The Low Hum of Reality

Last week I talked about how I discovered Anne Roiphe and started reading Art and Madness, her memoir on the glam and not-so-glam parts of writing. I finished the book on the train ride into work this morning, and I’m already ready to start reading it over again. Alas, I’m moving on to Joyce Carol Oates’ A Widow’s Story.

But before I do, I must pause in my awe of Roiphe’s prose.

She is brutal. Her past relationships and decisions aren’t pretty, they aren’t justified or justifiable. She does not make up excuses, instead she admits to giving up on her own writing in pursuit of her first husband’s success. It’s a frightening tale to read, as a writer myself, especially as a writer who has been struggling lately with the balance of life and the pursuit of a writing career. I am the only one in charge of those decisions, I am the only one who will make the time and encourage myself in a way that will garner results. Roiphe reminded me of that by recounting a time when she forgot: “I had to learn that muses can be fired or dismissed but writers either do or don’t write without permission or encouragement from anyone.”

The way she talks about her daughter, her many affairs, and the way she struggled with love and sex and growing up show life in its messiest of states. I spent much of my time reading and pausing to jot down jewels and reading again. Some of my favorites:

Who cares if your name is written in history books? When you have died you can’t read those history books…When you have died the small trace you have left behind…will lose its vibrancy, fade into an outline. Oh yes, him, I heard of him, I knew someone who read him once.

There had never been a moment in my conscious life when I was not planning on becoming a writer. That is why I was reading, that is why I was trying to hear the low hum of reality under the disguises it so cleverly donned. I wanted to report on the crimes of unloving parents and betraying lovers and the things that went on in the dark where I could not see.

A woman after my own heart.

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2 thoughts on “The Low Hum of Reality

  1. The Girl says:

    “I had to learn that muses can be fired or dismissed but writers either do or don’t write without permission or encouragement from anyone.”

    This sounds tremendous.

    • Jill – I cannot recommend this book enough. Her prose is beautiful and striking; her account of her troubled relationships and faulty reasoning are cause for both empathy and gratefulness, that we can now observe the lessons she learned the hard way.

      Add it to your list!

      – Mel

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