Running and writing
Joyce Carol Oates (in an interview with Grace Waltman and Jessica McCort) talks about running and imagination.
Joyce Carol Oates: Oh yes? Are you a runner?
Grace Waltman: I am a runner, and I like to be in movement.
Oates: Just like me.
Waltman: So I was really struck by your experience, when you that you were in London, but you were dreaming of Detroit, even though all the while you were actually running in Hyde Park (in London, England). I was interested in how a person can envision one geographic location, even while they’re in another one. And, so, my question is — for example, if you might be running — do you find yourself more aware of the surroundings you’re envisioning, or [of] those that are actually around you? And, how might that function in your creative process?
Oates: Well, it’s kind of a complex question because the act of running is a really a manifold. Sometimes you’re working on a problem that’s formal, and you’re looking for language, or you’re looking for a way into a text that hasn’t been written yet. Sometimes when you’re running, you’re looking for a way to edit the text that’s all finished. And so, these are kind of formal preoccupations. I find the act of running very meditative and almost trancelike. I don’t like the treadmill nearly as much as running, but I can do the treadmill if it’s really cold out. I almost go into a kind of trance, and it’s very good for figuring things out spatially — the way the text itself is like a paragraph set that maybe could be reshuffled or eliminated, and that somehow is a very different sort of activity from running and envisioning a different land — or cityscape. And, I think, probably, I don’t do that much of envisioning another landscape. I tend to be very interested in what I’m looking at and what I’m seeing, and I find landscape to have a spiritual, or psychological, or emotional value in the text, and that becomes like a character. So, my apprehension of, say, the city of Detroit, would probably not be somebody else’s. You know, I’m looking at it as a landscape or a cityscape of heightened drama in which something’s about to happen — as some of the backdrop. But we know that a landscape or a cityscape is basically an entity that has no animation in itself. You know, we’re bringing to it, or we’re projecting onto it. It’s a very interesting question. I often feel that the solution to a formal problem will be found on a run, or at the end of a run, or coming back from a run, whereas if I stayed home at my desk, then I wouldn’t get it. And sometimes when I travel — I’m getting off an airplane in a different city and walking very quickly along in an airport — I sort of feel that I’m coming to something, and sometimes I have these strange little revelations that help me with a knotty problem. And so I think, though I’m not a mystical person at all — I’m actually quite skeptical — so I think that if I had stayed home and hadn’t come to St. Louis, you know, would I have figured out about how to end the story? Because I figured something out about an hour ago, and I felt as though it was kind of waiting for me here in St. Louis. But if I’d stayed home, then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten it, maybe ever, or not so quickly.