I'm interested in such things as the difference between how we perceive the world and what the world turns out to be. The difference is between the stories we tell others and the stories we tell ourselves. There is a wonderful Russian saying, which I use as the epigraph of one of my novels, which goes, He lies like an eyewitness. Which is very sly, clever and true.
When you are in your twenties, even if you're confused and uncertain about your aims and purposes, you have a strong sense of what life itself is, and of what you in life are, and might become. Later.. later there is more uncertainty, more overlapping, more backtracking, more false memories. Back then, you can remember your short life in its entirety. Later, the memory becomes a thing of shreds and patches.
I'm one of those writers who started off writing novels and came to writing short stories later, partly because I didn't have the right ideas, partly because I think that short stories are more difficult. I think learning to write short stories also made me attracted toward a paring down of the novel form.
He had a better mind and a more rigorous temperament than me; he thought logically, and then acted on the conclusion of logical thought. Whereas most of us, I suspect, do the opposite: we make an instinctive decision, then build up an infrastructure of reasoning to justify it. And call the result common sense.
We live with such easy assumptions, don't we? For instance, that memory equals events plus time. But it's all much odder than this. Who was it said that memory is what we thought we'd forgotten? And it ought to be obvious to us that time doesn't act as a fixative, rather as a solvent. But it's not convenient--- it's not useful--- to believe this; it doesn't help us get on with our lives; so we ignore it.
We live on the flat, on the level, and yet - and so - we aspire. Groundlings, we can sometimes reach as far as the gods. Some soar with art, others with religion; most with love. But when we soar, we can also crash. There are few soft landings. We may find ourselves bouncing across the ground with leg-fracting force, dragged towards some foreign railway line. Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes, for both.
[Flaubert] didn’t just hate the railway as such; he hated the way it flattered people with the illusion of progress. What was the point of scientific advance without moral advance? The railway would merely permit more people to move about, meet and be stupid together.
You put together two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes not. They may crash and burn, or burn and crash. But sometimes, something new is made, and then the world is changed. Together, in that first exaltation, that first roaring sense of uplift, they are greater than their two separate selves. Together, they see further, and they see more clearly.
(on grief) And you do come out of it, that’s true. After a year, after five. But you don’t come out of it like a train coming out of a tunnel, bursting through the downs into sunshine and that swift, rattling descent to the Channel; you come out of it as a gull comes out of an oil-slick. You are tarred and feathered for life.
When you're young - when I was young - you want your emotions to be like the ones you read about in books. You want them to overturn your life, create and define a new reality. Later, I think, you want them to do something milder, something more practical: you want them to support your life as it is and has become. You want them to tell you that things are OK. And is there anything wrong with that?