The End of the World or Cows?
Posted on May 20, 2011
It’s nearing, they say, the end of the world. I have no idea who ‘they’ are, but they’re quite convinced that it/us will end tomorrow, May 21. I beg to differ. I think we have a future ahead of us and even a bright one, we just have to look for it and make it work.
Last Wednesday Lydia Davis was in Amsterdam. Wim Brands interviewed her and had her tell us where to look.
It’s right there, she said.
And she told us about the observations she makes at home or traveling; observations that form the source of her ultra short stories. When she looks out of the window and across the street from her home she sees green hilly pastures, a red barn and three cows. She has watched those three cows closely for years and wrote about them. She cut, shaped and polished her observations into 80 gems that are collected in ‘The Cows’. I have to read The Cows again and see if she, too, noticed the curtained windows in the barn.
When she’s traveling, Davis holds a notebook close at hand. She scribbles down observations on her fellow travelers in plane and train. It always amazes me that the ordinary changes into absurdity if you take a closer look at it. Like the shoeless feet of a woman comfortably resting on the seat opposite her. Looking closer Davis noticed that the feet were turned out at the oddest angle. Or the confident business man in his fancy suit, walking down the aisle. When he turned and walked up again, she noticed the shirt, untucked and grubby, the three-day stubble. And the confidence crumbled.
I was happy with Lydia Davis’ reminder to keep looking. Writers should! It’s no use sitting inside staring at the empty page. Now I only need to find a way to make it work and convey my observations as concise and sharp as she does. I still have a long way to go and that’s why I need a bright future and not the end of the world.
Tagged: Amsterdam, Cows, Lydia Davis, SLAA, the end of the world, Wim Brands
Students for life and of life that’s us writers and artists.
Some years back Lydia Davis gave a talk at U.W. (in Seattle) at the time she was still working on the Proust translation and part of the presentation was about —translations. But she read some of her shorts and short shorts as well. I remember vaguely, not getting it.
Not that I didn’t get what she saw, and put down on paper, I as well take note, observe and make discoveries about first and second appearances, that’s not it. What baffled me was how she was able to grant herself the joy of acknowledgement.
There’s the artist’s eye and Ways of Seeing (John Berger) and then there’s the art of acknowledging one’s own creation in a way that grants publication.
In my mind showing small pieces of art is indefinitely easier than presenting short shorts.
We had a little Q&A afterwards and it surprised me how different people regarded her work. Some said they found her stories difficult to understand because they were devoid of head, tail and detail, whereas I see so much detail in her stories and for me they feel complete. But it’s more mood pieces than stories, I guess.
Loved your post, Mina.
Have to agree. I’m looking for the bright future too:)
The future is ours, Dee. 🙂