When I started 2012 with a resolution, of sorts, to write every day for a month it was primarily as an exercise in awareness. I wanted then, as I still do, to be someone who, on a daily basis, writes mindfully and patiently. Clearly that is still a work in progress, but it is equally clear to me that I wouldn’t keep trying to write, however painfully, if I didn’t actually want to do it.
Nevertheless, soon after I started the month of blogging last year I met up with an old friend–who was kindly reading the blog–and he said, ‘you sure write a lot about not writing’. That made me laugh, but I have to admit that I also felt rather shamefaced about it because I was afraid it was true. What I heard my friend say, which wasn’t necessarily what he meant at all, was ‘you keep writing about writing–why don’t you just write (you seem to be able to)?’
The answer is that I find it difficult to say what I want to say, and I’ve realized that this is largely because I am not clear in my own mind who I am writing for. Some writers think that you primarily write for yourself, but I have never found that very convincing because if you wanted to write for yourself there really would be no reason to make it available to other people. If you want to write–and you want other people to read what you write–then you are trying to build a relationship with other people.
After I wrote my last post about writing as an act of hospitality I realized the metaphor was a genuinely enabling one, and a kind of answer to the problem of the ‘others’ to whom we address ourselves. At first, perhaps, you don’t invite just anyone into your home. You make plans, you prepare, and you cultivate a friendship with people before you invite them over. It is possible that for the rest of your life you never learn to have people over any differently. You keep a tight rein on things–only inviting people you like and know into your home, with much forethought about what you will serve them and the music you will play. People entertain and write like that quite profitably and prolifically. Maybe you have always been a bit more freewheeling. You invite anyone over, at any time, with a breezy ‘excuse the mess’ while you push all the newspapers, candy wrappers and other jetsam onto the floor. You invite people in easily, and have some fun too, but perhaps people don’t often invite you back or want to stay around a very long time. Or maybe you love to have people over, but for some reason or other you never quite get around to it and always meet up in restaurants or coffeeshops instead. Whatever it is, you know what you normally do and how it pretty much generates the same encounter over and over again.
Quite literally, I find myself without a place to host from. I’ve moved around a lot over the last fifteen years–from Canada, to the UK, to Finland, back to Canada, back to the UK–and so I have a lot of friends I would love to have over, but I never seem to be in one place long enough to get the party started. Instead, I have a lot of once-a-year meals in restaurants with friends that I haven’t seen for a long time. I seldom have anyone over and I rely on relatively new friends in all those places to invite me into their settled homes, or old friends to put me up in their homes for 2-3 days at a time while we reconnect until the next annual, or biennial meeting. I suppose this is where metaphor meets the world-as-it-is. I am not sure where my place in the world is.
Diasporic and migrant writing emerges from an experience of dislocation, of making home again in a new place without losing sight of the old place and telling a story about that. But multiple dislocations become harder and harder to narrate. It isn’t that the experience itself is absolutely disorienting (I am not confused about who I am), but more that we still–as yet–lack the narrative forms to tell the story of being frequently on the move, between here and there. (I’ve often wondered how an agent would sell my short stories set in various small towns around Canada and Finland, with some metropolitan tales of London and Helsinki thrown in.)
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari developed the concept of ‘minor literature’ to capture the idea of stories that are written for people who don’t yet exist, or better who are in the process of becoming. To keep following my metaphor, minor literature is a kind of hospitality-as-a-way of life, hospitality on a grand scale, where you prepare to host people you don’t know, who you aren’t entirely sure are ever going to show up. You create a space that they will feel is theirs, without quite knowing who they are or when they will arrive. The result might be bizarre (think Kafka or G V Desani or Rosario Ferré), but it is also strangely compelling. You want to keep going back there, but you don’t know why. How does the minor writer, the one who creates this hospitable experience for unknown others, write? Kafka’s example isn’t exactly a happy one, but his writing is, in its extraordinary way, a place where all kinds of people can enter and feel at home. (Years of teaching Kafka has empirically demonstrated that to me.)
It is difficult to say what you want to say, especially when you are a writer since, as Thomas Mann wrote, ‘a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people’. All you can do is keep following your impulse to persist in writing and making a place, a text, for people who you trust will appear one day. One day, instead of writing about writing, you will find yourself writing.