May 17, 2010

Morphing Death into Life

I’ve been thinking about the inevitable ebb and flow of creativity. It’s related to the state of health and to how busy life is and family problems and how many crises come your way and your mood. But because I haven't been feeling that great, it’s really been driven home about how not feeling good really affects me.

And how in the world was Franz Kafka able to write? It’s a testament to either his iron will or his mental instability ~ or both.

He was born in 1852 in Prague, then Bohemia. His father was an overbearing ass, and his mother helped his father with the business, so Franz and his five brothers and sisters were abandoned to be raised by governesses and servants while the parents worked. Two of his brothers died as babies, and later his sisters were killed in concentration camps during World War II. After college, Franz took work at an insurance company, had many girlfriends, and was twice engaged to the same woman Felice Bauer but never married her. Then he contracted tuberculosis, which he died of in 1924.

Franz published only a few stories during his lifetime. It’s amazing he was able to write at all. During the day he would write about industrial accidents and health hazards, and at night he would write short stories. Can you imagine it? Getting up early to be ready to go to your job, spending all day laboring, coming home at night and trying to summon the energy to be creative, all while carrying this heavy load of grief and guilt and hatred and love. (I bet you can.) It’s probably because of all that that he was driven to write.

If I think very long about Franz, it makes me very sad. It also makes me think that I have nothing to complain about but also that all writers are kindred spirits under the skin. The only way to survive is to create. And this strikes me as a wonderfully positive and life-affirming thing.

What I’m Reading Today: "Ash" by Roddy Doyle in today’s New Yorker. Wonderful, of course. It links global crisis to personal crisis but it doesn’t feel gratuitous, and it has that subtle, wonderful uplift at the end.

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