Monday, January 18, 2010

'The Write Tools' #14 - Maria Tumarkin

Welcome to another edition of ‘The Write Tools’: a blog series featuring authors, artists and their favourite tools.

Today’s guest is author Maria Tumarkin, whose most recent book is Courage. Maria's third book of non-fiction, Otherland, will be published in April 2010.

For the most part of the last five years, I have neither had nor craved special writerly places and implements. I have written no better or worse (and, equally, no more or less) with bits of plastic masquerading as pens, and in front of windows facing grey fences steeped in nothing, evocative of nothing, bringing to mind nothing but other grey fences.

I cannot be totally sure why this accidental austerity has bothered me so little. Maybe because – I am guessing here - I do not write for pleasure. I am more of the ‘only write when you cannot not write’ school (a piece of advice given by Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva to a young poet early last century).

The opposite of pleasure here is not pain (or torture) but a kind of deep withdrawal into the material. I know I am writing precisely when I stop noticing where I am, what is in my hands and how my spine is being damaged by the way in which I am sitting on my chair.

And, by the way, I have two kids. So if I sound like someone who has solitude on tap and who can afford to shut the world out and to serve one god at the exclusion of others, do not believe it. Because I can’t.

But then there is coffee. This is when my sage indifference to my surroundings stops. Coffee is both the necessary and sufficient condition for my writing life. Not just any coffee, but good coffee: not touched by a franchise mind, and made with a (subtle) kind of fanaticism, which I, of course, deplore in most other circumstances.

My dependency is not merely utilitarian. When writing my last book, I would go to a nearby café daily and watch lattes and machiatos being made. My favourite times are when it is really busy, and then people behind coffee machines are in the zone, and if you watch them carefully, you can see this look of magnificent concentration on their faces.

If I had one-tenth of this concentration, I could have written a dozen books by now. I also like it when they do the assembly line – one makes the coffee and the other does the milk. A writer can only salivate at this kind of daily partnership.

I bring take-away coffee to my room with the grey fence or some other room and then I sip and write. The best day ever is when I can get into one line-one sip rhythm. Even if it is for half an hour.

When I think about the whole uninhabited island scenario (I am in my mid-thirties but I still do, should I see someone about it?) provided my kids are there, this is what scares me the most – the absence of coffee. The absence of coffee means the absence of writing. I think it is called a learned disability.


Gondal-girl said...

this rings a bell for me truly - I am a sip and three lines girl myself - struggle with out the divine liquid of the gods...though today - 2 pages and 2 coffees which were in my hour of liberation, so good I almost couldn't concentrate on the page...

Elisabeth said...

It's wonderful to read from Maria Tumarkin on your blog, Damon. Maria is a wonderful writer and her voice has the power to transform the ordinary and domestic into poetry.

Even reading about her writing habits here is a treat. Her ability to lose herself in her writing , to shut out the world is what we all long for, we of the readily distractable kind. Not entirely of our own making I might add.

If you come to read this, Maria, my best wishes to you. I've already told you elsewhere how much I value your wonderful writing, so scholarly and readable at the same time. How lovely to find you here.

Thanks, Damon.

Kass said...

The absense of coffee being a learning disability - that is brilliant. I love Maria's style. I love what you do here. Thanks.

Damon Young said...

GG: Which coffee? Espresso? Latte?

E: I'm glad to hear you like Maria's work. She's a fine writer and human being.

K: Thank you and welcome. I'm enjoying this series very much.

Gondal-girl said...

neither - the perfect muse potion comes as a double ristretto flat white...had two more today...left me pacing the room last night, but ah the beauty!

Rachel Fenton said...

This gives a wonderful insight - thanks, both of you..

I want to go drink coffee now to tap into this genius liquid but, alas, merely smelling coffee has me all loose in precisely the wrong place - where my pen is of no use!

Damon Young said...

GG: Whoah. You're hard core. I order a SHORT short black (to avoid a watery small Americano). But a double ristretto would have me jittery. Boo hiss for adding milk...

RF: Try a well-brewed cup of tea?

A Cuban In London said...

This is a very interesting take on writing and one with which I would slightly disagree in that no pleasure being derived from one's own writing, what would the point be, other than exploration? I was comforted by this paragraph:

'And, by the way, I have two kids. So if I sound like someone who has solitude on tap and who can afford to shut the world out and to serve one god at the exclusion of others, do not believe it. Because I can’t.'

Writing as an exercise or profession has a chamaleonic nature. It can be done anywhere and everywhere, at any time and under any conditions.

Many thanks for such an insightful post.

Greetings from London.

Gondal-girl said...

man oh man, if I didn't add milk I would be a hummingbird. It is like a bit of spit in a cup without milk, no writing would happen, only would have time to uncap my pen