I knew I must write a novel. But it seemed an impossible thing to do when I had been trying with great difficulty to write paragraphs that would be the distillation of what made a novel. It was necessary to write longer stories now as you would train for a longer race. When I had written a novel before, the one that had been lost in the bag stolen at the Gare de Lyon, I still had the lyric facility of boyhood that was as perishable and as deceptive as youth was. I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write it, then it would be the only thing to do and there would be no choice. In the meantime, I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.
What did I know best that I had not written about and lost? What did I know about truly and care for the most? There was no choice at all. There was only the streets to take you back fastest to where you worked. I went up Bonaparte to Guynemer, then to the rue d’Assas, up the rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs to the Closerie des Lilas.
I sat in a corner with the afternoon light coming in over my shoulder and wrote in the notebook. The waiter brought me a cafe creme and I drank half of it when it cooled and left it on the table while I wrote. When I stopped writing, I did not want to leave the river where I could see trout in the pool, its surface pushing and swelling smooth against the resistance of the log driven piles of the bridge. The story was about coming back from the war, but there was no mention of the war in it. (A Moveable Feast, pp 75-76)
No mention of the war in it. I just love that, so much.
Write what you know, they tell us. At one time, I thought, "All I know about is baloney sandwiches with mustard and the suburbs. Who even cares about that?" Of course, I knew lots more than that–I knew about life in a military town during a war and about tourists and the way the light breaks in the mountains. I just had to find out what I knew.
I know about women and their lives. I know about the west. I know about good marriages and bad marriages and mothers and daughters and mothers and sons. I know we’re all desperately flawed and want to be loved anyway. I know that we’re lonely and want someone, one person–a beloved other, be that friend or lover or dog or God–to see and accept us as we are. I know we all want to have faith in something, a child or positive thinking or a dream.
So those are the things I write about. Not always as gracefully as I’d like, but one does keep trying.
What do you know about?