December 24, 2008

OMC: Only mildly competent

A few weeks ago, I missed out on the chance to see Michael Cunningham at the Hammer. Finals week + author events = a choice between regret and guilt. My choice brought regret.

But the good thing is that I have his novel, The Hours, right here. I haven't read it in years, but curious to see if he was still as good a writer as I remembered, I found this passage in which Cunningham imagines a typical Virginia Woolf workday.
She will write for an hour or so, then eat something. Not eating is a vice, a drug of sorts -- with her stomach empty she feels quick and clean, clearheaded, ready for a fight. She sips her coffee, sets it down, stretches her arms. This is one of the most singular experiences, waking on what feels like a good day, preparing to work but not yet actually embarked. At this moment there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead. Her mind hums.
It's interesting how one author interprets another of his kind. He envisions his predecessor as someone who works on an empty stomach. Which makes sense, since she ends up offing herself, doesn't it? If having an empty stomach makes you feel powerful, isn't there something wrong with you? Doesn't that just define the term "eating disorder" right there?

Just a little farther down the page, is a passage that makes it all worth it. If anything, The Hours is worth reading just for this:
Writing in that state is the most profound satisfaction she knows, but her access to it comes and goes without warning. She may pick up her pen and follow it with her hand as it moves across the paper; she may pick up her pen and find that she's merely herself, a woman in a housecoat holding a pen, afraid and uncertain, only mildly competent, with no idea about where to begin or what to write.

She picks up her pen.

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
I am quite sure that I love Michael Cunningham for writing this. Only mildly competent. Definitely not a phrase that pertains to either of these novelists.