“Do you have any idea what made you a writer?” ”I have an idea but I’m not sure I believe it. Maybe I wanted to learn how to think. Writing is a concentrated form of thinking. I don’t know what I think about certain subjects, even today, until I sit down and try to write about them.”
From an interview of Don DeLillo by Adam Begley that is part of The Paris Review’s decades-spanning archive of “The Art of Fiction” pieces (available online at www.theparisreview.org/interviews).
“This would be a scale mock-up of our cosmic neighborhood unveiled in 2003 and devised by Kevin McCartney, a geology professor at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, who built the thing because it ‘seemed like a good idea’ at the time.”
From a story by Jennifer Finney Boylan in The New York Times on August 5, 2011 (describing the Maine Solar System Model in Aroostook County).
I have just read two biographies of accomplished women writers written by accomplished women writers — “Wendy and the Lost Boys” by Julie Salamon (Wendy as in Wasserstein) and “Louisa May Alcott — A Personal Biography” by Susan Cheever.
There are many views I could take of these distinctive examinations of the lives and writing careers of Wendy and Louisa May, separated in time by a century and a half. But I’ll focus on what Julie and Susan focus on — to what extent did their subjects’ lives inform their work, and what does that reveal about the processing of ideas?
It’s true, but superficial, to say that all those plays and novels and short stories are strictly autobiographical. There’s a reason why the old adage — “Write what you know” is sound advice. And just as a painter working on a landscape might copy a favorite photo in order to get in all the details, so too any author can just assemble the facts of her life into a story. The artistry, with the writer or the painter, comes into play when the spirit of the ideas transcends the facts. Does that happen with Wendy and Louisa May?
Louisa May may have the advantage here. Generations have passed since her work was published — any people “offended” by their depiction are long gone, and we can look sympathically on the travails of those little women as quaint examples of a culture long outgrown. Wendy’s death still seems fresh, her child is still a young girl and I daresay that certain people are still smarting over their thin disguises as Rita and Holly and Mrs. Plum at that Massachusetts women’s college and Samantha and Barry and Judy at that Manhattan dinner party.
“I asked myself, ‘What was the beginning of architecture?’ In my mind, it was when man raised the first column and created space.”
From a Stephen Kurutz Q&A column with architect John Portman, known for his hotels and commercial buildings, in The New York Times on October 20, 2011 (discussing how “that kind of thinking” informed the design of the first of two houses he built for his family — after noting that “most architects don’t build their own houses. You don’t have anyone you can blame if the design doesn’t work — you can’t blame it on the client”).
So tomorrow is Election Day. Here in San Francisco we now have “ranked choice voting.” I can’t remember if we had it last year, but it doesn’t matter. The gist of it is that you have to mark your ballot, not just for your first choice for mayor or district attorney or whatever, but for your next two favorite people just in case your first choice doesn’t make it. This is to avoid an expensive and annoying run-off election. But the immediate effect has been computer/politician phone calls such as “Please vote for (so and so) as your second choice!” Somehow this doesn’t inspire, or seem like a good idea.
But what is a good idea is the demonstration page in our voting guide that shows how to mark your ballot. The sample “mock” question asks about your “favorite San Francisco destination.” How to decide among Alcatraz, Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park and the Palace of Fine Arts? Congratulations to the parent of this idea.
“I also get ideas on planes and will use napkins or even boarding passes to sketch. When I was flying over the Rockies, I was in awe. It was the most beautiful sight, and I thought that what I was feeling right then should be incorporated somehow into my work at the Denver Art Museum.”
From the “Frequent Flyer” column in the August 9, 2011 issue of The New York Times (quoting architect Daniel Libeskind).