The lesson of Pamuk’s father

by DRM

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him, and the world that makes him who he is: when I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition, it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward; amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man – or this woman – may use a typewriter, profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I have done for 30 years. As he writes, he can drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time he may rise from his table to look out through the window at the children playing in the street, and, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or he can gaze out at a black wall. He can write poems, plays, or novels, as I do. All these differences come after the crucial task of sitting down at the table and patiently turning inwards. To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy. As I sit at my table, for days, months, years, slowly adding new words to the empty page, I feel as if I am creating a new world, as if I am bringing into being that other person inside me, in the same way someone might build a bridge or a dome, stone by stone. The stones we writers use are words. As we hold them in our hands, sensing the ways in which each of them is connected to the others, looking at them sometimes from afar, sometimes almost caressing them with our fingers and the tips of our pens, weighing them, moving them around, year in and year out, patiently and hopefully, we create new worlds.

Orhan Pamuk, excerpted from his Nobel acceptance speech

I have struggled to keep building with these words that are stones my entire life.

The struggle has been filled with doubt, uncertainty and judgment. These have been the elements of a cancer that chokes off my ability to write.

When I can bring myself to go off alone, I find great satisfaction and I feel like I am doing good work. What is that good work? I can share the things I see in a way that makes sense to others, that shows something new. And, I can make sense for myself of the world around me.

But I struggle with the fear of taking chances. I can tell when the fear is gaining the upper hand. I start writing in circles, the language becomes more abstract and flowery, and I lose the pace of discovering things.

I get anxious then, because I worry that the fear will win and take the writing away from me again.

I don’t want that.

It wouldn’t matter to anyone but me. There’s no imperative that I write, no destiny that I need to fulfill. I have a good and full life, filled with unimaginable gifts of love. But I would let myself down if I couldn’t write. I would walk away from who I am at my very core.

It is an odd thing to know that your truest essence will make no enduring mark on the world. But that is not a reason to deny your truest essence. I have learned that, if nothing else, and when the fear rises I try to push back and hold on to the habit of writing that I have worked hard to win.

I read Pamuk’s speech with tremendous recognition and appreciation. I feel the same pride and uncertainty. I know what it is like to hear other writers’ voices in your work. I know what it means to question whether you’ll ever do good work, but to feel compelled to continue, to finish what you started, to bring the world to life, regardless of the doubts and struggle. I’ve experienced the evocations of a father’s private world to a son’s imagination.

But I am not Pamuk, no pale shadow of his genius. I am Pamuk’s father. I am a person who writes, this blog is my satchel, and my hope is his father’s wry smile.