I’m smudgy with jet lag this morning, back from Crete and a week researching my novel-in-progress among the ruins of the Minoans’ Knossos Palace, circa 1900 B.C. I was thinking about how to retell the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Then I blinked, and was navigating the airport at Charles de Gaulle International. Blinked, and found myself typing these lines, the ones you’re reading, in the second-floor office of my house (circa 1900 A.D.) in suburban Salt Lake, feeling as if I were floating in the green clouds of foliage outside my window. But what I was really doing, am really doing, despite my intent when I awoke to catch up on the dishearteningly large clot of email in my inbox, is remembering Alfred North Whitehead’s remark in Science and the Modern World: “One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering. Perhaps this is why the armour-plated monsters fared badly.”
That’s it exactly, at least for animals like me, which is to say writers, which is to say artists, which is to say not those, necessarily, who make poems or paintings, but those committed to remaining curious. Those wanting, that is, to make a life project out of learning how to pay attention, again and again. The power of letting oneself stray and thereby enter new conditions, figuring out how to adapt to them, whether we’re talking about an unfamiliar language or an unfamiliar country, a novel by Samuel Beckett or Anne Carson or any five minutes of sound by Miles Davis or Anton Webern: the rest is armor-plated monsters. I blinked, that is, and found myself sitting at a bistro in Heraklion overlooking a Venetian fortress and fishing boats jumbled in the turquoise harbor, thinking I was thinking about something else, when the end of my novel-in-progress abruptly visited me, and I knew the only thing I had to do after that was spend the next year or three blind-manning toward it one paragraph or, if lucky, maybe one page a day. And if that’s not what happiness feels like, I’m lost.
—Lance Olsen is the author of eleven novels, one hypertext, four critical studies, four fiction collections, and two textbooks about writing innovative fiction. He has won the Berlin Prize and the Pushcart Prize. His most recent book is How to Unfeel the Dead: New and Selected Fictions