Last Week: Go Creative… With Stephen King

This is an edited version of John Patrick Shanley’s acceptance speech when honoured with the 2013 Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award Honoree.
John Patrick Shanley

John Patrick Shanley: “To be a writer is like you get to sleep in a glass bed. It’s beautiful, it’s hard, it’s cold, but you get to see down, way down.”

I love you all. I’m miserable with love for you. I want to move in with you. I want to stay with you until you die. And I want to bury you. I hate you, too.

The paradox. The contradiction. I love ya. I hate ya. In short, did I mention that I’m Irish? What is a man who would blow up the world because he loves it so much? He’s Irish.

Why do so many Irish people write?

So they won’t kill you. But that’s obvious. So they won’t kill you and have sex with everybody in your house. That’s why we write, we Irish.

I know I shouldn’t generalize. Stick to what you know they say. Why do I write? Many reasons.

History.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

A family of birds fell in love with a girl and would not let her be. She had to live in a birdcage to keep them out. One morning, she left the gate open and the birds got into the cage with her. So she leapt out and shut the door. When you visit her, all seems normal. She is in her chair. Birds chirp in a cage. But when you know the history, what you see is different.

To be a writer is to reveal history. And to make connections, metaphors. A good metaphor is like a trellis to which new ideas can cling and grow; it is a structure that invites life. Sometimes I think to be a writer is like you get to sleep in a glass bed. It’s beautiful, it’s hard, it’s cold, but you get to see down, way down maybe.

Another world.

Thinking about talking today, I was unpacking my head last night, looking for stuff, and I realized that my head was packed all wrong. You know, like at the supermarket. Somebody packed the squishiest stuff at the bottom of my head. My childhood was down under all these marriages and cars and stuff, and it looked… well, it didn’t look good. Why does God put pack childhood at the bottom of the bag? That’s my first question for you.

Not that I’m going to talk about my childhood.

Lucky you.

Why Write?

I write because it is the day after some other day, and as usual I’m looking for the hidden valley or green shoots or code or balcony or question or messenger or bible angel… or you. Maybe I’m a search party looking for you by writing and the letters are falling out of the words like sand into the bottom half of Time, and the window by the desk is broken, and the sweet air is coming in, and is that your scent reimagining everything in my world?

Are you the organizing template that changes how I see the coming hours? Are you the Pilgrim sailing into my Plymouth, mounted on some mottled Pegasus, intent on upending this chaos Life?

The idea of your arrival turns my inner rubble into castles, chapels, walled gardens, ornamental vistas. In short, it is for you, folks, that I bother to become intelligible.

But not yet. A massive dictionary is hurled down by some ineloquent god; it busts open and the language pieces gather around you into poetry and revelation.

We don’t know what role we play, when the day comes looking for its purpose. Me writing is me searching for you.

Rip paper. Spatter ink. Scrawl a word. Screw it to the paper. Stop. Ignore the heart. Ignore the brain. Find the stone you stand upon. Say it all. Then you’re gone. That’s the writer’s way.

Or say nothing. Create a silence as frightening as a black ripped hole of a nightmare. Watch it grow like a dark forest leaning over the road. Walk that road till you yourself turn into a dark river, dangerous to ford. Travel on. The edge of dawn appears like gold abandoned by retreating bandits. A steel grey trout darts in your freezing waters. You emerge from Winter and the Night. The silence you created becomes summer, the trees bear fruit, and THAT’s the writer’s way, too.

You don’t understand everything I’m saying? Relax. You’re not supposed to. Take the ride. I am.

To speak straight on for a moment, I have avoided writing about the Irish most of my life. I did this because I wanted to be an American writer, not an Irish American writer. If you’re an Irish American writer, the critics discount 46 percent of your talent as a natural genetic blemish. But now, as my hair goes grey or just goes, I’ve decided it’s time to admit I’m Irish, and to write about the Irish. My father came from Westmeath when he was 24. He’d be a 107 now so it’s good he’s dead or he’d frighten everybody. But

he made it to 95 he did, and a great man he was. Grew up on a farm that’s still in my family. I was just there a couple of months ago. The cows ran away from me.

They saw the city on my face.

My grandmother used to say that Ireland would sink into the sea 7 years before the end of the world, and I think she was right. When Ireland is no more, when the Irish perspective abandons the human experience, I think the end will be upon us. I have Ireland on Google Alert so I will know instantly when Ireland has sunk and the final countdown has begun.

I will immediately chase down as many beautiful women with lamb chops and sheep’s eyes as I can manage, and try to write once more with flame and blood my personal experience of this beautiful life that is so fleeting and so fine.

Thank you for honoring me. I value the boost. My experience of life radiates outward from a central core. It violates my skin like the spokes on a sheriff’s star, exceeds my boundary of flesh, and affects others. Each of you in turn radiate outward as well, and the effects of your good will in this case overstep and crosshatch my personal fire. We are a cosmos, balls of light, and in the case of the Irish, gas.

I have always perceived that my individual existence is in part illusory. We are all over each other, covering and permeating each other with lights and wind and magnetism and spirit. I do not believe I will ever die until everyone of you is dead, and those beyond this room and this time have perished also.

I don’t know what happens after humanity flickers out.

The party’s over I guess. The cumulative effort is accomplished. We will retreat into a dark fist until creation broods anew and takes some other turn. It’s pointless to peer too far down the curving corridors of time. Now is all.

~~~

Next Week: Go Creative… With Haruki Murakami