Interview with Jonathan Safren Foer
How writing and life works – the concerns that tumble around in your head are like clothes in a dryer. At some point they are ready to take out.
These concerns are central to who we are.
His books move towards fragmentation – why? Hip-hop has layers, like collage. We communicate by tweet, text, statuses – all fragments. Even going on a walk, you are listening to music, looking at changing billboards, seeing other people, looking at nature – even a walk is fragmented.
What place does traditional narrative have in this life? Do people still live that way? (He clarified that he isn’t saying a traditional narrative doesn’t have a place in this life – he’s just asking the question.)
What is gained and lost by being conservative, with art? Talks about being impressed with Joseph Cornell. “I loved the idea of trying to generate that feeling in others.”
Art takes what wouldn’t be valuable in one setting, and makes it valuable in another. -context.
Because everybody has a story, there is a cheapness to them. You have to shape it and share it, put it on a pedestal, so it takes on a different value.
It’s so easy, because of humility, to think of ourselves as appreciators instead of creators.
Silence is not a good thing. Quiet is a good thing.
I would encounter holes in my life. (mystery) And then push sentences into the hole.
There’s nothing that shouldn’t be talked about. We’re not protecting each other by not talking about it.
Some people like different things with no explanation why. We feel relief when we encounter them. Art is a good venue to show them.
If I didn’t write, it would be like the dryer’s door was broken.
When you’re open to your intuition, you see all sorts of things.
Living your life without being able to see all these things would be sad.
“I like watching things happen backwards.” It makes the mundane seem spectacular.
I have anxiety about missing life. Thing that make me present, I appreciate and find them beautiful. Daily things become mundane and a chore. We need to see the beauty in it.
In art you can have it both ways, where in life you can’t. Wanting kids to grow up, and yet not grow up – you have to live with the tension. Maybe that’s the most awkward thing about parenting.
I am interested in the religion that makes life harder and not easier. I am interested in religion that makes me take stock of myself. I’m not interested in religion that makes me comfortable.
I believe literally in the values in Bible stories.
Did Abraham really take Issac to sacrifice? I don’t find that question interesting. A religion that narrows isn’t interesting.
Things articulated have power they don’t have in silence. Until you articulate who you want to be, it’s easy to brush it under the carpet. Until you articulate what you want, you will be distracted by cheap things.
Does he believe in God? He’s agnostic about the question and the answer. We have to know what we’re talking about. If we put it into words, we wouldn’t be talking about God.
The process of thinking about God is fulfilling – the endless search, the endless wrestling.
In every generation, each person has to feel like he’s the recipient of the Exodus. You have to feel like you are liberated from Egypt.
I would never want to write a novel that was merely read, or appreciated. I want the reader to feel complicit in the ownership of the book. I want the reader to be in the book.
The magic of books is how much work they require from the reader. A movie is passive. When you read a book, you do more work than the author did.
Lament – Gregg DeMey, Susan Isaacs, Caryn Dahlstrand Rivadeneira
We’ve had crap rolling around this planet since Chapter 3! – Isaacs
Lament is telling a difficult truth to someone who loves you, hoping it will make a difference.
Whining is shining a spotlight on me and my problems. Lament is loving and with a safe person. 50/150 Psalms are laments, yet 1/3 of the church service doesn’t honor that aspect.
Be careful who you bare your grief to. Psalm 22 and 23 go together.
You have to go through the valley of Psalm 22 before getting the cool water and green grass of Psalm 23.
“When the excrement hit the ventilation system” – Isaacs (LOL!)
Holding it in overwhelms you. The hero always goes through great conflict.
If you’re having trouble it’s not because you’re bad or sinful – it’s because you’re alive.
In community, one person being honest can be the gateway for everyone else. The onus is on the artist to be the painfully honest one. We need community to be honest, and the honesty fuels the community.
Artists see the world differently and already feel like the odd man out. We’re wired differently. We have to get over the fact that no one understands us or sees the world the way we do. They’re not required to get it. Don’t resent them when they don’t.
The challenge is to bring REALITY to bear on reality. The lament brings Mon-Sat life to Sunday.
If I’m complaining to God, it feels better than complaining about God.
As an artist we have a spotlight. We need to be conscious of where that light is shining. The light shines on us briefly, so we can tell our story, and then we flip it around to help someone else. Art is not a testimonial.
The character grows in the process of life. We don’t end up where we start out. We have hard fought answers.
Ann Voskamp – How To Write It So They Will Come
Creativity is being comfortable not knowing. Wait. Arrive every day.
Poetry: A vision to be more than we are. An alternative future. Poetry sees what we might become. In a world addicted to speed, we tend to blur the moments together in an unholy smear. Poetry slows us down to focus on this moment.
God needs prophets in order to make himself known.
People are starved for words of a holy imagination in a world of industry.
It’s the poets and prophets who are channels of change. People are hungry for the voice of encounter. Your voice is where you have encountered God.
To write a body of work that moves souls we need to write with a voice of encounter and eyes that see to the deep meaning of life. Make the connections of what you’re seeing and God, and write about it.
Speak the language of amazement into a culture who thinks they’ve been abandoned, the language of doxology into a culture of despair.
The making of art – to guide around the curves when life’s not straight.
Deny your creative self and you deny yourself being.
When your veins run dry, when you have an empty space, that is the right creative space. Create when you have nothing – make something new. Something always comes to fill the empty places; it’s the law of the universe.
To create anything of value is to accept risk. The road to creativity is risk. The road to confidence is risk.
Believing enough to leap from the unseen to the seen is faith. Don’t let the sun set until you’ve done one thing that terrifies you.
The only trees that ever grow tall, keep stretching into unknown territory.
Expect to bury something. Bury your fear in faith or you’ll bury your talents in fear. You have to bury something.
Poetry comes from pain. Your suffering gives you sight. Suffering helps you see where you are.
To move a soul, you have to go to the place that brought you to your knees.
Prophets need suffering. The prophet is prepared for pain to rend the veil between life and death.
Though you grieve and wonder, the world is ugly and beautiful. Though the planet spins, we can slow down and trust and pay attention to the moments. We can spend our creative life well – see the ordinary, holy grace.
Brian Doyle – Paying Ferocious Attention
Brian Doyle is amazing. AMAZING!!! This was probably my favorite lecture. And I took hardly any notes. He just weaved stories from the most common things. He shared a beautiful poem he wrote after he saw a little boy pick up a dead squirrel out of a mud puddle. Simply amazing.
Grace under duress is the story of us. We starve without stories. Laughter is holy. An act of prayer.
Stories. Attentiveness. Perception. (told you I didn’t take many notes!)
Writers are story-junkies. Catch and share stories. You can use stories as weapons.
We don’t have words for so many things in life.
We tiptoe to the edge of the glory and honor of it by telling a story.
Why, as humans, does so much of our greatness come under duress? Great writing – it’s not about the writer. Everyone else is more interesting.
Witness! Catch and tell other people’s stories. It makes the world better.
“Violence is the failure of the imagination.”
Give despair and darkness the finger. Stories are wicked strong, powerful and momentous.
Marilynne Robinson – Casting Out Fear
There is no fear in love, because love casts out fear. Fear has torment.
We feel like we can’t write what is closest to us – this is religious thinking. How authentically do people present themselves in the world? In language? Cloaking yourself in religious identification leads to anxiety. The claiming of religious identity is more important to people than living the mode of life. If we’re trying to value and nurture religion, we need to understand the human base of it. People get alienated from themselves because we stigmatize identities and words.
What is essential to you? Your personal dignity is at stake.
Write about what is important and interesting to you. We have to entitle ourselves. Educate ourselves. Have a sufficient background to write on a scale that is global and with authority. We have to know the Bible as literature. Don’t just be a good writer. Demand to be great.
If you write something that means something to you, it will mean something to other people. How deeply do we trust the faith we claim to live by? What if we really lived by it?
Christians are in a shadowboxing match with ourselves. We have bigger things to attend to than what people who jsut want to rile us up have to say. Our anxieties create us around smaller versions of ourselves, things we’re not worthy of.
-fear of the larger culture – [christian] People live as if they are in an alien and hostile land. Fear is a stimulant. It makes you focus. It’s addictive and it normalizes itself. Habituates itself. Makes it easy to fear more and more.
We need to have ‘an acquaintance with history’. Know that terrible things happened and continue to happen. As American Christians, we live with a very low level of threat, and yet we huddle in fear. If we are going to be free, stable, and safe, why not enjoy it? This is not the siege of Paris! We have a novel experience as a civilization.
-decline- Do we never expect to have a bad time? It’s human history. God loved Israel, and stuff happened.
Good things done in past generations is not a satin cushion for us to sit on, and it wasn’t all admirable. Historically, the worst thing for a society to think is that its in decline – it helps speed the decline. Look at the great potential in this generation, civilization.
This is a very powerful civilization. We don’t think about our power enough. We think of us as weak and under thereat and that affects how we treat other countries. Why are we threatened by the potential prosperity of other countries? It’s shameful to feel threatened.
We have begun to nationalize preemptive defense. We have a vigilante mentality. It took a long time to get past that (old west). People feel justified by fear.
On preemptive self-defense on the international level:
You will never find the suggestion in the Bible that there is not a human being made in the image of God.
Remember the power we have a a country and use it wisely. We are doing these things, and not talking about them.
Who do you want to shoot? Which image of God has been getting on your nerves?
The courage of risking respect toward whoever you encounter; this is what God intends. Think about what we could be and do – we need to talk people into coming out of this crouch of fearfulness.
If you are frightened, you are deprived of an essential element of your dignity. If you don’t trust God, you have no ability to honestly judge things, no good model of reality.
Trust God and abandon fear.