Friday, June 16, 2017

"As Dottie thought about this, going back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, she saw Shelly Small as a woman who suffered only from the most common complaint of all: Life simply had not been what she thought it would be. Shelly had taken life's disappointments and turned them into a house. A house the, with the clever use of the right architects, had managed to stay within the legal code yet became a monstrosity as large as Shelly's needs . . . but it had not been enough. What Dottie had not said to her, because it was not her place, was that Shelly had a husband who would break into song at the breakfast table with her in a room full of strangers sitting nearby, and that was no- excuse me, Dottie though - small thing."

"Both of them laughed until they had tears in their eyes, and even then they kept on laughing. But Mary thought: Not one thing lasts forever; still, may Angelina have this moment for the rest of her life."

- Anything Is Possible, Elizabeth Strout

Thursday, February 16, 2017

". . . . I had come to believe that art must be disturbing, art must ask questions, art must predict the future. . . . Only layers of meaning can give long life to art - that way society takes what it needs from the work over time."

. . . .

"Failures are very important - they mean a great deal to me. After a big failure, I go into a deep depression and a very dark part of my body; but soon afterward I come back to life again, alive to something else. I always question artists who are successful in whatever they do - I think what that means is that they're repeating themselves and not taking enough risks.

If you experiment, you have to fail. By definition, experimenting means going to territory where you've never been, where failure is very possible. How can you know you're going to succeed? Having the courage to face the unknown is important. I love to live in the spaces between, the places where you leave the comforts of your home and your habits behind and me yourself completely open to chance."

- Walk Through Walls, Marina Abramovic

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"There are times no, and my life has changed so completely, that I think back on the early years and I find myself thinking: It was not that bad. Perhaps it was not. But there are times, too - unexpected - when waling down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a strange about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can't possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are free completely from terror, I realize I don't know how others are. So much of life seems speculation."

. . . .

"He asked what we ate when I was growing up. I did not say,'Mostly molasses on bread." I did say,'We had baked beans a lot.' And he said, 'What did you do after that, all hand around and fart?' Then I understood I would never marry him. It's funny how one thing can make you realize something like that. One can be ready to give up the children one always wanted, one can be ready to withstand remarks about one's past, or one's clothes, but then - a tiny remark and the soul deflates and say: Oh."

. . . .

"I had to sit in a chair at the nurses' station while I tried not to cry. Toothache put her arm around me, and even now I love her for that. I have sometimes been sad that Tennessee Williams wrote that line for Blanche DuBois,'I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.' Many of us have been saved many times by the kindness of strangers, but after awhile it wounds trite, like a bumper sticker. And that's what makes me sad, that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often the it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker."

. . . .

"I think of Jeremy telling me I had to be ruthless to be a writer. And I think how I did not go visit my brother and sister and my parents because I was always working on a story and there was never enough time. (But I didn't want to go either.) There was never enough time, and then later I knew if I stayed in my marriage I would not write another book, not the kind I wanted to, and there is that as well. But, really, the ruthlessness, I think, comes in grabbing onto myself, in saying: This is me, and I will not go where I can't bear to go - to Amgash, Illinois - and I will not stay in a marriage when I don't want to, and I will grab myself and hurl onward through life, blind as a bat, but on I go! This is the ruthlessness I think.

My mother told me in the hospital that day that I was not like my broth rand sister. 'Look at your life right now. You just want ahead and . . . did it.' Perhaps she meant that I was already ruthless. Perhaps she meant that, but I don't know what my mother meant."

- My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout

Thursday, December 31, 2015

There are very few positive male characters in your books. Most of the men are weak or boastful or absent or bullies. Is that a reflection of the society you have grown up in, or does it reflect the imbalance of power between men and women in wider society? Has that imbalance improved or changed in recent years?

I grew up in a world where it seemed normal that men (fathers, brothers, boyfriends) had the right to hit you in order to correct you, to teach you how to be a woman, ultimately for your own good. Luckily today much has changed but I still think the men who can really be trusted are a minority. Maybe this is because the milieu that shaped me was backward. Or maybe (and this is what I tend to believe) it’s because male power, whether violently or delicately imposed, is still bent on subordinating us. Too many women are humiliated every day and not just on a symbolic level. And, in the real world, too many are punished, even with death, for their insubordination.

Your novels seem to be concerned with boundaries — emotional, geographical, social — and what happens when those boundaries are crossed or broken down. Is that something that particularly affects women of a certain age or class, or does it apply to all?

The awareness of limits keeps weighing down on women — I’m talking about women in general. This isn’t a problem while we’re dealing with self-regulation: it’s important to set limits for oneself. The problem is that we live within limits set by others, and we are disapproving of ourselves when we fail to respect them. Male boundary-breaking does not automatically entail negative judgments, it’s a sign of curiosity and courage. Female boundary-breaking, especially when it is not undertaken under the guidance or supervision of men, is still disorientating: it is loss of femininity, it is excess, perversion, disease.

You refer to characters “liquefying” or “dissolving” as a way of describing emotional breakdown. Is that a feeling you recognise — in yourself? In others?

I have seen it in my mother, in myself, in many women. We experience too many ties that choke our desires and ambitions. The modern world subjects us to pressures that at times we are not able to bear.

The narrators in your novels find motherhood difficult. It devours them, reduces them, they long to escape it, and when they do, they feel liberated. Do you feel women would be stronger if they didn’t have to bear the burdens of motherhood?

No, that’s not the point. The point is what we tell ourselves about motherhood and child-rearing. If we keep talking about it in an idyllic way, like in many handbooks on motherhood, we will continue to feel alone and guilty when we brush up against the frustrating aspects of being a mother.

The task of a woman writer today is not to stop at the pleasures of the pregnant body, of birth, of bringing up children, but to delve truthfully into the darkest depth.

The Neapolitan novels have similarities of character and plot to your three earlier novels. Are you, in some ways, telling the same story?

Not the same story but definitely the same features of a single malady. Life’s wounds are incurable and you write them and rewrite them in the hope of being able, sooner or later, to construct a narrative that will account for them once and for all.

- FT Magazine, interview with Women of 2015: Elena Ferrante, writer

Friday, December 18, 2015

"He's rich," I said to her finally. But even as I said that I realized how the idea of the riches girls dreamed of was changing further. The treasure chests full of gold pieces that a procession of servants in livery would deposit in our castle when we published a book like Little Women - riches and fame - had truly faded. Perhaps the idea of money as a cement to solidify our existence and prevent it from dissolving, together with the people who were dear to us, endured. But the fundamental feature that no prevailed was concreteness, the daily gesture, the negotiation . . . it was, in short, wealth that existed in the facts of every day, and so was without splendor and without glory. . . . Wealth . . . was taking the form of a young man in a greasy apron, was gaining features, smell, voice, was expressing kindness and goodness, was a male we had known forever. . . . I was disturbed."

. . . .

"Then time passed, Marcello and Michele bought a green Giulietta and began to act like masters of the neighborhood again. Alive and well, bigger bullies than before. A sign perhaps that Lila was right; with people like that, you had to fight them by living a superior life, such as they couldn't even imagine."

. . . .

"Then she added a sentence that I will always remember: 'The beauty of mind that Cerullo had from childhood didn't find an outlet, Grecco, and it has all ended up in her face, in her breasts, in her thighs, in her ass, places where it soon fades and it will be as if she never had it."

. . . .

"I thought how contradictory [my mother] was, without realizing it, her rages, with those imperious gestures. She hadn't wanted me to to go to school, but now that I was going to school she considered me better than the boys I had grown up with, and she understood, as I myself now did, that my place was not among them. Yet here was was insisting that I stay with her, to keep me from who knows what stormy sea, from who knows what abyss or precipice, all dangers that at the moment were represented in her eyes by Antonio. But staying near her meant staying in her world, becoming completely like her. And if I became like her, who would not be right for me if not Antonio?"

- My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

Monday, November 23, 2015

"When they got to the farm half and hour later (they had to go slowly because of the bits of four-day-old snow that had drifted over the roads), Walter was out in the barn with Joey, and Lillian and Henry were playing a game with Lois. The kitchen was cold, the range hadn't been lit in three days, and Rosanna suddenly missed the dull luxury of the hospital. but she knew this was her life. Better to be immersed in it than to see it from afar."

"But it was strange, Rosanna thought, the little choices you had to make that you never foresaw, such as was it easier to be closer to the bathroom or to the kitchen, did you stow an invalid who could barely move upstairs, where she was out of the way, or did you have her right where everyone who came in would go over to her and take her hand and say hello and then include her in the conversation?"

- Some Luck, Jane Smiley

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Do you think we’re on a path to a goal, so that’s great progress, or do you get really disappointed that we’ve made so little on some fronts?

- I thought, in the beginning, if we got the majority we would win. I didn’t understand we don’t exactly have a democracy, people with a lot of money and clout make more noise…One of the things I learned at Houston from the women from Indian country there, many different tribes and nations, was a saying, “it takes four generations to heal one act of violence.” I think we need to think in the long-term much more than we do."

- Gloria Steinem