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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in anton chekhov (2)


In Which We Step Back From The Light Of Thomas Lanier Williams

The Broken Mirror


Not that I like being struck, I hated it, but the keenness of the emotional situation, the material for art.

The notebooks of Thomas Lanier Williams, called Tennessee, retain the defining characteristic of all his writing - they are a half truth. These entries admit much, but not everything. They attempt to explain circumstances, as best they can, but come short of encapsulating his positions in a single artistic or philosophical statement. Surety was a luxury for others who had more enthusiasm for such things. From his point of view, there was a far more pressing dilemma: how could a person so eminently incomplete transcend this in his art?

the cover of Williams' 1941 notebook


Wednesday night.

Very blue. Very down hearted. Thoughts of despair in my feverish head. Very sick last night. Raging fever and pounding heart. The grippe I suppose. Tormented till daybreak. Then felt asleep and woke much improved, fever gone, but weak. Spent the day walking idly about Tampa — wound up at a movie, the usual anesthesia. Visited a bar with plump child-like B-girls & soldiers — called The Broken Mirror.

Home & read a detective story account of the bestial treatment of prisoners in Alcatraz — which made me feel even worse. I feel helpless, unprotected. This little moratorium seems to have stretched its limit and I have written no long play nor do I have a reliable idea for one — and my eye looks worse and I am unbearably shy and had no luck at sex for several weeks.

So I feel wretched & frightened, more than usual.

Tomorrow I will pack off to St. Pete and the beach — God be merciful. Truly.

Thursday, AM.

Just now coughed and spit up a bloodstained phlegm — first time since Mexico. Wasn't even interested really.

Okay. Now we pack up and invade St. Pete and brave the terrors of general delivery. My agent's letters are frightening to me cause I never know when they will pronounce my doom.

Later —

Well, I have arrived in St. Pete and I have a dollar room for the night. Got here in the rain. Fever, headache. Very weak and aching. Lie in my room with a copy of Time.

Audrey's letter contained a cheque without comment. She is bored & irritated no doubt.

A sweet letter from Mother enclosing $5.00 check & May Wright address. I think I will be all right when the sun comes out and this fever passes. A fever is optimistic and imaginative and poetic. The poet's best friend is three degrees of fever.

I have cut out coffee & cigarettes last 2 days. will try to keep it up. so long.

The two defining memes in Williams' notebooks are (1) the search for sex with other men and (2) complaining about his lack of health. Surprisingly, he is quite humble about both of these subjects. (His work was the centerpiece of his confidence; life demanded at least some caution lest his carnal desires destroy him completely.) While he was not above trolling the local bars for intimate companions, it's evident that Thomas Lanier was a quite lonely man, and it is not merely sexual satisfaction but true knowledge of his partner that he craves.


Monday a.m.

America entered the war yesterday, against Japan. Dirty business. I knew some boys on the S.S. Oklahoma reported afire in Pearl Harbor.

on the beach in santa monica


Thursday —

Been back in Nola. about a week.

Crisis is Approaching in my life.

Completing re-write of "Stairs to the Roof" by forced marches. wearing out my nerves - physical wreck - nearly explode every evening.

Restless search for sex — fruitless, and tortured.

I look awful — Clothes shabby, eyes bleared.

Too nervous for any social composure. Feel little hope of production for a play. A commendable efffort — no more I'm afraid. A frantic little caged beast — Me!

En Avant!


A lover tonight. Picked up in Mack's bar. Nice not very goodlooking but pleasant exercise. Gay.

It is about 3:30 a.m. Heart pounding so I can't sleep. The old ticker has been taking a beating lately. Too much coffee. I suppose I am digging myself a grave. But what else would I do? — Today very bitter — play seemed bad. Only the athletic club pulls me thru these days - the hot shower the swim — the quiet, sedative reading room. What will it come to? Yes, the crisis is surely approaching I could probably go on skidding downhill quite a ways — but I am more likely to improve my fortune or crack up.

O how sleepy — Just taken a mebaral — peace except for heart. O how sweet peace is. I am not afraid of death anymore. I am clean and white like an old bone. There is nothing left. Yes. I am purified in a way.

thomas' mother and Grand

There is a tendency to look back at the careers of those we know so well and imagine they enjoyed success in their field at every opportunity. It was famously untrue of Fitzgerald, and although critics, agents and readers immediately saw value in Williams' work, his fiction in particular received a hazy reception. More clear was his marvelous ear for dialogue, for putting all of something in a glib phrase that represented it, and this ability was most obvious to others in his plays.


Sunday night

Oh last night I was drunk and I kissed Otto and Jerry — the lovely, the young — I charmed them with my rare gaiety and wit — so seldom it flowers but when it does it is fine.

They gave me their lips freely, warmly — and we left them alone with each other to make love. Till 6 a.m. I tagged along with an attractive soldier but finally gave him up as he fell into the clutches of a female whore. Returned home and found Frank had collected an attractive blond youth. He slept between us and the nightingales chirped a little. But I was judicious & respected F's priority tonight.

hungry — broke

Heart bad — I think we draw near the close. So? - Byebye.

I talk about extinction. But do I believe it? Am I not rather inclined to think some startling good fortune is coming?

set design for production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"


Tuesday — I have just acquired this new eversharp pencil.

It is 11:15 p.m. I am reading the opening pages of Proust in a book I inadvertently confiscated from the library of the University of Iowa. It is one of the 3 books I own. My collected letters of D.H. Lawrence was acquired in the same way, but deliberately from the public library in New Orleans. Hart Crane was given to prevent me from stealing it "from an idiot."

Why this discussion of my library?

I am frightened thinking of the changes or rather the increased vicissitudes the war might create in my life. I suppose if it did not affect me personally my feelings about it would be only abstractly regretful. Things have to impinge on my own life to matter to me very much. Is that the way with most people? Yes. I am sure that it is.

self portrait of the artist

Well, I have been here about a week — no swimming, just sitting around, writing, eating, going to movies, relaxing in the effortless matrix of "home" created by Grand and Mother and grandfather. Bad for my figure, not much good for my soul. When have I ever done anything for the benefit of my soul? Horse shit.

Well, I must get moving. Where? Undecided as never before. A letter from Audrey will probably precipitate a decision. Macon? New York? Back to New Orleans? Or even, Florida — Mexico? Mexico City would be lovely, wish it were possible.

No, I feel no desire to participate in war work.

O, I might would be glad to be a Florence Nightingale if I could but — incompetent and lazy me. Thank god I don't have to go to camp or fight.

Proust writes, "For a long time I used to go to bed early."

Dear selfish, shameless, heroic, honest sissy — Proust.

We would have understood each other, my dear. How we might have "dished" the world in that cork-lined room of yours. I wonder if you turned over and would I ! heavens!

C'est assez Good night.


Proust bores me tonight — I find myself, "No it isn't quite that involved, dear boy, at least not quite that involuted. The involvement is not so subject to analysis as you make it. A little more impressionism, please!

Williams did have one relationship with a woman. As you might imagine, it was short lived. He doted on his boyfriends, who were routinely younger and less experienced than he himself. He tended to live somewhat in fear of their departure, although he possessed an intense charisma that usually drew people into his orbit.


This evening a stranger picked me up. A common and seedy-looking young Jew with a thick accent. I was absurdly happy. For the first time since my arrival here I had a companion.

I took him all over town, bought him a beer, found him a place for the night. He was a hitch-hiker with a bag of cheese and rolls for food.

It was like cool water after hot thirst, just being with somebody. Left me quiet and relaxed.

I went home and read Robinson Jeffers' extraordinarily good-and-bad verse.

This afternoon I wrote and it was no fun but I got some probably not so bad work done.

No mail. Tomorrow?

The New York silence disturbs me. I guess it will have to be home for a while, at least.

Feel not bad tonight.

Hungry — very little to eat.

Salad for supper.

Milk for lunch.

Coffee for breakfast.

Bon nuit


From five o'clock on I am alone. I swim, exercise, and go out alone to the movie. I return and the floor is quiet. My former friend, the dancer, is in a room with someone else. Desertion!

But last night I had a sudden and hot affair with a party from Wisconsin. I was told that I had a lovely body and the compliment was apparently sincere. As we increase the distance from our youth, such speeches have more and more pathetic value to us. It used to be taken for granted, that we were as desirable to the other as that one is to us. Now we seldom are or we do not see how we could be, for we pursue the younger and lovelier than ourselves — Why do I write in the plural? Is it too sad to say "I"? But I don't think much about losing my youth. It happens and is accepted gradually. I feel very young. In a way. And in a way very old. I do not feel the time sense of much longer living. No, it seems as though it would not be long to the finish. But I started feeling that a number of years ago.

I want to go back to creation.

Strongly, brightly, with a fresh and free spirit and a driving power.

To do the monument.

So long.

with donald windham Williams never attempted much in the way of criticism, but his taste was impeccable. In the following excerpts, he relates his first and ongoing experiences with his peers and progenitors.

Anton Chekhov

Why can't I write like Chekhov? I could gouge my good eye out because I can't do something lovely and haunting like "The Sea Gull."

Thomas Wolfe

Scene after scene has the stamp of genius on it.

Whether the total effect will be as powerful as the parts is a question doesn't modify the fact that here is a man who has left his stamp on our human consciousness — and a very great stamp it is.

The picture of Webber's homecoming — particularly Randy and his boss — are as fine as anything of the kind I have seen — finer — Men like Wolfe — and the mess of this world — how do you reconcile it? You don't — can't. The world is ruled by Randy's bosses. The Tom Wolfe's are observers — but their work makes them a threat to their evil masters. They lift the scales from the slaves' eyes - if the slaves dare to let them.

William Saroyan

Saroyan is likeable enough with his somewhat calculated but fresh candor and probably has for many a charm. I felt too much space between us.

Miguel de Cervantes

Love him.

Hart Crane

I've been reading a lot of Hart Crane's poetry — like it but hardly understand a single line — of course the individual lines aren't supposed to be intelligible. The message, if there actually is one, comes from the total effect — much of it has at least the atmosphere of great poetry — it is a lot of raw material, all significant and moving but not chiselled into any communicative shape.

TLW's New Orleans

Andre Gide

Miss Gide seems to have been an old auntie all her life! Her writing has never moved me though I observe its excellencies. She is a bit dry for my fruity tastes. I doubt that she and I would have hit it off — still, she has some qualities I would enjoy. However I don't have the impression, from her journal, that she liked anyone really very deeply except Miss Gide, whom she pretends to deprecate but whom I think she regards as a girl of destiny pretty much all the way through.

Perhaps I envy the length and felicity of her days.

D.H. Lawrence

When I met other writers, I knew without knowing how different altogether Lawrence was. They may have been good writers, but Lawrence was a genius.

Friedrich Nietzsche

"The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly."

Was it possible that all things could be so useless and indefinite as Nietzsche made them look?

November 1947, letter to Pancho Rodriguez

In my life there has been so much real tragedy, things I cannot speak about and hardly dare to remember, from the time of my childhood and all the way through the years in between that I lack patience with people who are spoiled and think that they are entitled to go through life without effort and without sacrifice and without disappointment. Life is hard. As Amanda said, "It calls for Spartan endurance." But more than that, it calls for understanding, one person understanding another person, and for some measure of sacrifice, too. Very few people learn until late in life how much courage it takes to live, but if you learn it in the beginning it will be easier for you...

Of all the people I have known you have the greatest and warmest heart but you also unfortunately have a devil in you that is constantly working against you, filling you with insane suspicion and jealousies and ideas that are so preposterous that one does not know how to answer them. It is a terrifying thing. You must face it and make a determined effort to master it now before it becomes too well-established.

with his brother

"Body Ache" - Britney Spears (mp3)

"Don't Cry" - Britney Spears (mp3)

The new album from Britney Spears is entitled Britney Jean, and it will be released on November 29th.

with his sister rose


In Which We Iterate Upon Ourselves

To Think Of While Writing

Setting it down is a difficult part, but not the difficult part for the writers who speak below. There is a world that surrounds what we read, and our inquiries into is are so often completely inadequate. Not the how and why of the creative act, but what remains after the writing has been consumed and forgotten like any other artifact.

In a sense there is an existence beyond the page, but it could never really compare.

Vernor Vinge

It was 1962. I was a senior in high school, and I wanted to write about the first man to have a direct mind-to-computer link. I even thought I might be the first person ever to write of such a thing. (In that, of course, I was wrong - but the theme was rare compared to nowadays.) I worked very hard on the story, applying everything I knew about writing, I put together a social background that I thought would make things interesting where the story sagged: cheap fusion/electricity converters had been invented (that worked at room temperature!), trashing the big power utilities and causing a short term depression. And of course, there would be experiments with chimpanzees before the IQ amplifier was tried on my human hero.

Having thought things out, I described the plot to my little sister (a tenth-grader). She suffered through my endless recounting, and then remarked, "Except for the part about the chimpanzee, it sounds pretty dull." What a comedown. Still… she had a point.

Diane Williams

Very early on, I had a vision of excellence and a sense of responsibility of monstrous proportions.

It is best if no one ever sees me again. (You will thank me.)

I will not go to see someone just because he or she is inconveniently located.

And, if you do that thing again, evil people will be ruined completely. Good people will feel great. Springtime will span the year because that's my decision. Anyone who would have preferred some other season may feel a not-so-serious mistake has been made.

When the good people begin their lavish new life, they will be especially indebted to Ira, who will provide everyone with a set of easy instructions to follow so everything turns out all right for them. Oh, they will be indebted to Ira.

I used to see a lot of this one woman. Ira will take care of her, because I've had it up to here.

Now, do you understand?

Hart Crane

For some time past I have been seeking employment in New York, but without success so far. It's the usual problem of mechanical prejudices that I've already grown grey in trying to deal with. But all the more difficult now, since the only references I can give for the last two years are my own typewriter and a collection of poems.

I am, as you probably recall, at least avowedly - a perfectly good advertising writer. I am wondering if you would possibly give me some recommendations to the publicity department of The Metropolitan Opera Company, where I am certain of making myself useful. I was in New York two days last week, trying to secure emplyment as a waiter on one of the American lines. I found that I needed something like a diploma from Annapolis before hoping for an interview.

A few years ago I registered with the Munson Line with reference to my qualifications for a particular position which every ship includes - that of "ship's writer" or "deck yeoman": but I always found that such jobs were dispensed to acquaintances of the captain or to office workers, and that my references were never taken from the file. I am not particular what I do, however, so long as there is reasonable chance of my doing it well. The Aeneid was not written in two years, nor in four.

Robert Creeley

You know the way people say we all have a story within us - something specific in our lives that would, if we could only get it said, be something worth hearing. That may well be true but I don't think art is particularly involved by it. Writing, for example, is an activity dependent on words as material. It may be felt that it matters what they "say" but far more decisive is the energy gained in the field or system they are used to create. In like sense, the "Chef's Special" may sound good to you - but it may be awful to literally eat, and you won't know what it is until someone who does know tells you.

Time is either an imagination or else a phasing inherent in the system, organic or inert (including abstractions). What is your life that you're going to write it down, or make films of it, or whatever it is you had in mind. The one thing clear about your life is that you are living it. Whitman was quick about it, saying, "Who touches this book touches a man."

Mavis Gallant

I still do not know what impels anyone sound of mind to leave dry land and spend a lifetime describing people who do not exist. If it is child's play, an extension of make-believe - something one is frequently assured by persons who write about writing - how to account for the overriding wish to do just that, only that, and consider it as rational an occupation as riding a racing bike over the Alps? Perhaps the cultural attaché at a Canadian embassy who said to me "Yes, but what do you really do?" was expressing an adult opinion.

The impulse to write and the stubbornness needed to keep going are supposed to come out of some drastic shaking up, early in life. There is even a term for it: the shock of change. Probably, it means a jolt that unbolts the door between perception and imagination and leaves it ajar for life, or that fuses memory and language and waking dreams.

The first flash of fiction arrives without words. It consists of a fixed image, like a slide or (closer still) a freeze frame, showing characters in a simple situation.

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.

Mario Vargas Llosa

If the words and the structure of a novel are efficient, and appropriate to the story that the novel intends to make persuasive, this means that its text is perfectly balanced; theme, style and points of view are so perfectly harmonized, and the reader is so hypnotized and absorbed by what is being told, that he completely forgets the way it is being told, and is under the impression that technique and form have nothing to do with it, that life itself animates the work's characters, landscapes, and events, which seem to the reader nothing less than reality incarnate, life in print. This is the great triumph of technical skill in novel writing: the achievement of invisibility, the ability to endow story with color, drama, subtlety, beauty, and suggestive power so effectively that the no reader even notices the fabrication exists; under the spell of its craftsmanship, he feels that he is not reading, but rather living a fiction that, for a while at least and ad far as he is concerned, supplants life.

Harry Mathews

Unless I am hopelessly mistaken, it seems to me perfectly possible to write well in French simply by writing correctly - by writing well I obviously do not necessarily mean elegantly or brilliantly; I mean only that there exists a normative written language available to anyone who takes the trouble to learn it that will enable its user to write prose than can be universally read without objections. Such a "correct" language does not exist in America (or in England for that matter). Left to itself, merely correct American English tends to go flat. American writing of any kind has a kind of ad hoc quality about it, a quality of having been improvised for the occasion; and good writing invariably involves the admixture of a particular individual manner.

Gene Wolfe

At this point it is traditional to state dogmatically that every short story must show a beginning, a middle, and an ending - the lash employed by editors and other critics to flog writers. And it is true enough that every story should, although it is not of much use to know it. Authors (and they are very rare) who commit stories lacking one of the three necessities always believe the missing element present; and the truth is that a good story must have much more than that.

You are both a woman, amused by men, and a man, enthralled by women. You realize that is is only in our own time that life has become easy enough to permit a handful of us to abrogate our ancient alliance. Your lively imagination is governed by reason; you find it difficult to make friends, though you are a good friend to those you have made. At certain times you feel you are insane, at others than you are the only sane person in the world. You are patient, and yet eager.

How and Why To Write

You can find the first five parts of this series here:

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

Part Five (Rosmarie Waldrop, Joyce Cary, Fernando Pessoa, Martin Amis, Lewis Carroll, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Leguin)