė that was one of the major aspects of my second novel.
But Iíve always been fascinated by the whole idea of the whole idea of it. We used to be creatures who believed that it was dangerous to have your photograph taken, because it would steal away part of your soul Ė now I think itís actually the opposite, that we rely on photographs, or being on television, or being in front of an audience and filmed, as a way to actually get a soul. That youíre real-er, having been recorded. That maybe your wedding never took place, if you didnít have the document that you could see.
I imagine that now, in a secular society, where Iíd say that the minority of people have a strong faith and an idea of themselves as creatures with a Creator, or a God who sees into you, who sees all Ė that maybe we just have this sort of helpless desire for being seen. Having been deprived of it in one form, we want it in others. I actually... I have this new quasi-addiction..... thereís this website called Ė itís confessions, and theyíre all divided up into the Seven Deadly Sins. Plus Ďmiscellaneousí, which I really like (laughs).

SK — Miscellaneous?!

KH — Yes! And you can go on, and either read confessions or make confessions. And one of the things thatís actually sort of interesting is that people donít always know how to categorize their sins! You know, Iíll read something and Iíll think, oh my God, thatís not Gluttony! Or there are some that are truly miscellaneous Ė you can just imagine people musing to themselves: Hm, I donít know if this should actually be under ĎLustí or ĎGreedí... But, well thatís just part of it. The other thing is that itís totally anonymous. And you can tell by reading them that they are true, theyíre not made up for any reason. They have that unmistakable feel of: oh, yeah, thatís a real confession.

SK — And these confessions are made directly on Internet? They go from the confessors right onto the site?

KH — Right, exactly. And theyíre not edited, so some of them are not particularly sophisticated, or even grammatically correct, and the only thing that I think is removed is names, which would identify other people, and I believe that in this day and age itís still not okay to refer to things like having sex with children. Maybe in a couple of years, but for now, that particular confession is not allowed. Thereís a lag time, so that if you make a confession on the 20th of September, you might not see it there till the 29th, because theyíre reading through them. Itís surprising, actually, how many people take part Ė the confessions come in at all hours of the day and night.

SK — Why are they doing it?

KH — I think itís that same thing again, about being seen, being known...

SK — But they get no feedback. Or do they?

KH — No, they donít, actually. But I think it still ties in with peoplesí desire to be known and not known, simultaneously. To be known by somebody, even though you donít know who.

SK — Speaking of Deadly Sins Ė plus Miscellaneous Ė letís not forget that your latest novel is called ĎEnvyí.

KH — I actually think the book might just as easily have been called Betrayal. In fact, that mightíve even been my first choice Ė

SK — Why didnít you use it?

KH — Well, thereís the Harold Pinter play, Betrayal, which is such a good one, and one that still exists in peopleís minds, so I didnít want to get it all confused with that. And in terms of a title, Envy is... You know, titling something is an entirely separate art.

SK — Like naming a child.

KH — Yes, exactly. Itís impossible. And I donít think that Iím necessarily so good at it, but Envy is how this one ended up. But I never sat down and said to myself, okay, now Iím going to write a book about envy.

SK — In this particular book, betrayal and envy seem very much related.

KH — Of course. Which is why it was okay, or feasible, to call it Envy. I donít think envy is necessarily my deadly sin (laughs) Ė we can move on to that later...

SK — Whatís yours?

KH — Probably pride, which is held to be the grandmother of them all anyway, so... Itís a tricky one, pride Ė theyíre all tricky, but pride can so easily become a tragic flaw, and usually does. A certain amount of pride is useful, but itís not the kind of thing that you can really control. Anger is another one that Iíd associate with myself more.

SK — Funny, I never think of anger as a sin...

KH — Anger? No. One doesnít. Well in fact, in this day and age, with therapy, it seems more like a goal!

SK — So youíd choose pride....

KH — If we had to mark one on my forehead, yes, Iíd definitely take pride. And in this book, Will would have lust, I suppose, and his brother would have envy. And, letís see... Carol... she might be anger, very well disguised Ė thatís one of the tricky things about anger, there are a lot of incredibly angry people who are very good at hiding it, even from themselves.

SK — Iíd say all the characters are pretty angry. Jennifer...

KH — Oh, yes. Jenniferís a real piece of work.

SK — I read an article you wrote about her....

KH — Yes, the Ďbad girlí!

SK — You described her as being the only character in the book whose main goal was to Ďwreak havoc in the lives of othersí. But you could also have been talking about Mitch...

KH — Yes. I suppose sheís the female version. Because Mitch isnít any fun! Mitch is just dangerous. And weíre really used to men who are destructive, whereas it seems to un-sex women, so it was fun doing that with Jennifer, because sheís clearly so sexual, and so destructive. You donít often get to read about women like that, or play around with them as a writer, because theyíre highly unusual, and in terms of literature, or narrative, and how we expect things to be resolved, we expect that person to be punished. Which is why Jennifer was fun. She came in like a wrecking ball and ruined Willís life and then just passed through the book and went on Ė to ruin someone elseís life, presumably!

SK — You also describe how she suddenly arrived and took care of business, for you as a writer. Do you remember what was going on before she appeared on the scene?

KH — No, but I do remember the first time that this happened to me. I was writing Poison, a novel that was set in Spain in the 17th century. That was a nervous-making process for me, because I never anticipated working on a story that was set in a different time and a different culture. What happened was, I was on my way to visit my grandmother, who, in the last couple months of her life, was in a nursing home nearby where we lived. I stopped in at a junk store Ė because I find them irresistible Ė and I was just going through these dusty volumes, and I picked up a book called Carlos the Bewitched, which was about the last Spanish Hapsburg Carlos II, who was completely crazy. Itís a period of history that I find fascinating, the peak of Catholic hysteria and the fear of witchcraft. I read the book, and felt sort of outraged, because here was the queen of Spain, who had been a princess at the court of the Sun King, and sheís married off in a political alliance to this very unappealing, unattractive, horrible, insane man. It took ten years for her to get pregnant and bear a child, because Carlos was impotent. And then they killed her! She had a miserable life in Spain. I mean, on the face of it, to be a princess in Europe seems like it mustíve been a pretty good deal, but in fact, she was just traded off as chattel. Everybody in Spain hated her, and was suspicious of her. And then she was murdered. And nothing was preserved of her, not one recorded statement, so she existed, to me, like a silhouette. I ended up obsessing about this woman. I had actually started another book, but Iíd be in the library and I would end up going into the history stacks and always trying to find a reference to her, and there would be maybe a sentence here and there... she would always be maddeningly elusive.

SK — What was her name?

KH — Marie Louise de Bourbon. She was the niece of Louis XIV. I kept looking her up and I became increasingly fixated on this woman, which is sort of odd Ė and really inconvenient (laughs). So then I thought, oh, well, what the hell, and just started writing about her, because I seemed to be thinking about her all the time anyway, and I would have this sense of panic when I was conscious of what I was doing Ė how can I possibly be setting a book so many years ago, I didnít even speak Spanish, so in a lot of cases I couldnít go to the original documents. And then, I was doing research, and I discovered that there was a silk industry in Spain, in the 17th century, which struck me as odd, because Iíd always completely associated the silk industry with China. And it failed. They tried it domestically, and they also tried it in the colonies. It was possible to grow silk, but it wasnít successful. Not successful enough to pursue.
So out of the silk research Ė which was really a tangent, but one I found interesting enough to pursue Ė this character, Francisca, who was the daughter of a silk grower, just sprang to life and started running the whole show! It was the first time this had happened to me as a writer, and I felt sort of panicked... But then, after it happened again in The Binding Chair with the character who became the main character, the Chinese woman Ė also somebody who sprang out of research Ė and then again in The Seal Wife, and now, writing this book, when Jennifer showed up, I felt almost relieved. It was like: Oh, yes! This really strong-willed woman whoís gonna push the story along. And obviously itís something that comes out of my own unconscious, but itís something that is so unconscious... these women Ė and itís always been a woman so far Ė these voices arrive and have a life that seems separate from mine and my own intentions for the story Iím telling.

SK — That reminds me of the way Will describes the very vivid dream heís had about his dead son, Luke. He knows perfectly well, both as a psychologist and as a father, that the powerful images in the dream are really just part of him, the dreamer. Hereís the passage: ĎĒAll you,Ē he would have said, were he speaking with a patient about that patientís dream: fragments of you, aspects of you, possible yous, impossible yous, incarnations of you, the you you were, the you you may become, your wishes, your fears...í But theyíre somehow so real that they take on their own life.

KH — Yes. Exactly. And now I actually kind of like when that happens. I feel that it gives a story or a narrative a sort of integrity, a life and a purpose and a vision of its own. It seems whole. Like in Frankenstein Ė the lightning bolt that pulls everything together and brings it to life. And also out of my control, in the same way that the monster is now out of Dr. Frankensteinís control. Whatís going to happen next? And this issue of inspiration Ė does it come from without or from within Ė is one that Iíve thought has a religious aspect. When you think about, well, what is your sense of God? Is it something that is completely within you, something that comes out of your unconscious, or is there, in fact, a force, outside of you? Iíve been seeing an analyst for many years, an older woman, and there was a period of time in our dialogues in which we had a lot of conversations that were totally indeterminate, about ĎWhat is God?í Sheís one of the few analysts who actually does believe in God, which is the only reason that I ever stayed with her, because I donít think I could see somebody who was an atheist. I could see an agnostic (laughs), because Iím, like, well, Iím constantly worried about this question. There are times in my life when I feel quite atheistic, or when I become, firmly, a secular humanist. And then there are other times in which faith is sort of restored to me, or imposed upon me again. I have a lot of questions about both those periods, and I associate a particular kind of comfort with each of them, and discomfort, and I think that in the end, I just end up in a position of confusion. Iím in an endless, slo-mo, spiritual crisis thatís never resolved. Which is fine! Because itís interesting. But Iím like Will, in that sense, because Iím constantly sifting through experience, puzzling through.. That passage about Will, about his mental solitaire and sifting through experience to try and discover a universal plan in which God Ďresidesí Ė thatís totally me. Thatís completely my experience of being a conscious being Ė which is mostly uncomfortable. (laughs)

SK — (laughs) May I quote you on that?

KH — I think Iím one of those people who strives towards consciousness and intends to be as fully conscious as possible, at all times, and who also finds it distinctly and horribly uncomfortable, because if youíre conscious, or at least, if Iím conscious, Iím also conscious of mortality. That weíre all going to die, and that the life that I am so involved with and the people that I love... itís all about loss. Consciousness, as a human being, is really almost always, every day, about dealing with loss. Thatís really painful. On the other hand, I donít want to fall asleep. And I find the world that I live in frustrating, because I think the aim of most of my countrymen is to be asleep as much of the time as possible. Certainly that is at the heart of our consumer society. Itís all narcotic. Watch this, buy this, if you have your hair cut like this, if youíre wearing the right pair of pants, or see this movie, or do this Ė itís this constant distraction from whatís really going on, which is that weíre all dying.

SK — In this novel, youíve chosen to tackle two potentially treacherous areas: the death of a child, and therapy.

KH — (laughs)

SK — What I mean is, these themes can so easily become hackneyed. And yet you take the plunge...

KH — I think people write about what theyíre afraid of, and once you have children, itís impossible not to, at moments, be terrified of losing one. And to be mystified by how people navigate a loss so huge, and so transforming. When you think about who you might be on the other side of that kind of loss... I think you donít even know. You canít picture that self. You can think of who you might be after your dog died, or after you lost your house, or your job, but in terms of losing a child, itís so huge that it seems impossible to sustain, and yet we do know that there are people who have lost their children and do survive Ė their lives are blighted forever, but theyíre still there. And I guess I was always interested in the fact that couples who lose children usually also lose the marriage that produced the child.

SK — Thatís what people say. Is it true?

KH — Yes, well, anecdotally thatís been true, in my experience. I mean, the only people I know who have lost children have also gotten divorced afterward. And it makes perfect sense. If youíre always forced to share that one, huge, agonizing experience with that person, then I think there might be many reasons why you might not want to spend the rest of your life with that person, because itís just.... itís too much pain.
So I was interested in that, as a writer, in thinking about what happens to a marriage after a child dies. And I originally started the book from the point of view of the mother. The first part of this book was about fifty pages, told from the point of view of the mother, after the death of a child. I had the drowning section, but it wasnít told from the fatherís point of view, and several other sections... and I just sort of stalled out, or backed off, I just couldnít go any further. I put it aside for a while and worked on another book. Envy was actually interrupted a couple of times by non-fiction projects. So it was written over a longer period of time, and had more external things thrust upon it. For example, Willís father is very much my husband Colinís father, who died while I was writing this book. And I had an unusually close relationship with my father-in-law Ė far more intimate and intense than most daughter-in-laws and father-in-laws. So it was hard to lose him, and I think there was comfort for me in sort of conjuring up this shadow of him...

SK — ... in his sportsmanís vest and the fishing hat like an upside-down flowerpot...

KH — Exactly... My in-laws both had these awful hats, and they really did look like upside-down flowerpots... Youíd think, why are you wearing those things?! Colinís parents were actually two of the most attractive older people, like a Geritol ad... His father, in particular, was ridiculously handsome.
Anyway, I went back to the pages that I had and I thought, well, you know, thereís a lot of stuff in here that I like, so I donít want to just throw this out... but whatís the problem here? And then I thought, why donít you just try telling it from the fatherís point of view? Because in fact, I found it more possible to look at my husband and try to think of what grief would do to him and what it would look like to me from the outside.
My son Walker was sort of the inspiration for Luke Ė Walker used to be obsessed with Tintin, and heís also really obsessed with sportsí heroes, and Lukeís room, with the Yankees and stuff Ė thatís very much Walkerís room, the child himself is not really Walker, but all the stuff around him is definitely taken from Walker. And Will, although heís much more like me in many ways than he is like Colin, a lot of what I used in Willís character is borrowed from my husbandís. For example, the part of the drowning chapter in which itís said that Will is always a very careful person, everybody always wore their seatbelt Ė thatís very much Colin,. And the boating accident itself is one that we had, Colin and I, which is so unlike us. We were vacationing with Colinís parents, and we had the use of this little Sunfish. And there was that little chart on the wall, which we didnít even bother to look at, we just went off with the boat, I didnít know how to sail, and Colin did, it was like, oh this is really fun... and then we were about to come back and we hit a rock, we actually damaged the sailboat, and I got hit in the head with the boom and went under Ė not long enough that I had to be rescued or anything, but there was a period of time in which I was under the water and I thought, oh, this is how people die so easily in boating accidents, and then it was like: SWIM!!! And I popped up in the water and Colin was in a total panic, because I was underneath and he hadnít found me, heíd been going all around the boat, and finally we embraced in the water and said, whatíve we done? It was so stupid. And so not like my husband. How could that happen? We came home rather shamefaced, and turned the boat over twice on the way back, we were so shaken. It was one of those things that was scary enough that I thought about it for years afterwards, about how family life can be shattered in an instant by something so totally dumb.
So you can see all the pieces of the book beginning to come together. But I couldnít write it from the point of view of the mother, because I think I was just too threatened by it. I literally couldnít imagine it. I donít know who that person is Ė me, on the other side of that kind of loss. I just hadnít Ďmetí her. But I could sort of make a guess as to who Colin might be, aided in this moment by his fatherís death. Because as his father was dying, I had this conversation with Colin in the kitchen, in which I said to him, I am so sorry, thereís nothing I can do here, I canít change any of what I want so badly to change, but if thereís something I can be doing for you now while your Dad is dying, tell me, donít just assume that I know, tell me what to do. And he said Ė completely true to my husband Ė he said, have sex with me every night. And I looked at him and I said, really?!, and he said, yes, have sex with me every night, that will help. And I thought, of course, that is the only way, itís so completely a no-brainer, and yet I wouldnít have gotten there by myself somehow. They say people always fuck after funerals. And I thought, well, you know, that makes sense... you have to conjure life, itís the only response that you have to death. And so it seemed to me that in the wake of losing a child, Colin could be somebody who would be really fixated on sex, and that that would be a male response to grief. But the female response would be perhaps more closed off, and self-protective, and that if you took these two people together Ė the wife, whoís dutifully saying, okay, take my body, and then not being there, how that would frustrate the husband and make him feel even more lonely, if physically satisfied.

SK — So how do you keep a topic like the death of a child from becoming a clichť?

KH — I donít know... I guess I donít think about that sort of thing while Iím writing it. Thatís the sort of thing that publishers and agents think about: Oh God! The death of a child! Why do you have to do that, Kathryn?

SK — Was that their response?

KH — On some level, yes. It was like, alright, okay, youíre not making things easier for us here... But then, I donít usually make things easier for people. Nor do I think itís my role.
I donít always necessarily write the kinds of books that Iíd want to read, because I do sometimes read books for purely escapist reasons. I donít want to always be provoked by what I read. But in large measure I do rely on books to enlarge or heighten consciousness and my awareness of life, and I think that when I write, Iím usually exploring things that bother me, or trouble me. I guess I just donít see myself as somebody whoís... Iím not spreading oil on the water, Iím doing the opposite. I think thatís just my nature. In the story ĎThe Emperorís New Clothesí, Iím the little kid who says, ĎBut heís naked!í Thatís me. Thatís my role. I never sat down and said, how do I keep this from being a clichť, because I wasnít even thinking about that. By the time itís finished, and Iím done, I might look at it analytically and think, have I managed to avoid clichť?, but I donít worry about it from the outset. If I did, I probably wouldnít be writing about it at all.

SK — Iíve brought something along with me today, a quote from a review of Envy. I donít think it was meant to be funny, but I had to laugh when I read it: ĎReaders who admired Harrisonís controversial memoir, The Kiss, will find themselves in familiar territory here... Harrisonís dark night has given her superhuman powers of observation and significant poetry and her prose. But one canít help wishing Harrison would turn her laser-like focus more often to gentler, happier things. When we ask why Harrison would choose to paint these bleak landscapes, the answer is because she mustí.

KH — (laughing) Are you asking me to comment on that? While you were reading that I had this ridiculous image of myself in mountaineering gear, on some sort of rock face, with pitons, chipping my way up to plant my flag Ė because she must! Ridiculously heroic.
Iím not ever going to be writing the polite, domestic little novel. Part of that is an accident of fate Ė I landed in a family which would not really allow me the luxury of contemplating polite, domestic events. Also, I think, just because of my own nature. I feel strongly that weíre here for a limited amount of time and we have the limited capacity to read and think and speak, and so Iím not going to waste that on small, gentler happier themes. Which is not to say that I donít rely on having a great number of gentle, polite, domestic, happy events Ė most of the fabric of my life is quite normal and undramatic. In fact, I think that if youíre a writer you really depend on having a rather stable and undramatic life, because you have to get work done. It gives you the freedom to act out on the page.
A friend of mine once said to me Ė because I did grow up in a peculiar family, there was a lot of conflict and fighting, an exhausting amount, throughout my childhood Ė I was talking to a friend who was getting a divorce, and we were sitting in my living room and there was kidsí stuff all over the floor, and the husband, and the whole thing, a whole arena in which she was not happy or finding herself or anything, and she said, completely struck by an epiphany, she looked at me and threw up her arms and said, ĎI get it! I know why all this works for you!í And I said, ĎWhy?í And she said, ĎBecause for you, itís exotic!í And I said, ĎYou might have a point!í Because there is that aspect to my family life now which is largely undramatic and pretty happy and seems like some sort of weird tightrope act that Iíve somehow managed, in spite of myself, to do. But I donít do it on the page. Iím not going to train my Ďgimlet eyeí or my Ďlaser-gazeí on whatever doesnít interest me. Because I canít. Because I must! (laughs)
Literature depends on a chorus of all sorts of voices. There are quiet, calm voices that I like to read, and there are others that are louder, more shrill, but they all come together, and I think that Ė to stretch this metaphor almost as far as it can go Ė you can only speak in the voice youíre given.
The Ledge
editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht,
Thanks to: De digitale pioniers and
Het Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds
Design: Maurits de Bruijn

Copyright: Pieter Steinz, Stacey Knecht
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author.