The morning lecture was by Josip Novakovich and was titled “Writing in English as a Second Language or The Mot Juste.” The most interesting part of the lecture to me was hearing how he had learned English. In school he had to choose between English and Russian, and the Russian class met in the early morning and he wanted to sleep in, so the choice was made for him in that small way. It really made me think about how easily and arbitrarily our lives can be forever altered…”Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…”
Josip said that once he began to write in English, he felt that writing without a broad knowledge of the language was actually freeing, and I was taken out of the lecture (again–my mind wanders easily) and reminded of my art school days when some of the best most freeing assignments were actually those that had restrictions. Make a painting smaller than a teacup. Draw with chalk on black paper so that you are only drawing the highlights. Make a pot that is not round, but start out throwing it on the wheel. Often, when we are told what we cannot do, our mind is forced to think in different directions and suddenly soars with thoughts of what can be done within our new parameters. Josip’s analogy was a painter with a palette of three colors who can nonetheless combine them and produce wonderful creations. The lesson: Not all limitations are bad. Also: too many choices can be not freeing, but paralyzing.
Another interesting point was that the writer working in English, but as a second language, is not susceptible to cliches, because he or she does not know the English cliche and as a result the descrciptions end up being much fresher. Then Sigrid Nunez spoke up from the front of the lecture hall and said, “Yes, it’s like the scene in Lost in Translation when the woman says, “Should I marry him? I asked myself in English: Yes. Should I marry him, I asked myself in Polish: No.”
After that I had a lovely meeting with Julie Barer, a really approachable, intelligent agent who has opened her own agency after working at Sanford J. Greenberger. She seems really motivated and energetic and involved with her authors, one of whom is Gina Ochsner. Besides that, she’s a lovely person.
Unfortunately, I missed the afternoon readings by Peter Orner and Toi Derricotte, one of the hazards of being on social staff–you simply can’t attend everything. We were setting up for the big dance. We hung lights, opened cases after cases of wine, tapped the keg, cleared the dance floor, and even challenged the waiters to a dance off, thereby ensuring more people would attend the dance than might otherwise. Everything was ready. Except the DJ had trouble with the sound system–not good news for a big dance. There was much sweating and moaning and gnashing of teeth, but we did finally get the music going and the wine flowing, and a good time was (ultimately) had by all.