Monday, January 17, 2011

Shira Nayman Speaks

Welcome Shira Nayman, Author of The Listener and Awake in the Dark. The Listener is a great read. Many of us have read it. To those who have not, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy. The Listener is in my personal library along with books by James Patterson, Stuart Woods, John Cannally, Lee Child, Sarah Paretsky, Karim Fossum and more. As you know, I absolutely love The Listener.

Here is a copy of the missive Shira sent me in response to our blog post entitled, Words Matter.

Writing Matters
Reading your latest blog posts….
What amazes me about Sarah Palin’s response to the shootings in Tucson, is her self-absorption, defensiveness, and utter lack of proportion. When six innocent people have lost their lives, and other lives hang in the balance, as a result of the shootings, to focus on her own grievances about the press, and to make reference to an accusation—“blood libel,” that invokes the deepest, most destructive kind of religious prejudice and persecution, and resulted for generations in countless murders and untold suffering—reveals a tremendous amount about the person doing the speaking: about her ignorance, selfishness and compromised character. You are very right that writing—words—matter; and as a sage philosopher of the twentieth century remarked, when listening to someone, one must always remember who it is who is doing the speaking. I suppose the point here is that we assess people who are in the public eye based on what they say and what they do. We know Sarah Palin through her actions and through her words—both of which reveal a comprehensive portrait of a person whose astonishing egotism is only overshadowed by a truly impressive ignorance.

When we fall in love with a speaker—or writer—we fall in love with a way of seeing, a point of view. I have often thought that being a writer is not so much an occupation (though it is also that) as a mode of being, a way of experiencing the world: not so much a skill set (though it of course involves skills) as a spiritual condition. The writers I admire and connect with appear, from early in life, to have an intuitive understanding that words matter; that what we say and how we say it has an impact on who we are, and on the world. Jean Paul Sartre cogently talked about how when we take on and espouse a belief, we are, in a sense, defining how we believe the world should be: we are declaring this is the idea or belief we would have all of mankind think or believe.

(Back to Palin—in this sense, when she put cross-hairs over those congressional districts, the implicit intention is that this is a vision she would have all people share; in declaring this image as representative of her and her views, she is propagating a vision of political discourse and response, she is setting forth her prescription for political rhetoric, which includes a call to citizen involvement—a declaration to supporters that this, too, is how you should think, this, too, is how you should act in relation to your fellow citizens. Of course, she could not “know” that a mentally unstable person might literalize her call; however, any savvy politician—and surely, she would consider herself savvy—knows that there are wayward elements in the population, extremists and the easily-influenced-unstable, which is why responsible politicians steer away from the potentially incendiary. In this sense, figures in power do indeed have a responsibility to speak and act with forethought, with knowledge, with awareness that their words and actions can have wide impact. An important aside here, is that as a doctor would be irresponsible, indeed, culpable, if she remained ignorant on matters that affect her patients—a heart surgeon, for example, not staying current with new developments in her field—so a politician who is ignorant regarding matters that deeply impact her job (such as having an awareness of basic geography, or of the meaning and deep resonances of hot-button historical flags such as “blood libel”) is not only irresponsible, but also to some extent culpable, given that this ignorance has consequences. The words and actions of any prominent political figure obviously have very-real potential impact on the public’s views and actions.)

When reading a novel, my internal sensors hone in immediately on what feels like the pulse-point of the writer’s soul; I sense, pretty quickly, if this author is on a hunt for some kind of truth—or more concerned with fancy-footwork and impressing. I suppose it’s not unlike when one meets someone new and immediately finds one’s intuitive faculties sniffing things out. Who is this person? What kind of a journey is he embarked upon? What kinds of moral stances does she take in life? How does she treat people? How does he understand the world and his place in it? We may not go too far down that road in every chance encounter, but for me, those kinds of questions always hover beneath the surface, certainly an any encounter that is prolonged; it is based on such delicate judgments that we decide if we are going to take this person into our lives.

When I pick up a novel, I find those same kinds of fibrillating assessments coming into play; and when I fall for a writer, I fall hook, line and sinker. When I tell my husband that I’m taking a new, already beloved book to bed, I mean this in the deepest sense; I am in some way making this author my lover, if to be one’s lover means to commune in the most profound way, spirit touching spirit, all the way.

After finishing Joseph Roth’s two masterpieces—The Radetzky March and Job—I came across another of his books in which there was a photograph of the author, circa late 1930’s, sitting on a suitcase at a train station in Germany, a notebook in his hands. Staring into the grainy, black and white snapshot, I found the tears welling—and cried for an hour or more, I couldn’t stop. Here was this man, with whom I had just had a passionate affair of the spirit; here was his gentle, troubled, fiercely intelligent face, the light of a pure and troubled soul pouring across the decades right into my own, the force of his honor and courage in what was a pained, lifetime search for truth so powerful it knocked the breath from me. My husband came into the bedroom to find me sobbing; years ago, he might have found cause for concern. This time, he only shook his head kindly and patted my hand. “Joseph Roth,” is all he said. I nodded, miserable and inspired, shattered with the pain and joy and troubled, ecstatic journeying which is the work—the life, the soul—of Joseph Roth, comforted to be joined in this strange, enlivening, darkened cave and to have my husband beside me, looking at the flickering, shadowy images being projected onto the wall.

Look forward to further writing insights from this wonderful author.