The worst thing: to give yourself away in exchange for not enough love.
If you are a writer you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework you can still be writing, because you have that space.
And this is the forbidden truth, the unspeakable taboo – that evil is not always repellent but frequently attractive; that it has the power to make of us not simply victims, as nature and accident do, but active accomplices.
The challenge is to resist circumstances. Any idiot can be happy in a happy place, but moral courage is required to be happy in a hellhole.
. . . there is a wish in the heart of mankind to be distracted and confused. Truth is but one attraction, and not always the most powerful.
For what are the words with which to summarize a lifetime, so much crowded confused happiness terminated by such stark slow-motion pain?
Unbidden, Unwelcome, Yet unable to resist, I entered a stranger’s life
Keep a light, hopeful heart. But expect the worst.
A mouth of no distinction but well practiced, before I entered my teens, in irony. For what is irony but the repository of hurt? And what is hurt but the repository of hope?
I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card…and somehow the activity of writing changes everything.
Fiction that adds up, that suggests a “logical consistency,” or an explanation of some kind, is surely second-rate fiction; for the truth of life is its mystery.
The ideal art, the noblest of art: working with the complexities of life, refusing to simplify, to “overcome” doubt.
The denial of language is a suicidal one and we pay for it with our own lives.
For obviously the advantage for most writers is that no one sees them. The writer is invisible, which confers power.
Warum man schreibt, ist eine Frage die sich der Schriftsteller, völlig versunken in seine Arbeit, nicht stellt. Theorien sind das Gebiet derer, die nicht handeln.
It isn’t the subjects we write about but the seriousness and subtlety of our expression that determines the worth of or effort.
The strangeness of Time. Not in its passing, which can seem infinite, like a tunnel whose end you can’t see, whose beginning you’ve forgotten, but in the sudden realization that something finite, has passed, and is irretrievable.
See, people come into your life for a reason. They might not know it themselves, why. You might not know it. But there’s a reason. There has to be
The folly of war is that it can have no natural end except in the extinction an entire people.
I suggest to my students that they write under a pseudonym for a week. That allows young men to write as women, and women as men. It allows them a lot of freedom they don’t have ordinarily.
He was ugly, himself. Weird-ugly. But ugliness in a man doesn’t matter, much. Ugliness in a woman is her life.
Legs was always proud even before FOXFIRE, that’s the primary fact about Legs Sadovsky: pride.
Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.
The distinction between “assistant” and intern” is a simple one: assistants are paid, interns are not.But of course interns are paid, in experience.
The danger of motherhood. you relive your early self, through the eyes of your mother.
The innocence of such children doesn’t answer our deepest questions about this vale of tears to which we are condemned, but it helps to dispel them. That is the secret to family life.
You never give such relationships a thought, To give a thought, to take a thought is a function of dissociation, distance. You can’t exercise memory until you’ve removed yourself from memory’s source.
It had seemed to me an elegant nightmare concoction made by adults for adults, to further the aims and fantasies of adults, and what have children to do with such things?
He had no idea of my misery. It would have surprised him to think that I was a human creature with a soul.
A fear of the unknown: what was that called?Worse yet: a fear of the known.
Derailed. In exile. Deeply ashamed, despised. Yet she had so little pride, she was grateful most days simply to be alive.There is Minimalist art; there are minimalist lives.
Keeing busy” is the remedy for all the ills in America. It’s also the means by which the creative impulse is destroyed.
Literature, art, like civilization itself, are only accidents.
Once upon a time the fairy tales begin. But then they end and often you don’t know really what has happened, what was meant to happen, you only know what you’ve been told, what the words suggest.
This is my life now. Absurd, but unpredictable. Not absurd because unpredictable but unpredictable because absurd. If I have lost the meaning of my life, I might still find small treasured things among the spilled and pilfered trash.
Memory blurs, that’s the point. If memory didn’t blur you wouldn’t have the fool’s courage to do things again, again, again, that tear you apart.
And remember: you must not overwork your body, or your soul. You must not enslave yourself, as you would not enslave any other person. You must be the custodian of your self.
The dilemma is, in the United States, each penniless citizen believes that, with luck, he might become a millionaire; and so doesn’t want to put restraints on “robber barons”-he might become one one day!
On the way home Mary Lou said, “Some things are so sad you can’t say them.” But I pretended not to hear.
We are stimulated to emotional response, not by works that confirm our sense of the world, but by works that challenge it.
This was before voice mail, recorded phone messages you can’t escape. Life was easier then. You just didn’t pick up the phone.
Because nothing between human beings is uncomplicated and there’s no way to speak of human beings without simplifying and misrepresenting them.
Truths are the last thing you learn about your family. By the time you learn, you’re no longer their child.
These are open secrets, so to speak. Of the kind we dare not articulate, for fear of wounding those close to us.
There are some secrets so toxic you can’t share. Especially if you love who it is you’d have to share with.
The gym cat appears to those who will die. He is our totem.” This thought came to me a few weeks ago. I shared it with no one of course.
Getting the first draft finished is like pushing a very dirty peanut across the floor with your nose.
Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing.
Be daring, take on anything. Don’t labor over little cameo works in which every word is to be perfect. Technique holds a reader from sentence to sentence, but only content will stay in his mind.
A three-quarter moon, glowering bone, with a hint of something bruised, battered, scarred. The moon has endured more than anybody can know.
-So you don’t believe we have souls I guess?” and Legs laughed and said, “Yeah probably we do but why’s that mean we’re gonna last forever? Like a flame is real enough, isn’t it, while it’s burning?-even if there’s a time it goes out?
A wet autumn morning, a garbage truck clattering down the street. The first snowfall of the season, blossom sized flakes falling languidly and melting on teh ground, a premature snow fall delicate as lace, rapidly melting.
Like a turnip such a head could be blown away very easily. For where a man was weak, a woman has unmanned him. It would be a mercy to blow such a man away.
Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” —
It’s where we go and what we do when we get there that tells us who we are.
Only when men are connected to large universal goals are they really happy-and one result of their happiness is a rush of creative activity.
When you’re fifty you start thinking about things you haven’t thought about before. I used to think getting old was about vanity-but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial.
We inhabit ourselves without valuing ourselves unable to see that here now this very moment is sacred but once it’s gone-its value is incontestable.
Hospital vigils inspire us to such nostalgia. Hospital vigils take place in slow-time during which the mind floats free, a frail balloon drifting into the sky as into infinity.
That I was sleeping at a time when my husband was dying is so horrible a thought, I can’t confront it.
She will speculate that she didn’t fully know her husband—this will give her leverage to seek him, to come to know him. It will keep her husband “alive” in her memory—elusive, teasing.
Still, I am angry with him. I am very angry with him. With my poor dead defenseless husband, I am furious as I was rarely—perhaps never—furious with him, in life. How can I forgive you, you’ve ruined both our lives.
How exhausted I am suddenly!—though this has been Ray’s best day in the hospital so far, and we are feeling—almost—exhilarated.
It is the most horrific thought—my husband died among strangers.
Like editing, gardening requires infinite patience; it requires an essential selflessness, and optimism.
Loving our parents, we bring them into us. They inhabit us. For a long time I believed that I could not bear to live without Mom and Dad—I could not bear to “outlive” them—for to be a daughter without parents did not seem possible to me.
The coolly calibrated manipulation of the credulous American public, by an administration bent upon stoking paranoid patriotism!
The gardener is the quintessential optimist: not only does he believe that the future will bear out the fruits of his efforts, he believes in the future.
For writing is a solitary occupation, and one of its hazards is loneliness. But an advantage of loneliness is privacy, autonomy, freedom.
It is utterly naive, futile, uninformed—to think that our species is exceptional. So designated to master the beasts of the Earth, as in the Book of Genesis!
It may be that actual tears have stained the tile floors or soaked into the carpets of such places. It may be that these tears can never be removed. And everywhere the odor of melancholy, that is the very odor of memory.
I’m sure all that you’ve heard is just the usual gossip, invented to injure feelings rather than illuminate truth.
I should say, one of the things about being a widow or a widower, you really, really need a sense of humor, because everything’s going to fall apart.
I’m drawn to failure. I feel like I’m contending with it constantly in my own life.
Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost.
Night comes to the desert all at once, as if someone turned off the light.
As a teacher at Princeton, I’m surrounded by people who work hard so I just make good use of my time. And I don’t really think of it as work – writing a novel, in one sense, is a problem-solving exercise.
When my brother called to inform me, on the morning of May 22, 2003, that our mother Caroline Oates had died suddenly of a stroke, it was a shock from which, in a way, I have yet to recover.
Anyone who teaches knows that you don’t really experience a text until you’ve taught it, in loving detail, with an intelligent and responsive class.
I think it’s very important for writers and artists generally to be witnesses to the world, and to be transparent. To let other people speak… to travel… to experience the world. And memorialize it.
Among many of my friends and acquaintances, I seem to be one of the very few individuals who felt or feels no ambivalence about my mother. All my feelings for my mother were positive, very strong and abiding.
Obviously the imagination is fueled by emotions beyond the control of the conscious mind.
Primarily, ‘Black Girl/White Girl’ is the story of two very different, yet somehow ‘fated’ girls; for Genna, her ‘friendship’ with Minette is the most haunting of her life, though it is one-sided and ends in tragedy.
The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way.
When you are writing literary writing, you are communicating something subtextual with emotions and poetry. The prose has to have a voice; it’s not just typing. It takes a while to get that voice.
As a farm girl, even when I was quite young, I had my ‘farm chores’ – but I had time also to be alone, to explore the fields, woods and creek side. And to read.