Mentor of the Month: Sherman Alexie: Grounders

In the introduction to the anniversary edition of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which I do not have in front of me and therefore all ‘quote-y’ type things are from my questionable memory, Alexie talks about the headiness of being labeled one of the great lyrical voices of his generation. He comments that whenever someone criticized him for months afterward that the thought would float in his head: “Don’t you know you’re talking to one of the great lyrical voices of my generation?”

Apparently his wife did something like ask him to put the dishes away and he did answer with that. She snorted and told him to put the dishes away anyway.

I wish I had critical acclaim that I could use in conversation like that, but I’m left with my dreams of grandeur. I can’t put the dishes away, I’m working on the Great American Novel. Laundry? Nope, gotta write the rough draft of my Nobel acceptance speech.

To which my husband, knee-high in homework grading, snorts and says do it anyway. Not in some Neanderthal way, just in the “You can’t ignore real life” kinda way. Plus there’s a couple children that will die if I don’t feed them, maybe.

It’s called being grounded. Stable. Many people assume that great writing/art/whatever comes from being wild and spontaneous and floating high in the clouds. Some of it absolutely does. You have to be able to let your mind wander and go exploring and do all kinds of interesting things, or you won’t have anything to create ‘about.’ You know?

But let’s say you go to that mountain top and you float around and you find that brilliant something-or-other that you were looking for. Mountaintops are not good for composing. There’s wind. Snow. No where to plug in your laptop.

Eventually, you have to come home. A home that is cluttered, piled high with stinky dishes, and rigged with trip hazards is no more conducive to creation than the mountain top. Where the hell is my laptop, anyway, right?

Am I saying that your place should be spotless? Hell no. Come visit me sometime. But your chaos needs to have some order. If you’re lucky, you have someone to help you control that chaos. You have to have a grounded place that works for you and that includes people too. Someone to tell you–“Um, maybe you should straighten XYZ.”

But laundry?

Write naked.

Mentors Sherman Alexie

jenny maloney View All →

Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.

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