« Good Life Project

How to Live with Wonder and Write With Truth | Shobha Rao

2019-03-26 | 🔗

At the age of seven, Shobha Rao (https://shobharaowrites.com/about/) moved from India to the United States and found herself in a world of wonder and discovery that's never left her.

In fact, as we'd discover in today's conversation, she is so committed to presence and wonder, her cellphone has no internet, nor does she ever use her camera. And, when she teaches students, she invites them to have their heart's broken by leaving their phones at the door.

Obsessed with books, Rao eventually became a writer, won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Fiction, and her story “Kavitha and Mustafa” was chosen by T.C. Boyle for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2015. Her latest book, Girls Burn Brighter (https://amzn.to/2VFe0S1), is a heartbreaking and eye-opening exploration of friendship, sisterhood, patriarchy and the boxes society often seeks to put people in.

Rao is currently the 2018 Grace Paley Teaching Fellow at The New School in New York City.


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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
So how does somebody who came to the united states at the age of seven from india, god an undergraduate degree and engineering and then went to law? School unpracticed law, end up a writer, a novelist writing really powerful literary novels about deeply complex things that is exactly the journey of my guest today Chaparral it was a pleasure to really serve explore this entire journey. Her latest book, girls brighter there- really powerful provocative raw look at the experience of women, in particular women of color and the lives that they live in different countries and what sometimes happens when they come here. While it is a novel, its to a lot of very real things that have not the world we spend most of our time. Tracing showbiz journey from india.
through the early days here, her absolute love affair with literature and books and language, and how she then made the decision poor engineering and then a law and become a strong advocate for women and how that has all informed her as a writer, and actually why she then, made the jump to become a full time. Writer and a novelist and now a teacher as well really excited to share schober row and her really beautiful journey on Jonathan fields. And this is good life project
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that we all talk about a little bit further into the conversation also carriers. Writer teacher. I won't take a big step back in time and figure out like. Where'd you come from. Where does all of yours? Your explorations? Writing all this interest come from? You were born originally in india. That's right! Yes, I was born in india, I'm actually from south india, but was born north india, where my dad was. I was teaching and I was in india until about the age of seven and then we moved to united states. Tell me about your family a little bit in the early days and india. Well, you know it was kind of an idyllic childhood. It was a a college the bigger town called contour and my dad worked at the premier engineering technical schools in the country. Called indian. Instead of technology, and You know I just remember going up with lots of friends, and you know this a really great school that was run by the union
city for the children of the professors and staff and I've member varies with earthy. Childhood rates are playing in the dirt and collecting little berries. The trees and setting the insects so and making little clay figurines to play with so that you know it was kind of a very thorough of of the earth, and quite bucolic in some ways, even those in a large town. My existed felt really protected and insular and and quite forested a lot of ways? That's beautiful. What happens when you around seven that achieving your family? To the? U s, and so my father, I got a fellowship at nasa, This is an engineer, got it, and so we for a one year fellowship and that became in a sort of extended into a longer and then her
for longer and longer stay. Okay, so you're, seven years old, your dad comes home from work. One day says: schober yeah. I have some news. How does atlanta with you that it, you know, I don't recall- the momentum that you know it was announced to me or that you I was, made aware that will move into america, but do you remember the feeling of it right when more than the moment of it. So I bert thinking that we would Gonna grand adventure and I had no idea where america was liquor. I must have looked map, but I don't recall all I remember thinking is or standing, is it here was india, and then there was a creek that kind of flowed between the two countries and then on, as I metaphorically cut heck, yeah well indeed, and that holds for anywhere in the world right, there's just a a body of water between us. You know any two places,
Or maybe any to people as well, so That was my image that I carried into america truly and nobody. sort of disabused me of it, which I think four right because it just didn't feels dramatic or that it didn't. I didn't realize out, leaving behind a life in a country at you know it's just. Kind of seem listened, and you know I think it adventure to a new exactly exactly so where did you actually? Where was the first place that your family land in hampton virginia, where langley nasa langley gotta, hear? What was that like for you did you? Do you speak english at the point? You know not very well, I'm in fact I may have just noon. I a few words really because were taught in hindi amateurs, the national language in india and then family arm. the tongue, stilicho, witches, nothing in language of
british witches were from, and so those were the dominant languages in my childhood. Certainly english has ever present- and I did study it and in india's colonized by the british. So if it's kind of an official was, I should say the unofficial, predominantly But I don't remember really knowing that much. I, like all of it. I learned after arriving what I do recall, we got here in january. clear virginia in January. Yes from most southerly nigeria, the war later, what you know I was actually coming from northern iraq by, but still that kind of bitter cold I was could be it. Whereas I had no idea how to deal with it but as a child. What sort of was just a revelation, was snow. I remember the first time it started following must have been a few days after we got there and I,
ran out into it. I was in no way equipped to deal with this now, like I had no mittens know, you'd help certain proper socks, let alone like had now that anyone I just heard in the magnificence of this thing, falling from the sky that was so perfect. and just you know, sway, what a gift- and it still feels like that to me when it snows it's just as as, if his sister sort of I don't know a miraculous gifted of floating down from the sky. I mean I was even possible when I still wonder I love the sort of embrace the childlike wonder wander around. It cast a kind of feel the way actually and funny enough. I have teenage daughter and when its nose outlined in the middle, It started legitimately snow in new york city that we need to be outside. Yes, no, yes into you, oh absolutely, and I'm not if, if I feel like, if
you are not just completely in awe of snow than I am suspicious of you. I mean I just I just don't understand how you can just take it, for can be like. Oh it's knowing it. I feel like though there such stillness of profound silence that takes over the world and their interests, drifts down, and I'm I was here when it snowed. I think a couple of days before thanksgiving and I last I must than ours sitting by the window and then running out and then running back in sitting by the window and then just doing this constant sort of embrace There are now it's amazing: how were you a kid who was in touch with wonder? That's, it I'm question I had yes, I do believe so I don't think I've ever. as much more choice in the matter wonder seems something wired into me. I just a state of wonder why
can hear After him up came about a subway stop. I sought tree along central park west that all its you know you ve had fallen off and the like. you're completely bare except tat these red berries studded along its. You don't limbs. I just stared at might hope. Huge beautiful, like you, ve, lost all of your other clothing and then yet you retains beautiful both of you know. the string read. It was just a lovely and I just stopped it to start. We my tracks and can we be fully human. How can we fully b human. If we don't have a deep, during appreciation of everyday wonder then, the very sad wait alive, way to get through the day,
can agree with you more and yet we live at a time, the pace of life seems only get faster and our head seem to be increasingly just buried in whatever devices in any given hamper. What ever The time is funny. I catch myself waiting. Like on any given line in new york city- and I am now trained so as soon as you like The pause like I feel myself reaching for something and- and I keep I'm trying to be really mindful intentional say it just just let it like put it back on your part. Let go of the impulse deep breathing, Whenever you to leave. The urge will pass that muddy addiction, Israel, but I'll, be ok, Can I look around just taken the moment, because there's something about it. That's different in every other moment and if we don't actually just pause to to observe it, it's it's gone. It's not like
so many people go on certainly gone journeys in search of wonder yeah. Only nearly ten, it's. It's all every minute of every day, o absolutely and one of the great it's decisions I ever made was to not to not to get a smartphone so that to this day I don't have a smart, greenland, old school flip phone or something I well. Actually, I ended up just walking into the t and t store and saying what is your free phone? What does the cheap one. free one, and so they just handed me actually looks like it's a smartphone, but this discussion of data plan that decision alone, has been. Like a saving grace of sorts, I- and I do mean grace you know, because I'm feel like I am more connected to What's going on around me, I'm sitting on a subway or at the subway, stop I'm I'm looking
I'm looking like we used to look you know and and not to romanticize, a kind of past and which were perhaps were more disconnected with what was going on in the world or that sort of ways in which people were we are aware of how people are being treated in the traumas in the wars and unit, would we the visuals. Now we have the internet and you know there a power in the knowing and seeing but on the other hand, there also an incredible amount of engagement with ourselves and and with the world s last. If we constantly staring at me and so the world's actually in it lovely still in that lovely sir slowness for me, and I don't I dont think only time of wished for a phone, as may be one but fire say
is once when I was perhaps lost driving and I didn't have any directions but once and you know what ten years, is, is not like. You have to do that horrible, awful thing, which is ask somebody that hold god and I do I stop at gas stations and ask, but how amazing is it also that my mind is spinning on like all this or like okay? Where do you take this from here, because it's like okay? So not only did you come into the subway and see this beautiful, barren tree, but but somehow like with populated by all these beautiful red berries, but instead if you had a smartphone in your pocket or something that you are you activated and interacted with other very italy that your next instinct would be what filter. Will I use to capture this then posted on instagram right instead of instead of going into like that analytical? Had I kept her and share this? How do I make it? Look good I've just sitting there in saying how beautiful thompson, I didn't think taking up my phone and taking a picture. I love that
it, took you to see what you are speaking and it didn't even know it that it just didn't occur to me. I don't have instagram. I have you know I don't I it just didn't occur to me and So I think that on this capture and release the constantly happening in our world is You know you wonder what is exist for does it exists to just be you not to just, gazed upon or does it exist to be disseminated through social media and and get an accrue lakes. And you know whatever enzo. I am of the former camp. disguise. too bad, I'm still fighting. I give swearing too. I guess really. I am going to give up my smartphone disco by two, an ultra liberal, and that I have increasing number of friends who are doing exactly that
and they have people around them who can have, If, if there's something urgent, where I really need to be reached, nearly there are people who know how to get in touch with them or pass critical informatics nurse yeah, but they just want to hear be there. To observe the world and to do so. She And of types and seals that I now they know that that there they do their best. When they can just be present in work in a little work that they want to do and due to the highest possible level and feel fully expressed in present in that and and they also now and are very aware of the fact that the ec they don't have the self regulation to raised it if its air, with rang out in the same way raising my hand right, there's only just the changing environment. They just remove the delights from their environment that trade and the lucas at a deep awareness. That does to save, you know what I'm gonna cut this local court. You know it's not needed As you say, the best work is done when it that does
action, which is really all it is the right. fundamentally when we remove that distraction from our tariff every day, life- and you know, there's also the sense that I get from friends her ears observing in the world that there's that the people, Get things will be lost right if they don't. Captured in the momentum that rainbow or that he no dog never acute thing and you know, and and firm believer that nothing is lost that it enters our consciousness. somehow will deeply sort of exist inside it. and that it is nothing is lost right and certainly as a writer founder When I am writing, I conjure up images from decades ago, that I have not about, or
I find that a to a conversation will come back to me and shape the writing and so I know I know that nothing is lost and I trust that I trust it to inform my writing and form my journey as a human being. We will see more my senses, that is something is something is powerful enough to move you to change you Then it stays with you, but it always stay with you if you give it your present awareness on the level where your moved emotionally isn't it embeds itself like it becomes embody, and we know through signs now that near when there is the more there's a motion in the context of her we stand for an event. The more the furniture memory, the more there's recall so
if your at a concert- and you got yourself on your main thing as I could. Let me record this great friends. You know Maybe now your fifty percent emotionally present, because now just focused on taping doing all this stuff right. So it's like it's not it's almost like you're, not allowing yourself de the ability to emotionally in vast any expand on a level which will allow you to remove and to be changed and peter to recall it absent and the more of your senses that our aged the better? chances and the better the level of after in the level of fertilisation rights, if I had actually stout and touched the berries. Would have remembered it even more smell them. If I had tasted
Actually, I gotta get up understood by all taken, but you know I mean the more of our senses are. We can engage in any given moment through more it'll, penetrate r r Self and am I I live better. so now really curious, because some range but as an engine back in time. But but to go there while, sir, in my mind, I think you're doing right now is teaching freshmen college who have come up this attached to a device and largely detached from the world around them. So How do you, as a teacher, were a part of europe, whether teaching, writing or another subject area your land? is clearly like, let's all get pregnant, let's get real, let's be right now,
how do you answer? How do you as as a teacher in the classroom, is professor humanity So there's couple of things that come to mind, so the first thing is on the first day I know we all gathered in the class and I said, look here's the deal I This is true. I read a study that sad and I'm not sure I can't site it right now. That said that, when people had their cell phones taken away from them, the same sort of neurons. four activated when a lover left the room or when you know that out of love or when, when a lover exited their life- and I thought shocking. I mean just ask pre shocking. So I of my students about the study- and I said he they do we're gonna, leave our cell phones in our bag and regret it.
to this class with a heart broken and let's start there and they all. Just. Let me and there were but but in inside, I saw something flickr you know- I saw them- think yeah. Let's do that lets, let's here right now- that was my way of saying come Honourable come without the far right. the second thing is that Certainly, every now and then one of the kids would like sneak the little the text of your friend or whatever, but more firstly committed to conduct it. That was captivating enough. that was engaging in mouth- that demanding enough that they didn't have. The time they didn't think about the phone right to sort of conversation that so asking so much of them that asking for so much of their
since an eye, and I mean I try to make sure that every time we walked into class in ice, let's, let's talk about this non western woman's life and let's get into it, was pure the layers I mean be with me here, because you come on this journey with me, if you're sort of here or a kind of here off, some of who is here all of you must pay here, because this is a human life and the only way understand. Life is to give of yours to it, you know truly, and so I Do you know I don't know if I demanded it or fire if I demanded of them over demanded of myself that we make, class times so robust that there is no room for less often that was the to sort of you know ways
approached at and down by law which they were there. it sounds so fun grass, as I guess it kind of becomes self selecting pretty quickly so yeah for sure, either in or you're going to drop yeah, definitely exactly, and if you're in your late, you know the rules. The rules of the game are clear. There is a reverence for the moment and the material and that's how we roll yes, that's right and and and in in a lot of ways I think, maybe because are so comfortable with the phone That perhaps they understood this, This is conjecture on my part, but they understood that there is a time to put it away right and nurses. There is a time for it, but is also a time to put our way, and I remember, and they were doing their final projects about. A non western women in their life and dumb, sir, we have them chose to pull up this individuals. Instagram account is show pictures that way, and I thought well here we are where we are now reentering this. You know social media world, but that's great because
saying here's this woman lives in saudi arabia. Look at her program and that's how their connecting at while at the same time they are able to put it away when needed. So maybe they have a healthier relationship with it it is my obviously Insanely naive hope, but perhaps by that I mean I wonder about the wonderful release leave, I wonder, This sense that who were walking around looking for somebody to know he was permission but but demand. Create a space that that requires us to put that thing down years ago. I ran, I ran yoga studio and we had a kid
the programme we had like me. I, like tiny little kids, any other class at the end of every class. The teacher would have them all lie on delicate little mini yoda mad in a circle with their feet, in the middle and little pink being bag sandbag eyes, and they were just there for a solid five to seven minutes, and I remember now Infrequently the parents, we get their little bitterly pick up the kid and they would look peak into the room and then look at last night he turned to my child. Like dollar, you tried to its very how howard what that you're playing there just please peace, relax. without any use timidly and and we're late who created the environment where we just said this is but we do now and it was almost like their way- being. For somebody to say this is how, this is the more like. This is what you do you I wonder if or so jacked up on connectivity ryanair
and we don't have the capacity to sort of decreed that space ourselves when somebody else's ok This is the moment You probably like on the surface grumblingly alternated ike I wonder if we yearn for air, I think what we might. Certainly and I hope it yeah yeah? I mean I think it. Will it such a human thing to want that connected mess that that the actual physical, you know, in the middle, the being back on the eyes I mean. All of that is so necessary. in Austria. The screen is necessary right, and so when that necessary thing presents itself offers itself as always ached for you know them.
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there are already widely with its back up a little bit, more will change the way back to the current when last we had visited, I had arrived in ten years and years are then you're making away as a kid having some basic language, but also, what's it it's sort of like being thrown into a school, surrounded by a whole bunch of new kids, completely different culture too, because it sounds like There was no preparation house like american cultures different just like ok, eureka right, you know. Ah I have to tell you I don't. I was an apple. school by what was extraordinary, sir, even at the time, but certainly in retrospect is they assigned this school assigned my sister and I a teacher who would pull us out the english lesson when the rest of the class was doing the english lesson and she would teach us english, I mean almost
for me mistress older, so she knew more english, but certainly for me the ground up that, and you know, and I cannot imagine that without that teaching without, Her commitment- and I still remember her- face her smile and her encouragement. I would inform him of the languages I have, and it was archer which is an amazing gesture. Offer us you know. Might you know we were emigrated to the country and and of the public school I can imagine they would have that much funding. And yet they gave us that that teacher and You know she really dedicated. That our two, whatever it was, truly. allowing space for me to love
language fall in love with it, and once that happened then reading the reading began and that just became a you know. The universe unto itself for me am I haven't, must have not stopped sense. I have with me at all times. There is not a single day. I can recall when I haven't been reading ets. point in some book, usually fiction, so Have they been books? that you feel have been really pivotal in you in your life, in the lines on the world, certainly the suit. So the first book I recall, reading in the united states and with less on the prairie alluring, was wilder yeah in that book. I saw a little bit of myself oddly right, but I mean I really. I can't remember that regretting laura was as well in the book about six percent.
so about the same age as me, and here she is, you know, sort authority, world, yeah, you're travelling in a wagon, and I happened to arrive on a plane. It made no difference. We were just both on new. Land in a new country. You know- and so I recognize out of myself in her, so I turn after That book many times in my life- and I think I find it that it was quite formative that's the earliest book I can recall and then, as the achievers yeah you have to you, have to just get through it to get to the other side, and then I am now I feel like I'm. Quite katy to reading aloud translated work and a lot of non I can on western literature just to see the breadth and diversity of how we'll tell stories how they see the world, how the envision a better or a worse one them in all these things change dramatically when you change the lens from western to non western rate or even non english,
You know anything translated, so it's been a great the great journey and I'm sure, as I go on in my life My reading tasteful evolve, hopefully the ears, do you have a sense for weather? You come from one year to the EU. S arm gives you the realisation that ok, so now, I'm reading all the prescribed stuff that everybody raids, steinbeck snappy ways, canada white than that because of your young upbringing and because of your family there, you, in green, deep awareness that yes, butter so much more out there, like you just you, you had spans of knowing that this is not the way that, like it is done, but this is just one representative sample of the way it can be done. Indeed- and I think I am I appreciated about the canon of white man was in an honest sentence level you'd hate ascends and think this
is what literature can do. This is what words can do, writes a deep appreciation on the sentence level end and what they were doing with language and all of that, but then assisted in me. A sense that they're not telling my story at all. recognize myself in the sky sitting in a bullfight in Spain or this guy you know swimming through the suburban in a westchester community through all the swimming pool. I don't I don't reckon Nice myself in this pre shit it on the level artistry language, but not as speaking to my story to my reality, even my imagination rate, I wanted a story that talk to my very unique flavorful. this, my going up, a girl in the world and a brown one at that, and what are the things I'm gonna have to fight
for that I am fighting for and why don't I see in these books and that I think the richness of torture is the discovery of that voice. Finally, that speaks to you to your story. when you start to reach into that side of literature start to find the stories in his sounds, like was probably something that you had to then take on yourself. I think you know this. I can't but name it. a book, but I do know that reading tony morrison, the blue sky. It, certainly some still them very beautifully in after western canon but Finally, here was a little girl that I thought. Oh ok, Not a man in a middle aged man, anymore, white man anymore. Here is the girl whose lost speaking other girl whose lost and from that, and you know even sort of,
believe it took a mocking bird. You know scouts I mean in some ways spoke to me about what it is. Over a world, that's not quite right and not quite good to those that don't. fit the ideal of the male white gaze rate, and so. the more all the more women The more melanin that entered my life, the more the world started become. Richer and more familiar and recognisable to me through literature and that's enough, Don't I don't necessarily, I should say I now I just read everything: race, ivy. Everything from Roberto belong to us the jelinek too. You know come mark and day I mean I just read whatever I can get my my hands on, and I enjoyed
pleasure of arriving into a book by chance, but I think that's, certainly kingdom is what we choose to read and Oh, I reach far and wide there. I love that, like the breath I had the sense of old of creative minds earth do the stance between going narrow and deep and then pulling out and guy a wide like going broad and getting this vast spans of sort of like data and interaction, expands and story and then going there on deep and surly alternating like moving there's this ebb and flow between those two states and Andy bill, The sort of like go into the new one or the other is what makes everything ok, but if we get stuck in one area, stops working the way needs to work absolutely
and you you don't get the richness of it all right and even like reading them richard atoms in a watershed down on link, why does a rabbit speak to me. You know: why does the rabbit named? You know hazel, why is it this is rabbit sort of able to access the fight in me? You know in a way that a human character hasn't yet so, as you are growing up developing this fear love, books, literature and exploring different worlds. The obvious I stand is to go to college for engineering So what happened? It was just a very pragmatic, and I think this is a bit of a huge impulse and families is to do the pragmatic thing.
right, each other, the handful of like ok career paths that some absolutely yard star at understandably so red, it's it's it's alien country and you want to, we have all the resources possible. to succeed right within it, because you don't have the sort of interest infrastructure. You would back home right, the support of relatives or the culture or whatever. So Look at unmoored here, and so certainly, financial security is a good way of building setting down roots then building a life there, course from there. The next move his law school. You know, if I want to say that was driven by really too pulses one was to help people you know at, and I thought what better way to help people and to help them navigate this the system that can be quite cruel, and quite draconian
then the other was that they have a lot more writing a figment of, and certainly you know that the law is in some way the love affair. With words, every law is written. except perhaps moral law, and intentionally ambiguously, certainly and so on, and it does have a lot of writing. But it was not in obviously not creative writing, which is what you know my heart had wanted and answered of Oh I can it'll be fine old out, you know is still has writing in it, but it didn't quite meet the mark it's so even I actually Sherif, I went to law, school and practiced law for audit. You were kind of about five year security. For oh The easy stuff, oh yeah, real easy, but it is interesting to me. I am animal right and also so, it was interesting for me to expand writing his work. As I had no early, I was much of a reader when I was young, wasn't a writer,
I had no idea, but I new that in upon reflection, anytime, Take a course in college, where my great was based on writing. I would do that and I would pretty much always do exceptionally well, but it never click to meet you'll. Maybe this is something to explore like me, gruesome affinity or or ability there. So I went to law school and I was exposed to it, formulaic illegally. Yes, you're right, but you know, still remember at yale. I d like issue application applicant s improve it. Is the formula do this on everything you write and all will be right in the world that right? Yes, yes m, and I remember can't get it? It's a game, our memories, a foreigner mastered the foreigner idea that I did well and I got out and assert, I'm just saying in the writing. Was all still the same as ours like MIKE. Can I just split an infinity? If you don't
can I it was felt so stifling. I said now I was I was grateful for education. I was grateful for learning how to deconstruct and construct a rational arguments and understand these things and for understanding how to put together words in a way that was logical and progressive. and precise and precise yeah, or sometimes very like intentionally, none out of right along with purpose and as soon as I could stop doing, that I was the happiest person and offer. that's great new. I heard similar experience. You know one moment I remember is one arm in writing, and of some sort, and I was like and I had a sentence and the managing attorney was like you have to. the case law to support and unlike oh I do
like, but if such a pretty sentence that can't we just leave it to you know it is, and it was like you know, say it allowed the regiment like our you know. Maybe this is not the ce mark and fifa about writing. Bugging me so yeah it dawned on me this entire, like you said that that wasn't knew you had your two reasons. One was the writing, but the others. If there was ever a strong and activist cause that was released or rising up in even saying, I need to be of service to particular population of people in a particular way yeah and I, and I sort of sort that out in my work. I eventually ended up being illegal advocate victims of domestic violence- and that was I mean I can begin to tell you have filling and traumatic that was but ah it in fact was: also the moors: to life, firming eye
absolutely humbling. exhilarating job of my life I would meet women and they were most often women who are being By their intimate bar as husbands and and just witness. their resilience, their generosity, the warmth and they Managed to retain in the face of a deal the unpredictable violence perpetrated by those who posted loved them. You know it I knew immediately what I needed to write once I left that job. I knew why and have been ever since laser focused on what I needed to write and or whom I was writing every single word tell thelma. You know I, I thought
So much of literature, it seemed I dread and certainly written the one books written by men it is. A woman was a sex, object or she was not just fed shyster. She was not so many seem to fit into this binary right eye, to bring the Actually the chest superhuman strength? That women display on it we basis whether in new york city or in a refugee camp in yemen. It just to me that women most casually carry around a kind of courage and. bravery in the face of chest. Whore graphic violence and trauma and yet managed.
Keep houses together, managed to raise children managed to bring love forth the world- and that is what I wanted to document almost I didn't want to flinch in writing about what I see, is the truth of many women's lives. When you write that that kind of book, we writing to Ah foremost, to myself, to give myself the courage. and then I think in the hope, as a literature did for me. That. Somebody somewhere will read it and think here. She is here's the one I've been looking for that character or that that story the true speaks that sort of one turns to time and time again, thinks I'm not alone.
I am not alone in this, and that seems to be. The greatest task of literature is to make us feel less alone world and literature that, for me, and if one of my can do that for one person, a life while lived, for myself, as a writer. when at last start getting so complicated, buying a home, complicated home finance is certainly not a walk in the park. Raising kids, it's a lot, then there's insurance. What if my policy doesn't cover this or what? If I have to make a claim in the middle of the night? Good news state farm is there for your. What is you can reach them? Twenty four seven file a claim on the state. Far mobile laugh or simply call your agent to ask anything. So even if life gets tricky, insurance doesn't have to be like a good neighbour states form. Is there call or go to state, formed our com for a quote today.
and I am thinking of some of you never spoke I was born writer and am in What's I mean beyond you, D of the craft that goes into it in depth A beautiful storytelling there is this is this is very wrong. very real and yet hell, no punches. It's like this is the reality of certain people, especially of certain color skin in certain parts of the world that certain genders, when you an end attempting. Also because these are you navigate to different worlds, starting one world men than usual to the western world. When, when you're writing a book like this how'd. You know. How do you know how far to go? I.
There's an old tibetans, saying I don't know that nigel Tibetan, but until you translate something like this far and no further and it's an internal sense right- that I will go this far and no further? And it's not just My journey through the balkan area, eyes, the characters, but a sort of keen awareness of how far I can take the reader into a moment of Violence are incredible distress and- when I lose them right. If I go further than I'll lose them, and so it's it's, have a very sensitive sort of trigger an inside. Its individuality trader right, but it's a very delicate trigger
tells me ok, this is good because you're, not ah you know the violence isn't being fetish, eyes is not being exploited, but yours am I I have to know that I am not I am honouring the story, but I'm wondering what's happening to these girls and that I'm not gonna, look away. It's getting a little difficult years, because it's getting a little dark because, as you said, this is the reality for many many women and girls in the world, and yet I'm writing to readers who I want to give agency to imagine the rest. I think that's how we engage the reader right is to leave enough out so that their tat their imaginations are fired up by the writing so again,
I think every writer walks that that line and arguably I've you know shifted into A darker kind of territory, in some ways, but that is There were truly revealed at and thus help characters become human and yeah. I think it's during the vote. Tomorrow cornered that we are our true selves, and so I want to corner characters and yourself You know that's certainly yeah emotionally yeah. I don't put myself into dangerous physics. situations, but I do too great chances emotionally. I think, and thereby spiritually and I don't Shy away from kind of
ability that could be dangerous it to be necessary. I made, since they had income It feels like it also did. It depends upon how the person who is traded remained what they see the railways. he now. I know people who see their role purely as the programme, tor and shatterer you know like I need to break the class I need to like my job is to allow you to see as as cod. we as possible the reality of the world around you if it's her aunt horrifying. Then let you figure out from the mai it is not too, is just to remove the illusion and in the end I think everybody feels they would like my job as a writer. Yes, I can yeah like I care about language. I care about the craft, I care about story, and but
you wanna things that have experiences in having so many amazing conversations over the years is even in a conversation like this. Yeah from having a conversation and submit sharing a story that is that is filled with their own experience of violence or danger or suffering that there is a line where, if we can, that conversation in a way where the listener can fully understand it? and yet still feel safe in the conversation, still feel safe in listening experience that the work has been done, but there's a where you cross, where the listener no longer feel safe, and at that point they shut down, And I wonder if you feel like there's a similar line in in writing in the written just yeah? I mean the lines constantly shifting rate like the boy
between countries are constantly shifting and I think the writers task is to keep against that border and keep an and constant in practice the borders with a heart I mean to say, let me in a little bit deeper two it. Let me let me access the dangerous places right and ultimately. That's what a good story does right it it It swells our hearts. It allows more it took us through it, you know that and thereby more fuel, for ourselves and our fellow man right? And that is a good story and every great story- novel. Portray that poem I've read has enriched me.
In ways I can. That makes me to shiver with. incredible gratitude and pleasure and it is high time that word section? Right, the right word in the right place. Can no blank so yeah. I want to honour them order by pushing against it and saying we can be greater We can be more vast right, we can opener, tomorrow, the world map Thank you. I mean you mentioned earlier that no one of the great thing literature does. Is it sort of vat it, it reconnects us to our own humanity. Not then what I heard not necessarily that's exactly right, though yeah, but an anti. What I hear you saying also is that it it also yeah like it. It rican thus to humanity, and others allows us to see, asked ourselves and others to which,
man. Do we need a fist at our historic, absolutely and you know have certainly always needed. It has become much more it's. Crisis mode, right, wraith? This need to not demonize the other to see ourselves. If you look into the eyes and another you cannot, but, nice something of yourself and it's not enough to read it about other treat him on a screen or too you know have of lumped into this desperate. You don't flow from humanity, the stranger destroy our country or something it's. We are all deeply Acted and to not know that
Is to deny the greatest truth right, and I can't I can imagine, but it is to look away from piece of news like a seven year old dying in one of the: u know migrants, camps, cages. along the. U s border. we look away. We ve lost ourselves, utterly this is today's news Part of the answer is in exactly that. The cycle has So rapid that The risk is that we become known as pink floyd famously said, comfortably nam I haven't got it causes the it's like exposure therapy exposure therapy when you're trying to move through something causing your anxiety and pain, which really should not be is a good thing, but exposure therapy in the country,
something which should continue to cause great distress right and slowly removes the express a distress is not a good thing, because then you don't respond, then you feel like you either. it's become so he like he, you give up because you feel like nothing can be done or but in the context of zooming ones, back out and like you as a writer and and and the role of literature and moments like this, it's interesting to because it feel like I wonder if you know what think of great writing of gray box of great literature. I also thank you now longer than two hundred and forty characters. Fourteen I didn't characters now vastly expanded and and I sometimes wonder like is- am I just like now feel did who is like? Well, you know to really have the riches of the start telling be moved to the point where I can see myself in those all the ideology. I need a long teepee pitifully create peace or can you is there a way to
accommodate nearly dramatically shorten attention span seized as an alarm, A craft language to tell stories, can you actually create legitimate? Can you could words that do the job of true literature in the in in? certainly sort the the moments. The short windows that we have now or that we read, choose to have now to conceal whatever's put in front of us, but you don't have to thoughts. A one is. Why must we right, anyway, why can't watch we demand- look from the phone and end reading a book or reading a poem and you know Why should we ever Link wish that to me but also that you Asking of another like two sang look: this is story cannot be encompassed In whatever you're saying on the screen. The true story exists between the of basis, booker or you know better,
between the this grove of trees, that I ask you to walk through right. There's that first thought right. The impulse but then the second thought is that famous six words, your story right that the foresail, maybe she's, never worn. It's been dodge, not everything again, those six words exactly so it's been done. It will continue to be done. Just harder to put an ark and applaud, and you know all the elements of good storytelling into a shorter peace. which is why we ain't right, short stories is a uniquely difficult journey. ever since a novel which is difficult front ways, but that that the shortened base make sam, horses, the language to be more precise,
and the shorter and shorter gets the more weight, the more gravity each word has to embody and encompass so certainly it can be done, but why must we want latest. Again, the knife naivete or a lack of what can be realised, rave territory or is it clear thinking I mean vote for the latter. I would do as you sort of you know, you've taught here over the years different things and yeah as we sit here today. This is the first time you're, actually teaching in a sort of semester, long strike, you're, a college format so moving for spending like germany, hours and in your mind, in your own world, writing and creating too, very structured academic environment. We ve got yell a room full of wide eyed freshmen of yeah sitting there too.
You have a hope for how your students will be changed during your time with them, and if so, what might it be. Funny that you ask, because one of my students came to office hours that mid semester, and I am not aware of any of the students in my class- being creative writing majors right there freshmen most than don't know what they're gonna major, and this is acquired class right undertaking it. That's all great but this one student came to me in them somewhere in the middle. I she said you know it's not what necessarily each books that were reading or the articles and its asked the way, your face lights off when you're talking about literature- and she said it- you just become luminous and
You know, of course, I'm just giddy, because I you know I like, of course literature. I mean the minute. I don't start talking about it, I'm just so I'm just so thrilled, and I think I realized after that talk with her that That is what I want to convey to them, right that you can we passionately engaged with an art form that and provide meaning in shape to your life that his life while lived and that it the matter, what it is that passion as long as it's feeding you as long as its unity. Living filled inspiration and are that is what passion That is what I can do. You don't have to pick mine. I hate you the pic literature, the pick something because you can might upper room. You can write up a life.
With that kind of engagement passion engagement with something outside of yourself with something that you can create and if that's all current quota them if all they ve get out of this- is his memory of this one setting their life, up the room with her love. richer, but that is the that is possible in in twenty eighteen. I think you know, then I consider myself having succeeded because I was just gonna, come full circle and ask you what it means you to live a life, but I think it s answer the question I think I might have. I hope I have here. Thank you so much.
in my pleasure- the thank you so much for listening and thanks also to our fantastic sponsors who helped make this show possible. You can check them out in the links we have included in today's show notes and while you're at it. If you've ever asked yourself, what should I do with my life, we have created a really cool online assessment that will help you discover the source code for the work that you're here to do. You can find it at spark: a type dot com, that's s, p, a r K, e t y pe dot com or just click, the link in the show notes, and, of course, if you haven't already done so be sure to click on the subscribe button in your listening app. So you never miss an episode and then share share the love. If there's something that you've heard in this episode, that you would love to turn into a conversation, share it with people and have that conversation, because when ideas become conversations that lead to action, that's when real change takes hold, see you next time the.
Transcript generated on 2023-06-27.