samedi 2 avril 2011

Tobias Wolff, OLD SCHOOL, New York, Vintage, 2003, 195 pages.

Afterward I worked as a room service waiter at the Pierre, as a restaurant waiter, a picture framer, and, for a short time, a Brinks guard; then, for enven a shorter itme, as a plumber's assistant, and again as a waiter. I wrote some wiseguy features for an allegedly hip tourist mag that quickly folded, moved five or six times, drank a lot, had a few good friends and one girlfriend as faithless as I tried to be, read many books, signed up for extension courses at the New School and dropped them all. After almost three years of this I enlisted in the army and ended up in Vietnam.
If this looks like a certain kind of author's bio, that's no accident. Even as I lived my life I was seeing it on the back of a book. And yet in all those years I actually wrote very little, maybe because I was afraid of not being good enough to justify this improvised exitence, and because the improvising became an end in itself and left scant room for disciplined invention.
A more truthful dust-jacket sketch would say that the author, after much floundering, went to college and worked like the drones he'd once despised, kept reasonable hours, learned to be alone in a room, learned to throw stuff out, learned to keep gnawing the same bone until it cracked. It would say that the author lived more like a banker than an outlaw and tha this deepest pleasures were familial - hearing his wife sing as she worked in the garden, unzipping her dress after a party; seeing his most solemn child langu at something he said. The brief years of friendship with his father before he died., never once allowing that his son had anything to be pardoned for.
It would be very boring. It would also be pointless, merely incidental rather than exemplary. For a writer there is no such thing as an exemplary life. It's a fact that certain writers do good work at the bottom of a bottle. The outlaws generally write as well as the bankers, though more briefly. Some writers flourish like opportunistic weeds by hiding among the citizens, others by toughing it out in one sort of desert or another.
The life that produces writing can't be written about. It is a life carried on without the knowledge even of the writer, below the mind's business and noise, in deep unlit shafts where phantom messengers struggle toward us, kiling one another along the way; and when a few survivors break through to our attention they are received as blandly as waiters bringing more coffee.
No true account can be given of how or why you became a writer, nor is there any moment of which you can say: This is when I became a writer. It all gets cobbled together later, more or less sincerely, and after the stories have been repeated they put on the badge of memory and block all other routes of exploration. There's something to be said for this. It's efficient, and may even provide a homeopathic tincture of the truth.
(p. 155-157)