Essay: Fail Better by Zadie Smith
“Style is a writer’s way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions.”
I used to always think that I could separate the author from their work but I no longer think that. This essay examined why. This is the kind of essay that makes me want to write more – more authentic, truer, *literary* fiction, even as I want to express myself in a world of monsters and queer love. This essay made me think about the moral and ethical duties that writers and readers have to each other, about a writer’s obligation to share one’s consciousness with the world and the courage, risk of failure and talent that entails.
I think that’s really why I procrastinate. I want my writing to be the truest expression of myself, I want people to understand the way I interface with the world. I often feel I fall short. But maybe those literary failures are still worth making.
Short Story: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
“But by far the most common practice is to linger and enjoy the company of others, to discuss the news of the day with friends or acquaintances and, in passing, offer newly filled lungs to one’s interlocutor. While this perhaps does not constitute air sharing in the strictest sense, there is camaraderie derived from the awareness that all our air comes from the same source, for the dispensers are but the exposed terminals of pipes extending from the reservoir of air deep underground, the great lung of the world, the source of all our nourishment.”
I’m trying to read more science fiction short stories, because one of the aspects of science fiction that I find challenging is how to build a world in such a small space and have it be understood. This was an excellent example of that, a deeply literary tale about consciousness, civilization, and what it means to exist in a society of others when equilibrium will always be reached. Takeaways for my own writing: Focus on the personal, not the universe; focus on the laughter at the filling station, not the android; focus on the android discovering its own origin, not the mechanics.
Poem: A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman
“It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.”
Such a mundane subject that everyone sees in every walk of life, in every place – a spider building a web, expanded to a treatise on the nature of life. That’s my takeaway from this week’s readings, really. Mundane details aren’t just mundane details, not really. They are the writer’s way of processing the world and sharing their consciousness with the reader.