When was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.” I remember going to the Michigan poetry festival, meeting Etheridge Knight there and Robert Creeley. Creeley was so drunk—he was reading and he only had one eye, of course, and had to hold his book like two inches from his face using his one good eye. But you look at somebody like George Saunders—I think he’s the best short story writer in English alive—that’s somebody who tries very hard to live a sane, alert life.
You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist.
Everybody was very in awe of him because he was so much smarter than everybody. I’d been living in Cambridge where everybody was smarter than everybody, and I’d sort of decided that smart wasn’t that big of a deal. Not that it’s not a great advantage, but in his case I think it was a great disadvantage.
I hope to someday become a poet and a philosopher, I hope to be religious and become a woman, I mean a real woman. Not just a perfumed woman on the outside.
A page from the diary writer Mary Karr kept when she was 10.
Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver.
I write to dream; to connect with other human beings; to record; to clarify; to visit the dead. I have a kind of primitive need to leave a mark on the world.
Faulkner really gave me a kind of humanity that I might not have had. In that sense, literature is Eucharistic. You take somebody else’s suffering into your body and you’re changed by it, you’re made larger by their pain. You come to understand pain in a way that maybe otherwise you wouldn’t.
We always remember through the filter of who we are at the time.
People need to do the therapy before the memoir. In therapy you pay them, and in memoir they pay you.
If you want to write, don’t err by setting the bar too low. Maybe you want to write like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you want to write like Nabokov. Just be willing, at the end of the day, to look at your work and say, ‘That’s not as good as Nabokov, but boy, it’s as good as I could make it today.’ Fall in love with books and with modes of being. I just spent a pile of money I can’t afford on opera tickets to see Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. Think of all the cocaine I could have bought with that eight hundred dollars! Yet here I am blowing it to go sit in a room with a bunch of stiffs next Tuesday night. I’m in love, I can’t help it.