The Mark Blog

Humbling


“Pies, Pies, Pies” (1961), by Wayne Thiebaud.

This week, in literature and in life, I’ve encountered many reminders about humility.

One: In Object Lessons, a collection published by The Paris Review, I read Bernard Cooper’s short story “Old Birds,” about a man and his elderly father. The father is lost on the streets of Los Angeles, asking strangers to open his jar of peanut butter, as he’s also speaking on a payphone with his panicked son. The story is told simply and directly, with tight prose. It’s a brief short story—only 9 pages—and by the end, I was left rattled. In style and tone, it feels different from what I’ve been reading lately (Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her and our Mark instructor Antoine Wilson’s Panorama City) and, as such, it reminds me that good literature comes in infinite forms. Perhaps it even breaks some of the “rules” I’ve been abiding lately, and that’s something I appreciate, too.

Two: I’m organizing a fundraiser and as part of the process, I’ve been writing in order to spread the word. As I’ve struggled to articulate and present my real self, and the real people I care about, I’ve realized that until recently, I’d never written about deeply personal topics in a nonfiction form, for other people to read. (On the other hand, diaries—yes!) Since I believe that emotional honesty is essential in good writing of every genre, I hope that this experience teaches me to write beyond my own sensibilities.

Three: I read this essay by Garrison Keillor a few weeks ago, and I saved it because I think it is simultaneously so hilarious and humbling. “Writers, quit whining,” published by Salon.com, is an essay about all the ways that being a writer is, contrary to popular opinion, wonderful. Keillor says, “Clarity is hard. Honesty can be hard. Comedy is always chancy, but then so is profundity. Sometimes one winds up as the other.” From hereon, when I’m on the verge of complaining about the difficulties of being a writer, I will—with self-deprecation—think of this essay and reconsider because, as Keillor says, “What’s not to like?”

Four: During my time in The Mark, I’ve been struggling to answer some of the questions that Antoine is asking about my novel-in-progress. The Mid-Project Review is quickly approaching, as Natali mentioned in her most recent blog post, and in preparation I’ve been composing and editing new chapters. Some of them feel different from the style and tone of the book as I’ve known it for the past four years. I’m not certain if they’ll stay as an integral, real part of the book, or if they’ll end up being let go.

Five: Lastly, I woke up one morning and this was the first thing I read: “Before you do, say or even think anything, remember that you don’t know everything.” –Unknown