Staying up late with A.L. Kennedy

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I’ve mentioned before how much I adore A.L. Kennedy’s columns on writing in the Guardian. There are many people who post items on this topic, and not very many are successful at it. Either they sound too academic or preachy or remote from anything that we care about.

But not Kennedy — her pieces have always managed to blend the personal and the practical in a way that leaves you feeling inspired, and realistic, about the tasks ahead of you.

And I’ve been dealing with withdrawal symptoms ever since they stopped appearing last year.

What did I really expect? That she would want — or need — to keep dissecting aspects of her experience as a writer for my benefit forever? Did I think she’d forsake her fiction just for that (her new book, by the way, is the story collection “All The Rage.“)

Oh, c’mon now.

Instead, the Scottish author’s ken has gotten much wider with a new piece that appeared in the past week at the Guardian. With “Insomnia and me,” she talks about something that troubles plenty of people at bedtime.

Her writing life is still there, skirting the edges of the column and informing much of what she says. In a short space, she also offers some affirming perspectives that sound like they’ve been truly hard-won, not platitudinal:

…[T]ime alone in bed with an unreliable mind is still a battle. When I can’t sleep I recite the fears that would harm me most: harm to the man I love, or my mother, ill health, bad ill health, penury, death. It’s horrible and pointless. So now I try to use the inventory to rehearse my appreciation for the good I have about me, to promise I will seize the day. What we love can be lost, so why not love it a lot while it’s here?

In the end, this column, like all the rest, reminds us that what the best pieces do is communicate and connect us. And the best writers, like Kennedy, very rarely stay settled in one space, one topic, when their curiosity is too great and their voices are pulling them somewhere else.

I’m just glad she’s back.

For more of Kennedy, find the link in the blogroll here at Call of the Siren.

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4 responses

  1. My goodness, you’re been prolific while my back was turned! Spring has arrived full force, and while the flowers take advantage of it, so must the varnishers. But I’m feeling a bit more caught up, which gives me the pleasure of reading.

    Kennedy’s observations are so interesting to me. They reflect the experience many of my friends report. The minute their head hits the pillow, they’re wide awake and constructing armageddon in their minds. I’ve already a friend or two in mind to pass this on to, in hopes that it may be of some comfort to know they aren’t alone. (I’m no comfort at all. The night I lay awake worrying will be the first. My routine is: head, pillow, sleep.)

    What strikes me most about the paragraph you quoted is the last sentence. It beautifully recapitulates the point made by Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his farewell letter. Our time is short — we should make good and loving use of it.

  2. I’m trying to make up for lost time, Shoreacres! Truthfully, posting has been therapeutic for me. It feels good to create anything with words, even on a tiny canvas. That’s why I went back to the Dante book, among other things, and wanted to give it attention now when I couldn’t a couple of months ago.

    Kennedy’s column is in fact part of a larger series that the Guardian is running. They’ve asked a variety of writers to describe their struggles with insomnia. Let your friends know. After they’ve read Kennedy’s piece, they should find several others, too.

    I like your reference to Garcia Marquez, which is a reminder that we lost him. But I’m glad we had him around for so long.

    Your final comment about good and loving use makes me think of something else, but I’ll add it to your comment on my Wondercon post….

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