Paul Auster: The Interview

Let me tell you a little secret: as a freelance writer, I tend towards selecting topics that are personally gratifying. As such, I try to reserve my freelancing for speaking to other people whose work I respect or idolise in some way. A prime example: my recent phone interview with Paul Auster, which was exhilarating. I was sweatingly nervous the whole time. Please enjoy.

Paul-Auster-2
Paul Auster

Slowsville

At the moment, I am procrastinating. I do not want to do the big pile of grant paperwork I must do. Alas, as a Canadian musician, this is my burden. I AM NOT COMPLAINING.

In the meanwhile, I’ve posted a few short notes at our fancy new “Dears Blog.” Admittedly, I’m trying to figure out how to only post here, and also make it appear on thedears.org. It seems like it should be so simple … I use WordPress, the new site is written in WordPress 3-point-something. I digress. I remain a terrible nerd.

Ok well, for now I will “co-blog” or “bi-blog” or “double-blog” or whatever that term should be. But if there are any WordPress pros out there, leave a comment and let me know if there’s some magical plug-in I should know about.

Meanwhile, YOU should know about this:

Martine’s Bookclub

Check the hair on the second one from the left. It’s like my hair as an adult on my face as a kid.

Me at 4, for reference:

Plus me currently, *ahem* several years later…oh whatever. Searching for the perfect recent photo is taking way too long. You get the idea.

The drawing of the kids is from the back of a popular French children’s book series called Martine.

Science of Music vs. Martin Amis

During a moment spent not freaking out about Facebook removing my civil e-liberties, or analyzing the weird dreams I had last night about ordering an Americano coffee in NYC, I read a compelling book review in the Economist. The last paragraph struck me:

“[The] basic message is encouraging and uplifting: people know much more about music than they think. They start picking up the rules from the day they are born, perhaps even before, by hearing it all around them. Very young children can tell if a tune or harmony is not quite right. One of the joys of listening to music is a general familiarity with the way it is put together: to know roughly what to expect, then to see in what particular ways your expectations will be met or exceeded. Most adults can differentiate between kinds of music even if they have had no training.

Music is completely sui generis. It should not tell a non-musical story; the listener will decode it for himself. Many, perhaps most, people have experienced a sudden rush of emotion on hearing a particular piece of music; a thrill or chill, a sense of excitement or exhilaration, a feeling of being swept away by it. They may even be moved to tears, without being able to tell why. Musical analysts have tried hard to find out how this happens, but with little success. Perhaps some mysteries are best preserved.”

The book is The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can’t Do Without It by Philip Ball. And while I probably will never read it, this abstract does offer some interesting thoughts, like: Why does music even exist? Why does it make us feel? Maybe if I read the book some of these questions would be answered. But I so rarely read analog media (Economist excluded).

AND their review of the new Martin Amis book was pretty intriguing…for a Martin Amis fan. His best since Money? Come on.

Books

The other day I formulated an extreme thought on society and culture. This is one of my classic thoughts (reminiscent of last year’s post: Poetry is Dead), something that I might believe in but could never commit to. Its just interesting, a “what if.”

The thesis: Do we need fiction anymore? Remember a few years ago when the soft-memoir was all the rage? Until the Oprah-fueled debacle over the fictionalization of an apparent memoir: “A Million Little Pieces”. That was disappointing: not because moments of the book were fictionalized, but that people cared more about whether or not it was true hard fact, rather than the idea that they just read a well-written, inspiring story (though I never read it, but you get the point).

The other night, looking at a small stack of novels I have piled at my bedside, I wondered why I find it so difficult to get into a book? Why don’t I read anymore? There are certainly enough books worth reading, and also a near-equivalent number of books I haven’t read yet. So my bedside booklist sits, glowing with good intention, but rarely ever beating out the back pages of The Economist or a rousing game of Sudoku on the DS: both wonderfully sedating by being boringly-interesting (or interestingly-boring?).

I love reading: it fires up my brain, reminds me of the words I know but that I never use, makes me think of all the things I could communicate properly instead of calling them “great” or, quite simply, “radz.” I am also reminded of my poor command of the English language, my grammatical laziness and slothful attention to usage. Ah, but I’ve digressed.

I thought of how I often feel uninspired to read, unwilling to immerse myself in a story, in something dense and complicated, with characters both likable and not. When I realised this is it: I am resistant to investing my time in people, in the protagonist and the antagonist and their little dilemmas. The mere idea is entirely exhausting.

Why would I study, commit, connect to characters when this is what I am doing all day? I read people’s blogs, their Facebooks, their Twitters; somehow I know what people across the continent have done in a day, where they’ve gone, how they feel, how the weather affects them, which YouTube videos made them laugh, the news they’ve read, the music they’ve listened to, the things they like/loathe. I know the intersections of myriad characters: hundreds of people and the minutiae of their every single day. Aren’t these the very elements that help us learn and understand a character in a novel? The threads that weave together a personality? Their relationships and how they interact with the world? This is my new fiction, my neo-memoir: via social networking, I am reading dozens of life stories every day. The only difference is, unlike reading a book, I cannot control how quickly I get to the end. I am also never guaranteed a prefect story arc or meaningful closure. If I don’t like someone’s story, or the way they are telling it, I have to wait years to see how it ends: do they stay together? Lose the house? Get the job? Succeed wonderfully? Fail miserably? Stay happy? Stumble into a crippling depression? How will I know? I have to be patient.

I’ll get to the end of every story, sooner or later.

Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize

Usually after I post a particularly “down” blog entry, I get concerned emails from friends and family. It’s nice, knowing there are 1) people out there that care about me; and 2) people out there that actually read this blog. Thank yous all around.

After a moderately gloomy and relatively cynical music-industry-vs.-art conversation with Amanda in our kitchen, she emailed me some sobering words used by author Doris Lessing in her lecture for winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature:

We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

It’s a hopeful message, but it’s interesting how the media is only reporting on how winning the Nobel Prize has rendered Ms. Lessing incapable of writing. That the media frenzy surrounding the prize is exhausting and, well, they just won’t stop bothering her about it.

So I went and read her entire Nobel lecture, which can be found here. It is a long ride, with a great range of poignant emotion. In one section I found a comforting universality on the desecration of art through publicity, popularity and fame:

Let us now jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We cynically enquire: “Is she good-looking?” If this is a man: “Charismatic? Handsome?” We joke, but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of hype begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening. He, she, is flattered, pleased. But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.”

Some much-publicised new writers haven’t written again, or haven’t written what they wanted to, meant to. And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears: “Have you still got your space? Your soul, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold on to it, don’t let it go.”

It’s so hard for some to “hold on,” especially — if I may, apply this to music — with the way we consume music. Because it is an art that must be recreated live, performed and communicated with others, and how do you convince musicians that art is something that is true and pure if they don’t believe in art that way? When so often the worth in what you are doing can appear intangible if nobody is “talking” about it; if someone else isn’t telling you how amazing you are? Art is art, and regardless of the medium, if you like it then you have to hold on to it, tightly — either as consumer or creator — wheedling the life out of it just to bring some happiness and redemption into your own.

No Books Allowed

For some reason, Neptune wants Goldilocks and the Three Bears; I think because she’s seen it referenced to on TV, or I mentioned it and we’ve never read it. I’ve promised her that we would go out to the store and find it. I thought this would be an easy task, considering the title is canonised in children’s literature. So yesterday we went to Rockland Mall to find the story. I thought we would try the toy store there, which I recalled having a small selection of children’s books for sale.

Well, the mall is changing. The toy store has amalgamated with the kids games store that was next door. “Oh, it’s bigger! That means more selection,” I foolishly thought. We went in and I asked if they had books. The saleslady said: “No, no books.” Hunh? I scanned the shop and they had lots of toys, board games, puzzles, stuffed animals and a peculairly large greeting card section. But no books. Heaven forbid children should at all be encouraged to read. The sales lady recommended I try the Bay. The Bay was useless…so we wandered the length of the mall to the food court. We shared some french fries (another of Neptune’s current obsessions, but only when served with ketchup) and a mixed berry smoothie. We took the escalator to the lower level and walked the length of the mall again. I saw a calendar stand, stationary store, magazine shop, but no book store. The pharmacy had a shelf of franchised character books but they were all in French. Besides who wants to read Backyardigans and the Three Bears? That’s not how it goes anyway.

I inquired at the mall information desk, and they confirmed: “Bookstore? No, not anymore.” Hmmm…not anymore, which means at least that once upon a time, there was a bookstore. So we went to HMV, bought a Shrek DVD and came home. Why is book shopping so difficult? I was thinking about where I was going to get a copy of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Would I have to go downtown? Downtown is not toddler friendly. I would have to return to the only place I have success book shopping: Amazon.ca. Apparently in the retail real world, books are not invited to the party.