Sam Rasnake interview with Meg Tuite
As a writer, I think we can all relate to “Begin the Beguine.” I laughed through the entire story, but felt the insane hell that a writer goes through sometimes trying to come up with the goods. Was this an inspired writer’s block that broke through the ice?
Like the song behind the title – the sound, the moment in the air, is the living. The underlying thought in my piece is not the end but in the going, in the being in the moment, inside the beginning of things. Nothing can stay, nothing can have power if we focus on the end – not relationships, not profession, not even the field or road outside the window. Real success, in whatever form or context, is found in the doing – in the being. I’m very Ecclesiastes like that.
I connect with this idea – the doing – as a mantra, and for me it’s the core of the piece “Begin the Beguine.” I wrote the line near the end: “The story will find its own way.” I didn’t consciously work that into the piece. It found its own way there. That’s my method in all my writing: poetry, fiction, essay. I let the writing have its own way – or at least that’s my goal.
As a writer I’m always perplexed, troubled by the challenge: I’m now going to write this or that specific piece. That goes against the grain of everything I believe in as a writer. My writing is not about control. It’s about being controlled. I work best as a writer when the writing is in charge.
The origin of my story was not exactly in writer’s block but a moment very similar to it. I was a bit frozen by the blank page of my journal in front of me – frozen by the thought of I now must write something. I don’t chart out my work – fiction or poetry. I let it happen. When I settled into the moment of listening for the writing voice in my head, the words came: “I’ve been trying to work on my novel this past month, mostly late at night.” It didn’t make any sense to me, but I don’t really worry about sense, so I wrote it on the page. My concern is the act of writing. It’s about trusting the voice and the pen. The act of writing that particular sentence on the page was liberating, and the story (or some might say lack of story) came with it.
I love that the characters are stuck where the narrator leaves them as though they have their hands on their hips waiting. And he/she keeps working over possible settings, plots and titles to get them somewhere. They are alive on the page. Tell us how you came up with the outstanding structure for this piece?
I basically stole the idea – following the teachings of T.S. Eliot. Steal from the best. And so I did just that. In its own strange way, “Begin the Beguine” is my own take on two twists of the same basic story: Luigi Pirandello’s marvelous play Six Characters in Search of an Author and an episode of The Twilight Zone (the original television series), “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”. I’m not concerned at all with the plot of either work, but I’m drawn to the juxtaposition of reality and impossibility in the two works. That became the basis for my piece. In my story there’s an absence of plot or traditional narrative, and I was extremely satisfied with that.
“Begin the Beguine” is all about finding an end, but it’s not really concerned with what end it finds. Most any end will do. All characters, place, theme, objects, style, content... Everything in the story is on a search. Let me add that all the story elements – character, action, location, title, even phrasing – become interchangeable and refuse to be locked in to any one thing. I’m drawn to that form of writing or way of telling a story – Julio Cortázar, Anne Carson, Lydia Davis, Donald Barthelme, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni.
“Something to Say” is exquisite and heart-wrenching! We feel for this young narrator who attempts to escape the quotidian life of domestic violence through books. I love the line, “Outside his window, night rubs its own story against the glass.” Can you tell us a bit about the incentive for writing this piece?
I was thinking about Dylan Thomas’ story of childhood A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Thomas wrote the work is in two separate, published forms – an essay/story and a poem. The imagery of childhood is the same in both. The sentence you named in my piece is my own way of being inside that character, that child – a child I can only identify with in small ways – my act of seeing the same world, at least for a moment, that’s found in the work by Thomas.
For whatever reason – and I don’t really have a clue as to why – windows are one of my major tropes. They’re everywhere.
What are you reading at this time?
I tend to read/reread several works at once... Wild Life by Kathy Fish, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew by John Felstiner, Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, and Closely Watched Films: An Introduction to the Art of Narrative Film Technique by Marilyn Fabe.
Who would you say are a few of your greatest influences in writing?
I’m influenced in equal portions by the various arts – Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Yosa Buson, Jorge Luis Borges; Michelangelo Antonioni, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Stanley Kubrick; Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams; Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Francesca Woodman.
What are you working on now?
My writing has always been more about sound than content – more about voice than meaning. For the past several months, the writing voice in my head has been in a state of transformation. I’m finding definite connections between the works or forms I’m writing – poetry, flash, prose poem, even non-fiction. Experimental. These days, my finished pieces are quite hybrid by design and content. I’m just letting the various forms meet, and I’m following them.