I had a really wonderful breakfast with historian Louise Knight the other day and she told me that whenever she is talking to a woman facing a crossroads in her life, she urges them to think of who it is that they are envious of. “That gut reaction,” she explained, “cuts through all the defenses and confusion”. It’s not that you then spend time dwelling with that feeling, but consider what it is that this person experiences that you are envious of and then pursue it in your own life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this wise technique, and it turns out that one of the people that produces envy in me is Nicole Krauss. Not just because she’s beautiful and brilliant and lives in what I can only imagine is a spacious brownstone on the other side of the park, but because she writes such exquisite novels. Her work is the kind of art that makes me want to be better, to spend more time exploring non-commercial interests, to drill down right to the center of human existence (or at least the truest words of my own heart) and write from there.
Her latest novel, Great House, links a few different, compelling stories from various time periods and international locations together with one, mammoth desk. The writing is profound. A few examples:
The power of literature, I’ve always thought, lies in how willful the act of making it is.
There is a fallacy that the powerful emotions of youth mellow with time. Not true. One learns to control and suppress it. But it doesn’t lessen. It simply hides and concentrates itself in more discreet places.
In life, we sit at the table and refuse to eat, and in death we are eternally hungry.
I can’t recommend this, or my other favorite, The History of Love, more. Both inspire me to create more pure time to listen to my artist heart.