Camus & Crystal

Some writers write about inspiration. I have ideas, but the writing itself? I couldn't pin down an inspiration for the life of me. The stuff drops off my fingertips. I'm not always sure where it comes from. Maybe it's in the wrist action.

I do have a couple of cautionary tales. Tales that tell me, don't worry about perfection. Just write the next word and keep going. Then go back and fix it. You don't want to be Joseph Grand or Larry Donner.

Joseph Grand is a suicidal municipal worker in Albert Camus' . As the novel progresses, it is discovered that Grand is a novelist with a one-sentence novel, a novel of which he has written fifty pages with interminable variations of his first sentence:

One fine morning in the month of May an elegant young horsewoman might have been riding a handsome sorrel mare along the flowery avenues of the Bois de Boulogne.

Larry Donner is Billy Crystal's character in Throw Momma From the Train. TMFtT is an 87-minute gag in which Larry, a writer, is also suffering from writer's block.

The night was humid

. Or maybe

The night was dry, yet it was raining.

Those attempts were straight-line threads that wove through the movie, culminating with Momma's punch line.

The night was sultry.

There wasn't a writer in the audience who wouldn't have thrown Momma from the train after that.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes surly occupation. If we occasionally snarl at you, it's not you we're snarling at. We've just spent the morning snarling at ourselves because words like "sultry" haven't yet occurred to us. Because we don't know if the young horsewoman "might have been riding" or if she actually was.

I was reminded of all of this yesterday while reading a piece in The New York Times on Sartre and Camus in New York. In it, Camus is quoted as having once written

It is necessary to fall in love … if only to provide an alibi for all the random despair you are going to feel anyway.

Yes, it's necessary. It's also necessary, if you imagine any part of you a writer, to sit down and let those words, even the inadequate words, in an inadequate attempt to describe that love, that despair, that place you once imagined and never could find, fall off the ends of your fingers.

I wonder if that fine morning in the month of May along the flowery avenues of the Bois de Boulogne turned sultry as the day progressed.