“although of course you end up becoming yourself” by David Lipsky

What writers have is a license also the freedom to sit – to sit, clench their fists, and make themselves be excruciatingly aware of the stuff that we’re mostly aware of only on a certain level. And that if the writer does his job right, what he basically does is remind the reader how smart the reader is. Is to wake the reader up to stuff that the reader’s been aware of all the time. And it’s not a question of the writer having more capacity than the average person. It’s that the writer is willing I think to cut off, cut himself off from certain stuff, and develop…and just, and think really hard. Which not everybody has the luxury to do.

But I gotta tell you, I just think to look across the room and automatically assume that somebody else is less aware than me, or that somehow their interior life is less rich, and complicated, and acutely perceived than mine, makes me not as good a writer. Because that means I’m going to be performing for a faceless audience, instead of trying to have a conversation with a person.

Trying to show how much he doesn’t like publicity. Except if he isn’t a genius, there’s no good reason to read the novel. You don’t open a one-thousand-page book because you’ve heard the author’s a nice guy. You read it – once you prop the thing open at all – because you understand the author is brilliant. He’s grabbed the wrong lesson: The people who seem to adore the press the way, say, Pooh loves a honey jar, look foolish; but the people who seem to hate it also risk foolishness too, because the reader knows how good press must feel, like having the prettiest girl in school drop you a smile. Like having the whole country rub against your toes and twist between your ankles.

So I think it’s got something to do with, that we’re just – we’re absolutely dying to give ourselves away to something. To run, to escape, somehow. And there’s some kinds of escape – in a sort of Flannery O’Connorish way-that end up, in a twist, making you confront yourself even more.

This is the great thing about it, is that probably each generation has different things that force the generation to grow up. Maybe for our grandparents it was WWII. You know? For us, it’s gonna be that at, at a certain point, that we’re either gonna have to put away childish things and discipline ourselves about how much time do I spend being passively entertained? And how much time do I spend doing stuff that actually isn’t all that much fun minute by minute, but that builds certain muscles in me as a grown-up and a human being? And if don’t do that, then (a) as individuals, we’re gonna die, and (b) the culture’s gonna grind to a halt. Because we’re gonna get so interested in entertainment that we’re not gonna want to do the work that generates the income that buys the products that pays for the advertising that disseminates the entertainment. It just seems to me like it’s gonna be this very cool thing. Where the country could very well shut down and die, and it won’t be anybody else doin’ it to us, we will have done it to ourselves.

I mean, there’s a part of me that’s still not real mature, that’s afraid that, like, I would rather not be read and complain about it, and not feel like I had that pressure on me, you know?

And feeling real cool, because you know all of them were reading it in the living room and stuff. But it feeling intensely good, and probably not unlike a crack high. You know? Intensely good for 30 seconds, and then you’re hungry for more. And so that, clearly, I mean if you’re not stupid, you figure out that the real problem is the discontented self. That all this stuff that you think will work for a second, but then all it does is set up a hunger for more and better.

And that the thing that interested me, is that that general pattern and syndrome seems to me to get repeated, at least in our culture, for our kind of plush middle-class part of the culture, over and over and over again in a million different areas. And that we don’t seem to get it. We do not seem to get it.

That the fear is the basic condition, and there are all kinds of reasons for why we’re so afraid. But the fact of the matter is, is that, is that the job that we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time. And not in a position of using all kinds of different things, and using people to keep that kind of terror at bay. That is my personal opinion.

Well for me, as an American male, the face I’d put on the terror is the dawning realization that nothing’s enough, you know? That no pleasure is enough, that no achievement is enough. That there’s a kind of queer dissatisfaction or emptiness at the core of the self that is unassuageable by outside stuff. And my guess is that that’s been what’s going on, ever since people were hitting each other over the head with clubs. Though describable in a number of different words and cultural argots. And that our particular challenge is that there’s never been more and better stuff comin’ from the outside, that seems temporarily to sort of fill the hole or down out the hole.

Personally, I believe that if it’s assuageable in any way it’s by internal means. And I don’t know what that means. I think it’s fine in some way. I think those internal means have to be earned and developed, and it has something to with, um, um, the pop-psych phrase is lovin’ yourself.

It’s more like, if you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would create a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious.

I think if you dedicate yourself to anything, um, one facet of that is that it makes you very very selfish. And that when you want to work, you’re going to work. And you end up using people. Wanting people around when you want them around, but then sending them away. And you just can’t afford to be that concerned about their feelings. And it’s a fairly serious problem in my life. Because, I mean, I would like to have children. But I also think the sort of life that I live is a pretty selfish life. And it’s a pretty impulsive life.

Yeah. I really have wished I was married, the last couple of weeks. Because yea, it’d be nice to have somebody to um – you know, because nobody quite gets it. Your friends who aren’t in the writing biz are just all awed by your picture in Time, and your agent and editor are all good people, but they also have their own agendas. You know? And it’s fun talking with you about it, but you’ve got an agenda and a set of interests that diverges from mine. And there’s something about, there would be something about having somebody who kinda shared your life, and uh, and that you could allow yourself just to be happy and confused with.