In honour of Alice Munro’s birthday today, I thought I should make my post about her. If you haven’t read anything by this Canadian literary gem, immediately stop reading this ramble and pick up one of her books. An aggressive demand, perhaps, but I make no apologies. She’s that good.
I was reading this article about an interview one reporter had with Munro, right after she won The Trillium Book Award for her latest collection of short stories called Dear Life. She mentions the fact that she is retiring from writing. She says, “It’s nice to go out with a bang.”
What?! This word smith is RETIRING from writing?! The news, as you can probably tell, is a bit devastating to me. I first read Munro in university, when studying for my undergrad, majoring in English (perhaps that’s obvious). Although most of what I read these days is YA, because of the nature of my job, Munro still makes my reading list.
My favour of her work is an abnormality, because I’m not usually a fan of short stories. I dislike only geting to view the created world of the author for only a short time–I feel cheated. I also dislike writing them. For me, they either turn out like a snapshot that makes sense to no one but myself, or they get wrapped up in the end in such a pretty bow, a superficial story not worth reading.
However, with Munro’s work, the short stories read well on their own, but also together, weaving various themes in and out with complex characters and vivid scenes. She is clearly a talent, and a recognized one at that. Our Canadian literary scene could use more Alice Munros.
So, to hear that she’s bowing out? A travesty.
In the interview, she’s goes on to explain that she loves writing. But, she’s come to a time in her life when she doesn’t want to be alone as much as being a writer necessitates. She wants to be social.
Now, I’m still disappointed, but her words gave me pause. The act of writing, in and of itself, is generally a solitary activity. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve cornered myself off, ignoring calls, emails, yells for attention for other rooms. I sit in front of my screen for hours at a time, lost in a world of my own making. I gesture with my hands, working things through. I talk out loud, sounding of the rhythm of the words when they aren’t alive enough on the page. I have conversations with imaginary people, rather than the real ones waiting to hear from me (I realize that this last bit makes me sound crazy, but I write fiction in my spare time, so press pause on recommending a good therapist). Hours and hours, with no one but me. And I’m not a published author with book deals calling out deadlines to me. My alone time, right now, is all by choice.
However, I think the loneliness is more than that, more than time spent in solitude before a computer or notebook and pen. Even when not in writing mode, the mind of a writer is continually isolated, dreaming up new stories, dredging through ones in the works, waiting for the garden of an idea to grow, making connections between meaning and metaphor, asking questions of your characters, creating backgrounds for people on the street, jumping feet first into another’s high heels or worn-through runners. Writing is not just an activity; it’s a way to see the world. Which means, it doesn’t stop.
There have been times when a story idea has come to me, even in a social setting, and I just cannot shake it’s conception in my mind. A wrestling and aggressive birth, it struggles to take form. It can be all-consuming. I have to step aside and see it through. Alone. Otherwise, I end up aggravating the people around me because I’ve failed to really listen. My head isn’t with them, even though I am automatically nodding along, my body on auto-pilot (perhaps so I don’t sit there with an open mouth, drooling, while I dream up a new storyline or revamp an old one). My apologies to anyone who’s had to suffer through me not really being present (Riley is all too familiar with these occurrences).
Munro’s words ring true to me. Being a writer means being alone, in so many ways. It’s tiring, I would imagine, after a couple of decades of being a professional loner. Right now, it seems shiny and new, with a set-me-on-fire(-in-a-good-way) type of energy.
So, Alice Munro, I salute you, on this your 82nd birthday. A path forged, a good well done, a happy, bubbly, social retirement rightly earned.