Thoughts from MOI
MOI is a character who appears throughout Marianne Rogoff’s remix dissertation, an alter-ego to insert as needed into the conversations she constructed among great authors, artists, and critics on the art of writing.
MOI: Who is it that recommends starting your day of writing by typing someone else’s great prose, so that the feeling of good writing is in your fingertips when you move on to write your own words?
MOI: I have used the first pages of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway to teach grammar. The entire book takes place in a single day. Clarissa Dalloway starts the morning in present tense, sunshine and flowers, then imagines (in future tense) the party she will throw later that night, while recalling memories of the last time she saw some of the guests she has invited (via past tense, or flashbacks).
MOI: I don’t write as a daily habit, just to get words on the page. I only write when I have something to say.
MOI: I can recall a handful of memorable times when everything I wanted to say came pouring out in a rush of energy and I barely had to change a word; I only had to keep my hand moving as fast as my thoughts were flying and heart was beating.
MOI: I enjoy revision much more than writing. The first draft is an ugly “lump of clay” which I mine with great effort from dark places. The pleasure comes as I sculpt it into shape, adding and subtracting until I feel satisfied when I step back and take a look at what I made.
MOI: Sometimes I draw pictures of what my book covers will look like when the mess is tidy and finally published.
MOI: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook was a key book for me when I first read it in college. I liked the idea of keeping separate, colored notebooks as a way to compartmentalize life and take control, while also gathering them together in the golden notebook, the book I was holding, with its overarching perspective, the whole that embraced the parts.
MOI: I’ve tried to be organized about it, and I have file cabinets and bookshelves and notebooks that are vaguely organized. But they don’t stay that way. Everything changes. I guess that’s good too.
MOI: The writer has to stay in motion and be reasonably fit to sit still for so many hours and not be in pain.
MOI: Don’t be too drunk or too sober.
MOI: I’m in the pink cathedral in San Miguel de Allende, kneeling and praying with strangers in Spanish. This is one place in the world where I kneel.
MOI: I think I may have built myself from the top-down of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which explains the instability that underlies my “realization of potential.” I have only a glancing sense of “long-term survival and stability” or “affiliation and acceptance.”
MOI: Moving away is the first challenge, then being able to visit and still maintain your new self-description without disavowing who you also are.
MOI: In that first cross-country trip in Steve Gorski’s Volvo I saw how vast and empty landscape could be. We left the car far behind and hiked snowy mountains where all we heard was silence.
MOI: I remember meeting Carolyn Forché at a writers’ retreat in Taxco, Mexico, where the other teachers included Clark Blaise and Jayne Anne Phillips. On the first day I couldn’t help but notice Jayne Anne’s impeccable French manicure. Next day I saw that Forché had done her nails, too, and they looked splendid. That was a great trip. I learned that details matter.
MOI: I am a fan of joie de vivre, as it has taken me a while to perfect the art of it. On the other hand, I get why Phillip Lopate is against it. Sometimes I feel nostalgic for deep grief, when everything felt so exquisitely painful and real.
MOI: Writing was a way of ranting.
MOI: Why I love San Miguel de Allende so much: Death walks through the plaza on ten-foot stilts. Children eat skulls made of pink sugar. Tiny, painted skeletons drive buses, get married, play saxophone. Death smiles. Death is not a stranger.
MOI: Writing has saved my life many times, even just as a friend.
MOI: I appreciate the unconditional, nonjudgmental attitude of the blank page.
MOI: When I first read Hejinian I thought, ooh, this is how memories of home feel, that disjointed and vague.
MOI: Writing teachers recommend that we draft uncritically, free-associate, follow our meandering trains of thought, uncensored, and then put on the critical hat of the conscious mind when we craft and critique the “cogitated” “rolled bones” of raw draft material.
MOI: I try to be aware of the difference between private and public, the kind of intimate writing I should keep to myself versus what could be published or of interest to others.
MOI: Sometimes I hate myself and fear what I might say.
MOI: My 85-year-old student and friend, Minnette, is adamant that being vindictive is what writing is for. She believes that getting back at those who have harmed us is a perfectly fine use for the medium.
MOI: I taught a summer course at CCA one year called Brutal Aesthetics, which asked, Is “beauty truth, truth beauty” as Keats proclaimed in 1819? How can truth be beauty in times of war or disaster? What is the artist/writer’s role: to mirror the world, or create heroic ideals? We began by defining the concept of Beauty, according to Keats, Kant, Wikipedia, et al. We researched where beauty has been found and how defined in the past. Then the assignments were to photograph, find, and create beauty in the present; generate language to analyze beauty’s structures and possibilities; consider ugliness and how to coexist.
MOI: Some think it’s irresponsible for artists not to portray human suffering. But how? See Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, among others.
MOI: Music seems the most able to move us, as it is so intangible: no body, no materials, at least for the listener. Or is the most direct route to Beauty through the body and the instrument, and this is why musicians love their work so much?
MOI: I love this idea, Elizabeth Bishop’s “compensatory glimpse,” as if what we are able to behold can potentially compensate for the impenetrable mystery of which the glimpse is but a peek.
MOI: During the years I’ve been teaching writing and literature at art school I’ve come to appreciate the strategies of artists, architects, and designers as potential models for alternative ways to construct writing; for example, the cubist collage styles of Picasso and Duchamp, made from found materials, reused and repurposed; Tom Phillips’ Humument series of renovated books (2005); David Hockney’s Cameraworks Polaroid grids (1984).
MOI: In writing, all kinds of hybrid forms are cutting-edge: graphic novels, book-as-object sculptures, text-image appropriations, the fragment, the ephemeral. . . . CCA students are also street artists and graffiti masters in love with skateboard culture and industrial wastelands; they draw cities imploding, heads and minds exploding intricately detailed detritus; their sculptures are made of bones, branches, hairballs, dust, and bits of string and wire, with blood for glue.
MOI: The solitary work of artists and writers may serve society, among other ways, by being a tuning fork for collective emotions and experiences. Where no center or transcendent truth is discernible, new forms are devised to represent that fact.
MOI: I love solitude but am glad for the forced interactions of teaching, which keeps me in relationship, continually meeting new groups of young students.
MOI: Luxurious abundant creativity flows from every billboard, MP3 player, street corner jazzman, and graffiti artist, and this may be the very thing that can overwhelm our most tender urges to creativity of our own. There is so little space for the new to arise, distracted as we are by the enormous wealth of existing, ongoing creative output.
MOI: Perhaps the many ways to collaborate with the abundance—in the form of collages, found text, and Creative Commons remixing—are the contemporary upgrades to the old-fashioned cult of individual genius. The Creative Commons offers alternatives to standard copyright licenses, which allows makers to share their work freely. Google it or read Lawrence Lessig and Lewis Hyde for more about the concept of gift cultures, which Andrew Keen also has written about, and fears.
MOI: As a medium for representing the complexity of human experience, in the twentieth century words proved to be flimsy, ubiquitous, disposable, and truth elusive, relative.
MOI: Our relationship to privacy has changed drastically since the turn of the 21st century. Even if we want to, our ability to keep the facts of our lives private has been usurped absolutely by the Google algorithm, public video surveillance, and cell phone cameras. Before I know what hits me, my image has been posted to Facebook without my knowledge, and not looking my best.
MOI: There are distinct genres of writing—the poem, the essay, the testimony, the sociological study, the Facebook post, fiction—and they represent a range of possible perspectives or worldviews.
MOI: I went online to try to buy a Plot Wheel for Mary Beth Pringle and discovered that Stephen King may have made this up. If the Plot Wheel doesn’t exist, someone should invent it. The concept of plot implies that each action might lead to a meaningful conclusion.
MOI: If I persist, will I be published? Rich? Famous? Beloved?
MOI: I love seeing my book Silvie’s Life on bookstore shelves, how all the books to its left have to shift to the left, while all the books to the right shift to the right, to make room for its presence.
MOI: I’ve identified three purposes for literary writing in the zeitgeist of the last hundred years: catharsis, or therapeutic self-expression; witness, or social commentary; and uselessness, escape from self and society into lyric realms of art and beauty.
MOI: Be the camera lens, the map, a frame, an impulse, tuning fork, compass, water.