Writers: On realizing their calling

A Short Compilation on Writers and Their Beginnings

Jeffrey Eugenides

I decided very early—my junior year of high school. We read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that year, and it had a big effect on me, for reasons that seem quite amusing to me now. I’m half Irish and half Greek—my mother’s family were Kentuckians, Southern hillbillies, and my paternal grandparents immigrants from Asia Minor—and, for that reason, I identified with Stephen Dedalus. Like me, he was bookish, good at academics, and possessed an “absurd name, an ancient Greek.” Joyce writes somewhere that Dedalus sees his name as an omen of his destiny, and I, at the dreamy age of sixteen, did as well. Eugenides was in The Waste Land. My Latin teacher pointed that out to me. The only reason I was given to these fantasies in the first place, of course, was that the power of Joyce’s language and the story of Stephen Dedalus refusing to become a priest in order to take up the mantle of art were so compelling to me. Dedalus wants to form the “uncreated conscience of his race.” That’s what I wanted to do, even though I didn’t really know what it meant. I do remember thinking, however, that to be a writer was the best thing a person could be. It seemed to promise maximum alertness to life. It seemed holy to me, and almost religious.

I went about it very methodically. I chose Brown largely in order to study with John Hawkes, whose work I admired. I entered the honors program in English, which forced me to study the entire English tradition, beginning with Beowulf. I felt that since I was going to try to add to the tradition, I had better know something about it.

U.S. Poet Laureate: Charles Wright

Well, an inability to do anything else, among other things. I first started reading it seriously when I was in the Army, in Verona, Italy, and I was 23 years old, which is very late for a poet — most poets start about the age of 3, I’ve come to find out. And they have a whole stack of poems that they wrote before kindergarten. But that was not my case.

I did try to write stories in college, because I was interested in writing, and I was interested in the sound of language, but I was just no good at narrative and at fiction. When I discovered the lyric poem, that advanced not by narrative steps but by blocks and layers of imagery, I said, “Gee, I probably could do that. So let me try that.”

And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing, oh, for the last 50 years or so. And I feel very happy to have found it, because it’s obviously changed my life — and gave me something to do.

David Mitchell

There was no single epiphany, but I recall a few early flashes. When I was ten I would be transported by certain books—Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Susan Cooper’s fantasy novels, Isaac Asimov—and burn to do to readers what had just been done to me. Sometimes that burning prompted me to start writing, though I never got more than a few pages down. A few years later I would indulge in a visual fantasy that involved imagining my name on the jacket of a book—usually Faber and Faber—and I’d feel a whoosh inside my rib cage.

Miriam Toews

I was working on a radio documentary about welfare in Manitoba, specifically social assistance for single mothers, and I decided that the story I was telling would be better, truer, as a novel. I was always interested in literature, but not necessarily writing it. That came a little later.


After I saw the film [The Wizard of Oz], I went home and wrote a short story called “Over the Rainbow.” I was probably nine or ten. The story was about a boy walking down a sidewalk in Bombay and seeing the beginning of the rainbow, instead of the end—this shimmering thing arcing away from him. It had steps cut in it—usefully—rainbow-colored steps all the way up. He goes up over the rainbow and has fairy-tale adventures. He meets a talking Pianola at one point. The story has not survived. Probably just as well.




Émile François Zola, Self-portrait, 1902

A Tramp’s Abroad: Exhausted with a week to go



 “I think, that if I touched the earth,
It would crumble;
It is so sad and beautiful,
So tremulously like a dream.”

– Dylan Thomas


















I’m black and blue all over from collisions with walls, doors, fences but most of all my luggage. Not one known for my grace, it’s not too surprising I’m dotted with vicious black bruises from top to bottom. And I’m being literal when I say bottom. I misjudged the distance between my posterior and some castle steps today. And I didn’t take it well at all. The place is probably still ringing with my shriek of pain.

I am a danger to myself. Probably a good thing I may be experiencing my last trip abroad. May be? Probably am.

In better news we made it across the Irish Sea yesterday. I’m so glad I’ll go back across before I fly home. Two more days will I spend wandering Dublin all by myself and there’s so much left on my to see list. I hardly saw any literary sites and only one bookshop, where I purchased a general book about Irish writers and another by Hugo Hamilton. He spoke at the writers festival and I was intrigued. So now I’m set to check out his work. I’m anxious to see places related to Joyce and Wilde and Beckett and all the others who’ve called Dublin home.

I’ll be staying right on the Liffey these last days. Hope I can manage to find my way and without too much pain. This journey leaves me so exhausted I can’t even tell you. I’ll see what I’m able, then spend the rest of the hours in quiet contemplation of the whole trip. I’ve been too tired to keep up my journal so I’ll do that as well. I’ll probably blog a bit, to justify the back-breaking decision to bring my laptop, too.

i’ll keep things as casual as possible and do what I can. Meantime, Wales is lovely and I’m enjoying it immensely. Bruises and all. Here are a couple photos, to end with. Whoops, sorry. Seems I can’t control photos  on my phone.

Enjoy anyway.




Dublin Writers Festival – May 23, 2014

Dublin Writers Festival - May 23, 2014

Didn’t mention our foray to the DWF yesterday. Dragged my poor daughter to hear Sebastian Barry, Anne Enright and Hugo Hamilton talk about Irish writers in translation. When my daughter couldn’t stay awake I took pity in her and we left…

Interesting topic, though. To me at least. The same goes for all writers, not just Irish. Not to mention contemporary readers translating literature from times past. In the same language, even. We don’t see, say, Victorian writing the way Dickens did. We think we do but we don’t get the full extent of it because we didn’t live it.

There’s no understanding what anyone thinks, really. Our personal experiences and prejudices inform all we do. You may believe you know a person and not. You know what that person wants you to see. We all compartmentalize. And misunderstandings? Don’t get me started. Especially with the advent of the Internet. We can’t see facial expression or hear inflection. But we surely can be offended by what seems cutting and unkind.

How much of life is lost in translation? An awful, awful lot. How much could so easily be rectified? Most, I’d venture to guess, with just one small gesture of kindness.

No wonder literature in translation is so difficult. All of life is.


Dublin is…

Beautiful, full of kind and wonderful people and bone-chillingly cold. It’s not just the temperature, which is crazy for late May – in the low 50s – but the high humidity. It just seeps in and makes my bones ache. Really difficult to do anything in that kind of pain. Meds can only manage it so much and everything feels so cold and clammy. Don’t know if it’s the island weather or what but I was up with terrible muscle cramps last night so painful I could have cried. And I don’t cry.

My favorite part so far would have to be the Old Library at Trinity College, and the Book of Kells. All the colors and lush flowers are probably next, the pubs and homes and such. The city’s jam packed and from that standpoint miserable. Looking forward to getting out into other areas tomorrow.

If only the sun would come out or the temperature rise. I’ll take either, for my cold bones.

Sending from my phone, sorry for any wonky  formatting. My kingdom for wifi, etc. When I get it I can post something more substantive, one can hope. In the meantime, It’s cold and expensive as all hell but hearts are warm and there are loads of brilliant colors.

And look, a library!






Will be back with indispensable wisdom, talk of books and more photos soon.

Be well.


A Tramp’s Abroad: Bookshops in Dublin



Haven’t finished packing but I have begun researching must-see bookshops in Dublin. Check these out:


Winding Stair Bookshop

40 Ormond Quay Lower

Dublin 1


New and used books plus a little restaurant. Oh yes.


The Gutter Bookshop

Cow’s Lane

Temple Bar, Dublin


Books, gifts, stationery…


Chapters Book Shop

Ivy Exchange
Parnell St, Dublin
Looks a bit too new but it sells used books as well. Very modern. 😦

Dubray Books

24 Grafton St
Dublin 2
An indie bookshop selling new books. Lot of author events, though of course none while I’m in Dublin.

Alan Hanna’s Bookshop

270 Rathmines Road Lower
Rathmines, Dublin 6
New books. Cute exterior.
Looks like that’s it. I believe the big winner will be The Winding Stair. Books – new and used, plus a little restaurant/cafe. A nice stroll beside the Liffey after.
Yes. Indeed.

The perils of over-explaining your innocence

fancyline7 dublinwritersfestival2014


I can swear I didn’t plan it but my breath would be wasted. Just so happens the weekend I arrive in Dublin coincides with the last few days of the Dublin Writers Festival. On the first evening I’m there, an event featuring Booker Prize-winning novelist Anne Enright, some chap named Hugo Hamilton and Mr. Sebastian Barry is scheduled at Dublin Castle. The topic:  “Translating Ireland.”

You wouldn’t think that would be a problem. Rather the opposite. However, I feel myself forced to swear I’m not following Mr. Barry around the world, as I’ll have seen him May 12 in the Chicago area, roughly two weeks before the Dublin event. None of that would have even rung a bell had I not felt the need to blather on about what a wonderful writer he is all over my blog. I have done myself no favors. Rather, I have damned myself.

I don’t know for certain he’s irritated but I am almost annoyed by the coincidence, as it puts me in a “situation.”  That I should have to feel discomfort about something I clearly could never have known is just the sort of situation I’m forever finding myself in because I will not SHUT UP. Verbally, yes. In writing? I don’t feel I should have to, not when the world is so awful and words of heartfelt kindness so rare. Why censor that?  I just find it odd the one thing which causes me discomfort is having overly praised a writer. Not ripped to shreds but praised. Meeting up halfway around the world with an author I’ve panned would be nothing on this. I’d simply curl my lip and move along. Isn’t it ironic the opposite case has me ripping out my hair?

I’ve not traveled abroad in more than twenty years. With my daughter in Wales over the past semester, I decided to take the opportunity to not just visit her but tour Ireland, as well. Neither of us has been there before. Right now she’s in Italy with her father. A little over a week after, she’s planning to visit a friend in Paris (another American student studying abroad). A couple days after she arrives back in Swansea, I skid into Dublin. From there on it’s LUXURY TRAVEL, baby! Accommodations in the heart of Dublin, tours to far-flung beautiful and historic sites around Ireland. Then a ferry to the UK, where we’re staying on the old village wall in Chester (in a hotel, naturally), England and across from Tintern Abbey in Wales. Then we loop around, stop by Swansea a few days, and back ’round to Ireland I go, meandering back home in a circuitous manner.

Green with envy yet? Wait ’til you see the pictures…

But back to my original topic, feeling like a misbehaving uber-fan, what have I learned? Will this experience turn me into a self-censoring, conventional person? Hell, no! I wish more people would be so nice to me, had confidence in my dreams and pride in my accomplishments. Will I cease and desist? I thought it over and, again, no. Nothing will stop my praise or even over-praise, just as nothing will censor my wrath. So take that, writers and artists, people of note and those who are under-appreciated. Everyone should have such problems and the world would be better for it.

By the way? In the middle of this screed I paused to buy tickets for the Enright/Hamilton/Barry event. Chew on that, world. And, I may buy even more tickets for more events! It’s insane, isn’t it?

Best not answer that.