I'm a lucky duck who got to see+hear Zadie Smith in person tonight. She was every bit as charming as I expected. She and Eleanor Wachtel had a great chat, but the part that really stood out to me was the role that Smith said 'found objects' play in her work, whether it's a real person who ends up an influential force in her novel (Jeni LeGon in Swing Time) or a peculiar name, borrowed from a real person. It was liberating to hear her say this, as someone who often feels ashamed by my own hidden stash of "objects", garnered throughout my quest to create "lies that tell a deeper truth".
I'm two-thirds of the way through Zadie Smith's new novel Swing Time, which may be the best exploration of female friendship and motherhood I've ever read. In typical Smith fashion, there are shimmery jewels of prose and dialogue glinting from every page. One of my favourite characters in the book is the unnamed protagonist's father, a man who cannot help but love a woman who does not respect his mind, and who adores the duties imposed on a good parent. This statement, made by the protagonist about her father, felt like a knee to the heart:
The thing I feared was no longer my parents' authority over me but that they might haul out into the open their own intimate fears, their melancholy and regrets.
I love Zadie Smith. She is precise and direct and not at all precious about her work, or about being a writer. Which also makes me afraid of her. It's a healthy fear though. The kind of fear I also have for the ocean, or a tiger. There's just so much to respect there. Here's what she said when she was asked about her writing routine:
Any small room with no natural light will do. As for when, I have no particular schedules... afternoons are best, but I'm too lethargic for any real regime. When I'm in the flow of something I can do a regular 9 to 5; when I don't know where I'm going with an idea, I'm lucky if I do two hours of productive work. There is nothing more off-putting to a would-be novelist to hear about how so-and-so wakes up at four in the a.m, walks the dog, drinks three liters of black coffee and then writes 3,000 words a day, or that some other asshole only works half an hour every two weeks, does fifty press-ups and stands on his head before and after the "creative moment." I remember reading that kind of stuff in profiles like this and becoming convinced everything I was doing was wrong. What's the American phrase? If it ain't broke...
I agree, Zadie Smith. But like usual, I could never have said it better than you.