The Living Muse
Andre Dubus III is an American writer of fiction and memoir. His 1999 novel House of Sand and Fog lounged for 20 weeks on The New York Times’s Bestseller List in 2000 and 2001 and became a feature film in 2003. His 2008, based-on-real-events novel The Garden of Last Days explores the final days of one of the 9/11 terrorists, who chose to spend them indulging in the sins of the West. His 2012 memoir Townie is a profound meditation on the nature of violence. Born in 1959, Dubus obtained his bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Texas. Before succeeding as a writer, he worked odd jobs as a carpenter, bounty hunter, and bartender.
Question: What drives your creativity?
Andre Dubus III: My beautiful wife of 20 years. Yeah, she is. She's actually a dancer, a modern dancer, and yeah actually my wife Fontaine is my first reader, because she's brutal. She's brutal. If something doesn't work, she'll say, "This is really not working," and she won't say it nicely. Which I respect. She's a very powerful woman, she's a choreographer and a dancer and she has a dance company; she also paints and sculpts and she writes pretty good stuff herself. You know, it's interesting, you know, we're blessed with three kids but when we come back to just being a couple we realize consistently that one of our main, probably our main bond, is that we both have this daily desire to try to make something, to try to create something, and even though we're in different forms and we do it with different materials, it's a really satisfying marriage in that respect. I don't have to explain and she doesn’t have to explain to me, you know, things about the, you know, the soul about it. She says something interesting, you know. Writers are weird people, you know. Where if I have a bad writing day or a bad writing month where it's just coming in a difficult, slow way, I'll assume that I'm not a writer and I never was and anything I ever wrote was a lie and it's all crap. And she said, "You know, you writers are weird, you'll have a bad stretch and you'll think you're not writers. I'll just have a bad day at choreography and think I'll do better tomorrow." She says, "I don't know why you writers all of a sudden think you're not writers." And I don't know what that is. That's a very interesting, strange, I don't know, dichotomy.
Question: Do writers have an uneven amount of self-loathing?
Andre Dubus III: You know that's really a good question. Do writers have an uneven amount of self loathing? I know there's a lot of self loathing involved. I'll tell you, man, you know, something I've written could get 25 really nice reviews and one bad one and I'll only believe the bad one. As a matter of fact, it's the only one I'll read. Because that's the only one I really believe. And you know, it might have to do with-- you know what it might have to do with. I used to not like the word "author," I thought I sounded a little bourgeois and elitist, I prefer the word writer, which sounds like the rest of us, carpenter, plumber, writer, just a worker with words. But then I looked up the word author and now I like it. Because author actually means the originator or beginner of something. And I think that when, well, I know that when you originate or begin something, and we're all authors actually in a lot of ways in our daily lives, but when you originate or begin something, you're kind of stepping out on thin ice and you're out on that, little, that-- you're walking out on air and it makes you insecure. It makes you feel vulnerable, it makes you feel naked. Here's one thing I found myself telling my writing students: If you walk around throughout the day feeling vulnerable, naked, slightly nasty, stupid and wrong, you're probably writing pretty well. You're probably going someplace deep. If you're walking around feeling kind of sexy and talented and special, you're probably not going deep enough at all.
Recorded on: 6/11/08
Although writer Andre Dubus describes his wife as his inspiration and harshest reader, his greatest critic is himself.
When adults are challenged to behave like adults, by a child, they can go in one of two directions.
A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.
- Bezmenov described this process as "a great brainwashing" which has four basic stages.
- The first stage is called "demoralization" which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
- According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.
When it comes to scientific theory, (or your personal life) be sure to question everything.
- The theories we build to navigate the world, both scientifically and in our personal lives, all contain assumptions. They're a critical part of scientific theory.
- Cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman urges us to always question those assumptions. In this way, by challenging ourselves, we come to a deeper understanding of the task at hand.
- Historically, humans have come to some of our greatest discoveries by simply questioning assumed information.