Mind Lock with Tolstoy

by ajanefountas

Words of wisdom for the (young) writer from the Q&A after George Saunder’s reading in Seattle last night.

“There was a story I heard once that Robert Frost went to some college and he was talking to students and one of the students had this very kind of involved question about the sonnet and Frost said…he said, ‘Don’t worry. Work.’ Which you kind of want to kill him, right, like thanks, Bob…but on the other hand there’s a deep wisdom in that…

“The other thing that I think is kind of, it would have been news to me when I was young, which is that it really is about entertainment. Or you might say engagement or you might say charm, but for me the big breakthrough was when I thought, there’s somebody sitting across from me, maybe that person’s a thousand miles away, but we’re in an intimate exchange and I have to respect that person and the way I do it is by assuming they’re as or more intelligent than I am and that they got better things to do…

“And maybe the last thing you assume, and this is the thing, is that there is something in you that’s vital and very, very interesting, you know, in other words after a certain point you really do know something that should be transmitted…

“I think when you think about Tolstoy in War and Peace he has that incredible description of birth, of a birth scene, and when I was a young father, I went, ‘Holy shit, Tolstoy was a real person,’ you know, and we were in temporary mind lock. I was in temporary mind lock with a guy who’d been dead for 160 years who spoke only Russian…so it’s a deeply hopeful thing and I think for the young writer it starts with the sense that you know things. You know, you’ve loved, you’ve lived, you’ve lost, it’s valid…”

Listen to the reading and the whole Q&A.