March 7, 2011

Truth, writing, reading, rejection

"The paradox of the arts is that they are all made up and yet they allow us to get a truth about who and what we are or might be." Seamus Heaney in Finders Keepers, Selected Prose 1971—2001
A conversation with my son has me thinking about truth-telling and how a poem, a song, a story, can carry truth that has not much to do with relating a string of events. I think maybe it's more than a paradox, it's a glory of the arts that they "allow us to get a truth." Like a truth of the tragedy of my sister. The week in which this conversation took place had been a medically dramatic one, culminating in my having a pacemaker inserted; hence, in part, the gap between this blog entry and the previous one. All, as they say, is now well.
Writing, however, has flown out the window and left behind a dearth of ideas and inclination. Fortunately, I believe both will return, and to help them along I have gone back into my journals of the last couple of years to see what I have recorded from what I have read and what notes and observations I have made. That's where I found the Seamus Heaney quote. I've pulled out Heaney's book of prose writings to re-read.
As I read Dostoevsky— currently near the end of Part One ofThe Idiot—along with an internet-based reading group led by Dennis Abrahms ( I wonder about Dostoevsky's overblown prose and characters who seem to stand for ideas or aspects of Russian society and life. He is such a contrast to my own pared-down writing about characters in their everyday lives that, in my mind, stand only for themselves; examples of the human condition, if you like, rather than exemplars. I'll have a go at writing a few Dostoevskyian paragraphs, paragraphs that are unlikely to ever see the light of day, but I might learn something from at least trying to write in such a different way.
Here's how my reading goes sometimes, in a process I really really like. I'm reading Dostoevsky, along with DA and co, and in a London Review of Books see a review of a book called The Possessed: Adventures with Russian books and the people who read them By Elif Batuman, of whom I have not previously heard. So now I am reading that and enjoying it a lot and wondering about having a go at reading one of her subjects, Isaac Babel, who I have never read before. I'll try a library copy first.
I've had three rejections from publishers I have submitted my novel to. The last one was a clearly non-standard letter. It stated clearly they wouldn't publish my book, said they don't give feedback and suggested three other publishers (I've already been rejected by one of those.) It was a good letter; straight-forward, with a tone that was neither patronising nor dismissive. I appreciate that.

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