Posts Tagged ‘Fran Lebowitz’

Fran Lebowitz: “I could write in my own blood without hurting myself.”

Saturday, September 27th, 2014
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Christopher Macsurak

Funny lady – but funny ha ha or funny peculiar? (Photo: Christopher Macsurak)

Fran Lebowitz popped up on the international radar with Metropolitan Life in 1978. I know. I reviewed it for the Fleet Street rag I was working for at the time. I wondered then whether she’d have a following outside New York – I wasn’t sure how many people outside Manhattan would find such lines as “There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness and death” to be funny. She seems to have found an audience nonetheless, though her books have been few. She complains of “writer’s blockade.” A few days ago I noted how The Paris Review always asks about writers’ working habits. Well, here’s how she responded in the famous journal when, in 1993, she was asked how she writes:

Lebowitz: A Bic pen. I’m such a slow writer I have no need for anything as fast as a word processor. I don’t need anything so snappy. I write so slowly that I could write in my own blood without hurting myself. I think if there were no such thing as men, there would be no word processors. Male writers like them because they have this sneaking suspicion that writing is not the most masculine profession. This is why you have so much idiotic behavior among male writers. There are more male writers who own guns than any other profession except police officers. They like machines because it makes them seem more masculine. Well, I work on a machine. It’s almost as good as being a mechanic.

I have a real aversion to machines. I write with a pen. Then I read it to someone who writes it onto the computer. What are those computer letters made of anyway? Light? Too insubstantial. Paper, you can feel it. A pen. There’s a connection. A pen goes exactly at your speed, whereas that machine jumps. And then, that machine is waiting for you, just humming “uh-huh, yes?”

It reminds me of when a choreographer I know was creating a ballet. He was stuck, and he asked me to come help.

point-shoes

Skip the rehearsals.

I said, How could I help you choreograph a ballet?

He said, I’d like you to come and sit there while I’m doing it. You’re so judgmental I would find it helpful.

So I went to his studio several times while he was making the ballet. I saw the only job that was worse than writing. My idea of pure hell. The dancers sit there waiting for him to come up with something. It would be as if the letters were sitting there, or the words, smoking cigarettes, staring at you, as if to say, Well? OK, come on.

Plus they are paid by the minute. And a piano player is sitting there as well. Twenty-five people sitting in the room staring at you while you are thinking. I can’t believe anyone has ever made a ballet.

Interviewer: Were you expected to criticize what was going on?

Lebowitz: I was expected to sneer. I did sit there several afternoons in a row, kind of sneering. I don’t know why he needed me, because the dancers were doing that. They were finding it hard to mask their contempt, which was: why is it taking so long for him to think this up? Now, whenever I sit at the desk, I imagine the words sitting there sulking against the wall, waiting for me to think something up. He gave me such admiration for choreographers you can’t imagine. It’s just like the way I write a sentence. I write a sentence a thousand times, changing it all the time to look at it in different ways. He has to do that with living people. Human contact at its absolute worst. When people say certain choreographers are mean to their dancers, I think, Not mean enough! If I were a choreographer the thing I would most need would be a gun. Every time someone gave you one of those looks, you could just shoot them..

Read the rest here.

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Not all of us have been tortured by watching choreography in the making, but in an interview this month over at PaperMag here (in case you haven’t figured it out, this brand-new interview, not the 20-year-old one, is the reason for today’s musings), she explained a problem many Book Haven readers can relate to more readily:

books2

You see the problem.

I have made one bad real estate decision after another my entire life. Knowing this, I made a lot of effort to consult people who I believe to be intelligent in real estate. It made no difference. I made the worst decision of my life. Even if you’re moving to an apartment that turns out being OK, like last time, which was only four years ago, if you have 10,000 books, it’s a difficult undertaking. The more that you mention this to people, even if people know about it, the more you are criticized for having 10,000 books. I finally said to somebody the other day, “You know what? They are books. It’s not like I am running an opium den for children. There’s nothing wrong with that – you may not want to have that, you may think that’s crazy, but you cannot have a moral objection to this.” Even real estate agents would say to me, “If you got rid of the books, you wouldn’t need such a big apartment.” And I would say, “Yes that’s true, but what if I had four children? Would you say, ‘Why don’t you put them in storage, because you can’t really afford an apartment for them?'” Basically my whole life, I’ve paid for these books. Buying them is nothing, but housing them is hard because they need a giant apartment. People say, “Why do you need such a big apartment – do you throw a lot of parties?” No. It’s for the books. I believe books to be the perfect companion. They’re very good-looking, they’re there when you need them, but it’s not just the books. It’s where they live, which is in bookcases with glass doors. I only put them in cases with glass doors because dust is very bad for books.

“Density creates that dynamic”: Lebowitz on NYC and its writers

Sunday, January 8th, 2012
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"I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel."

"Humility is no substitute for a good personality." (Photo: Christopher Macsurak)

When I first read Fran Lebowitz‘s Metropolitan Life in 1978, it was hard not to be  captivated by truisms such as these:  “There is no such thing as inner peace. There is only nervousness or death.”

Over at The Browser, Lebowitz discusses  New York, and New York writers.

Nowadays, she seems disgrunted with the place whose ethos she personifies:  “New York has always, always, always – from the Dutch until this day – been about real estate. But it was a billion real estate people – it was not centrally planned, which it now is. In that way, Bloomberg is like Mao. One of the things that Bloomberg did was make a plan for knocking down New York and building up Marina del Rey, or whatever he thinks this is. That was never done before. …

“Present-day New York has been made to attract people who didn’t like New York. That’s how we get a zillion tourists here, especially American tourists, who never liked New York. Now they like New York. What does that mean? Does that mean they’ve suddenly become much more sophisticated? No. It means that New York has become more like the places they come from. That won’t last.”What is immutable about New York is that it’s always changing and it’s relatively hard to live here – relative to the places where people drive from mall to country club. It’s expensive, it’s not necessarily clean and you have to walk. So I think, in the end, the people who will be in New York are the people who deserve to be here – people like me.”

And she still defends smoking:

Urban economist Ed Glaeser told me that cities should be credited for humanity’s greatest hits – from Athenian philosophy through Facebook – because cities enable us to casually exchange ideas, information and inspiration. Do you second this opinion?

I certainly second that opinion. Density creates that dynamic. You don’t get that in Los Angeles, I don’t care who claims it. I don’t care how many rich people build museums in LA. To me, it’s not a city if people spend half their day in a car.

Has Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s smoking ban cut down on the kind of casual exchanges that help New York happen?

I said directly to Michael Bloomberg, “You know what sitting around in bars and restaurants, talking and smoking and drinking, is called, Mike?” He said, “What?” I said, “It’s called the history of art.”

Read the whole thing here.  Or you can stick with the one-liners:

“Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publications.”

“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.”

“Success didn’t spoil me, I’ve always been insufferable.”