One of my writing mentors-from-afar is Mary Karr. She talked in the Paris Review about praying before she writes. I was blown away when I read this, not just because of the fact that she prays (how many professional writers have you heard speak about their practice of praying before they write?), but also because she said this in an interview with the Paris Review. The Paris Review is a literary magazine, a cultural institution based in New York. It made its name by running in-depth interviews with literary writers. Beginning with E.M. Forster.
“Only connect.”—Famous sentence from Forster’s 1910 novel, Howard’s End. You might have seen the Merchant-Ivory film, but this sentence was featured in the film only subtextually. You can get this sentence only by reading the book. The link above will let you download it for free. It’s a true sentence and one I love (it is for example among my featured quotations on FB) and it’s one according to which I’ve tried to live.
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
This is what middle-class intellectual Margaret Schlegel tries to teach her new-money capitalist-husband, Henry Wilcox. But she fails. Henry is “not the sort of fellow” who, he says, fritters his strength away on such things as “love” and helping others.
For there was one quality in Henry for which she was never prepared, however much she reminded herself of it: his obtuseness. He simply did not notice things, and there was no more to be said.
Have you ever known anyone like this?—someone who stubbornly shies away from real human experience, who prefers to deal with either material or abstract life, or both? In my experience it’s usually (and, in Henry’s case, is) because of fear of actually living.
Mary Karr talks about how she and Ernest Hemingway (two drunks; one, fortunately, still alive) have both prayed to write “one true sentence.”
Forster’s two-word true sentence made a difference for millions of people.
Addicts tend to isolate.
It’s easy to isolate on the Internet. It’s difficult to dare to maintain real connection—to say, “I’d like to be your friend.” Or to ask for a phone number, and then to call, so two human beings can hear each other’s voices. When you can hear the other person’s voice, it’s hard to ask, “How are you today?” and to expect a real answer. Because the other person might ask us. And what would we say?
Millions of people are trying to find real human connection on the Internet. I began to get sober by connecting with people on the Internet. Some of these people remain, three years later, people I’d trust with the keys to my house. I’ve given them time and prayer and my own art, I’ve given them my phone number and have shared many conversations with them, I’ve shared inventory and other truth with them and have heard theirs, and yet I’ve never clapped eyes on their actual faces.
I love them, though.
But there are many, many more who read and never write in. They avoid connection.
I get lots of email. Readers email me to tell me why they read the site, and I can see they want to make some kind of connection: they tell me how they are that day, what’s happening inside their mind for the moment. Most of these people never comment on the site.
Readers don’t want to risk breaking their anonymity.
Another problem: We ALL get loads of email. We’re stretched thin. How many more connections can we sustain?
I wonder how best to help these people and myself at the same time. How best to connect. It feels a bit one-sided: they get to connect with me, but I get nothing back. As someone who grew up in an alcoholic family, part of my recovery has to be looking after myself. Making sure I take care of myself. Especially financially. Learning how to do that.
For now, I’ll write one true sentence. This is a problem that arose recently in meditation. In meditation I can’t avoid the truth. It also has to do with taking care of myself financially.
My sentence is:
I was a thief while I was using, and I’ve made only partial amends.
More on that later.
Are you capable of writing one true sentence today?