Upon finishing one of her favorite short stories with our Spring 2014 class, Kathleen Hill articulated her essential feeling toward the author, Thomas Mann: thanks. I can’t imagine how hard he worked to get through this, Kathleen brooded, fingers in scalp. I feel just so grateful.
Most comforting to me about almost any written work is that it comes from another human. A regular person thought through obstacles so that anyone could read the result. By the same token, that a piece of writing comes from another human can be the hardest part to believe. The well-written word sometimes makes us think that we can’t imagine where the author had to go in order to produce it; we cannot see ourselves going there. Stunned, we are left with nothing but gratitude for her labor and vision.
Your effort, in your fiction, nonfiction and poetry, should be obvious. In the submitter’s shoes, I should feel uncomfortable. Make me unenvious about the mental strain behind your writing, and thus thankful for your toil. Let emotional tenderness battle intellectual brio. Make me feel implicated—and pummelled—in the blow by blow.
Believe in your telling. Tell with the forceful precision you yourself see day to day, and make me see no other way. I want to be repulsed by your judgment, but helpless because you’re right. Make me privy to your fury—a fury carefully situated, painstakingly understood: and then unleashed. Leave me wondering whether I’m more awed or afraid. Mesmerize me with your word, but make me wary of where your head must have been to write it. I should feel agitated that, through it all, you’ve stayed so charming.
You know what I’m talking about.
In The Magician King, Lev Grossman writes, “Magic: it was what happened when the mind met the world, and the mind won for a change.” Show me your mind, a mind maybe uncertain or lost—but aware of our world’s challenge and already fighting back. Thanks in advance.