“I can’t wait to get out my notebook in the morning, and to start. I always begin the day by working on poetry. I love that moment, when I first open the blank page, and when I begin to hear the voice accumulating in my head, then transferring that energy to the page. I always write poems in longhand, in a notebook…”
“I like to use language, and so it’s thrilling to let the language roll off the fingers, off the mental tongue. I always feel grounded when I’m writing, which is probably the real reason I write. When I don’t write, I feel disconnected from the world, and that is an uncomfortable feeling.”
We are up in Vermont for Alex’s graduation from Middlebury — I can’t believe it’s been four years! As part of the celebration, we heard Jay Parini, an author of protean energy and a professor of creative writing at Middlebury, give a speech. Seeing him on stage — he’s quite a performer! — inspired me to pick up a copy of his novel The Last Station at the Vermont Bookshop.
After two days of celebrating, I’ve curled up for a few hours with The Last Station and have thoroughly enjoyed being whisked away from Vermont to Russia. The Last Station traces the last year of the great writer Leo Tolstoy’s life. Why Tolstoy? Here’s what Jay says, “With Tolstoy, I loved the work first, then the man. I was always attracted to his ideas, and to his narratives. I loved his letters and diaries. I still think of myself as essentially a Tolstoyan in my spiritual and political life. I often reread Tolstoy, his novels and — in particular — his great essays.”
In addition to a growing number of novels, Jay has also written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, and William Faulkner. He enjoys tackling the lives of writers because as a writer himself, he understands “what kind of discipline and commitment it takes to assemble a shelf of books over a lifetime. To me it’s got an inherent drama, the whole cycle of production and rejection, agony, elation, all of the different things that go into producing a body of work. And so I love tracking that in a biography and seeing how another writer does it.”
In his view, there are few differences between writing a biography and crafting a novel. “They both are works of fiction. Fiction means ‘shaping’ in Latin. I shape reality in both genres.” Both genres are essentially about creating narratives and story telling.
I love the fact that fiction means “shaping.” That’s what we writers are: shapers and shape shifters. We shape worlds. We extract order and meaning from chaos and confusion. We create paths in the winding woods of life and scatter breadcrumbs for our readers to follow so they can find places of safety and kindred spirits. Write on!