Friday, January 16, 2009

Therapy and the writing life

There are so many things I want to say in this post, but I’ll try to run a brief-ish list…

Firstly, there was a repeat of a wonderfully warm and generous conversation with Helen Garner about her latest book, The Spare Room, on Radio National’s Book Show this week.

Apart from the interesting discussion on the themes of her book, there is some of the best advice for writers here that I have ever heard, especially relevant to mothers, who are so tied to their domestic existence.

This advice is partly about the importance of daily practice, the process of handling the language to transform the material world into readable form. She mentions the worth of describing “objects”—respecting the work they can do to say so much about a situation—which I think is central to the power of Garner’s work.

But her advice also relates to something she says about writer Elizabeth Jolley—that ability to take “the tiny tasks of daily life and make something rich out of them. She seemed to have this wonderful way of connecting humble daily tasks with very deep meanings.”

Garner is one of those formidably shrewd writers whose pared-back prose offers readers the greatest possible respect by giving them just enough to make the necessary links. That’s what I find so exhilarating about her books.

Secondly, I’ve been wanting to say something about Leo/philosopher Damon Young’s typically witty comment on my previous post about loathing astrology because he feels it “impinging on my ambiguous, unwritten self-definition; my intimate freedom”. I asked him if he also feels this way about therapy (his answer: depends what kind of therapy).

But the reason I asked him this is because I myself have always had my own aversion to therapy and self-help books and the like (though this doesn’t mean I don’t spend a lot of time driving my friend nuts with my constant self-analysis). In part this is because I feel the best and most effective lessons come from life, as long as you’re available to hear them; and also because, a bit like Damon, I think I have a secret fear that if I “resolve” all my inner workings there will be nothing left to drive my writing.

Of course this is a conceit. And funnily enough, I have never heard anyone else talk about this in relation to creativity (which only means that I’m not that well-read, rather than assuming I’d had some kind of original idea). That is, until last night, when I listened to this hilarious take on the subject of psychoanalysis, in general and in relation to writing, by one of my favourite authors, Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette, Intimacy, The Buddha of Suburbia...).

Podcast it (you guessed it—Radio National), plug yourself in, and you won’t even notice how long you’ve been washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom you’ll be laughing so hard.

One last thing… sometimes I miss comments that have made on earlier posts. At the end of my post about Lionel Shriver, I discovered a lengthy and very thoughtful comment from Pamela Boll, the producer of Who Does She Think She Is?, written on Christmas morning, with the inspiring perspective of a woman who has been through the art/mothering struggle and emerged full of wisdom. You can check it out yourselves, but here is one of the many lovely things she has to say:

So, there you go—sometimes, in the middle of parenting, you feel that those little ones just want from you...and the wanting is hard. Yet, all along, they are also learning from you. They watch to see what absorbs you, what makes you laugh...what makes you love your life. They learn what matters. And if you are doing the work you are called to do—even little bits between the feeding and the crying and the diapers and all—then they will grow up knowing that to be an adult means to live one's life as though it matters.

What a great reminder… (Thanks also to Cinnamon Gurl and everyone else who responds so generously.)


genevieve said...

Hanif is TEH BOMB. I really have to stop saying that about him online, actually or it will get googled somewhere. Simply the best. If you want to read something that foreshadows 911, go read The Black Album. Brilliant. Both his essays on writing, in Dreaming and Scheming, (a volume of essays containing one excellent one of the same name), are lovely too.
And doesn't he sound wicked! :-)

(thank you for kind link above, too! sorry you found trash in them there awards though. Alarming.)

Rachel Power said...

Yep I think wicked would be the right word to describe that voice--what a cultivated rogue! His books were a revelation to me as an adolescent. But I have only read his novels, so will definitely seek out the essays. Thanks for the tip. Hmmm, yes, re: the awards, I'll reserve my judgement for fear of offending anybody. But I get a tad sick of arrogant f**ks who find it devilishly funny and clever to pay out on their fans (not to mention anyone in particular). Seems a little cheap to me.

genevieve said...

Yes, it's not conversation when that happens, is it. I completely agree with you, and never spend time at such sites myself.
Happily there are enough interesting places to read and be involved at without bothering with those - I'm surprised they get nominations though. I will have to go back and look through them sometime.