Thursday, April 7, 2011
Some people, though are so good at it. Margaret Atwood was here last week, and R. and I got to spend some quality time with her. Her reading was great, but her performance lasted the duration of her stay in Ithaca. She was on all day long, keeping up a hilarious and fascinating line of patter on her favorite subjects--genetics, the environment, the culture of writers and literature. (Sadly, no hockey.)
I'm giving a reading tonight, and I gave a reading last week, and I must admit I love giving readings. But my hands shake as I do it, sometimes visibly. The version of myself I'm willing to be while writing is not the version of myself I would naturally present to others in person. This creates a certain dissonance while teaching, too--as writers, we talk about sex, death, self-disgust, self-doubt. As teachers, we are supposed to be experts, flawlessly confident and assured, and keep a personal distance between ourselves and our students, even as we encourage them to reveal themselves in ways we might be reluctant to suggest even to our own spouses. The result is this bizarre stew of emotions, of concealment and revalation, of intimacy and detachment. I think this is one of the reasons creative writing classes are so popular, even with students for whom writing itself is not a great passion: they are a forum for deep personal expression, but with built-in limits and controls. They are an oblique form of self-analysis, for people who might otherwise be afraid to examine themselves too closely.
We went to see The Mountain Goats the other night, in Ithaca, and I was struck by the facility with which Darnielle and company presented the deeply intimate, even disturbing, material the band is known for. Sometimes I wish I could read or teach with Jon Wurster drumming behind me, and a guitar and amp to give my words something to ride on. Then again, the typical literary audience is a bit better groomed and doesn't shout requests. I'll take it.