Pulling, pushing, wavering, crashing, rising, pulling, pushing...the neverending story
~ W. Somerset Maugham
Recently, I read a story about Philip Roth in the Esquire magazine. The author has written 31 novels, many made into movies, "Goodbye Columbus" being his debut novel AND movie. What was so striking to me is the very ordinariness he appears to carry. The writer of the story talks about how Roth wants to visit his hometown of Newark, and they visit his schools, are chaparoned by two police officers, Roth chats with them constantly during the interview, he joshes with the limo driver about his massive cologne wearing, and he's just an all around, normal kind of fellow. But he is a prolific novelist, and has written tons of short stories as well.
I discovered him when I read one of his short stories in a small book of showcased authors. I had always imagined him as this scholarly sort, and once he was, much like in the movie character played by Michael Douglas, and the movie "Wonderboys." That was a great movie, but going back to my point, I often imagined Philip Roth to be that kind of man.
Philip Roth watches what he eats, is very svelte, straight, and as intense as he was a young man: he is now 77 years old. He is quick-witted, humorous, and as I said, intense.
He told the writer of the article that he has all the "issues" any other writer has: starts, stops, pulling, pushing, sometimes he throws tons of pages away after a start, sometimes he just goes cold, and when he doesn't expect it, he fires up and roars again. What he said about this caught my eye, my mind, and made me think well of him, even more than I do already! He said, "it goes with the territory." I loved that. A writer must realize that this is the territory of writing, all the jolting, and thunderous starts and stops, all the craziness between words, and the starlit nights of wildness where there comes a thought, and then come to fruition a story, only after a bout with depression or better yet, a bout with madness. It's all in the territory...
After reading about this guy, I was simply re-attracted to his monumental personality, not unlike I have been with his contemporaries, which he very normally "outpaces," if not ouliving already. Amongst those great "ethnic authors," as the article writer calls them, (Bellow, Malamud, Heller, Mailer) he seems always to be rabidly stalking about in his mind, planting the blank sheets of paper with potential forests of words with which he is consistently and constantly planning to create his stories, and that makes his interview seem--well--he doesn't seem to really be THERE with his article author, whose name by the way, is Scott Raab.
Roth answers short and sweet, gives quaint gestures here and there, described to the readers by Raab, and he seems to be wanting to get it over with once they've discussed what they needed to discuss, probably because he's got to write down everything he was thinking about during the interview.
My point is this. A writer is ALWAYS plotting, describing, narrating in his head, thinking about moves, climactic plays, character behavior, and the like--this goes on in the writer's head almost 24/7, with of course, some breaks for spews and announcements of the goings on of the moments they share with others. But let no one tell you otherwise: a writer is ALWAYS writing in her/his head, if not physically and literally. What a man! What a job! I'd better get back to work and write something down in my own thickening plot...remember: it goes with the territory, so do it!
Raab, Scott. Esquire. Philip Roth Goes Home Again. Oct.2010. p.147.