Four Questions

Four Questions with Carey Wallace

Everyday Liturgy: I really enjoyed your novel The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, but there is this other piece of your writing I didn’t enjoy as much: your essay in Comment “On Discipline.” That article has been nagging me to set aside time to be creative and write (I’m writing this during one of my two hour blocks). It’s like a ghost that haunts me and whispers “be disciplined” every time I watch more than an hour of TV.How are ways you have found to keep the habit of discipline fresh and alive?

Carey Wallace: The best way to keep discipline fresh is simply not to break it. When we work consistently, our work creates its own momentum, so that even when we encounter hassles or resistance, we’re willing to fight through them because we can’t wait to finish the chapter, or song, or painting we’ve been working on. That creative urge won’t sweep us towards creation every single day: that’s why we need discipline, for the days when it doesn’t. But when we apply discipline consistently on the hard days, we’ll find that there are fewer and fewer of them as the power of our work, and our ability to access it, becomes stronger and stronger.

That said, a disciplined life is not a life of constant work. It’s a life of choices, carried out. We make choices about what to work on, and when. But we also make choices about when to stop work and rest. If we make choices about when to work and rest, rather than being prompted by anxiety, guilt, or exhaustion, both our rest and our work are sweeter, because we aren’t torn by whether we should be doing one when we’re in the midst of the other.

I love television, and rest is important. We just shouldn’t be watching television when we’ve committed to work. And we shouldn’t keep working when we really need to rest.

EL: The publishing world is changing at a rapid pace. How do you see your work as a writer changing in the next few years?

Carey: Jorge Luis Borges talks about the fact that all good writing, throughout time, has so much in common that you could easily believe it was all written by the same author. It’s stunning how “modern” Greek plays seem — even the jokes are still funny, thousands of years later. And it’s amazing how timeless some “modern” authors feel, from the moment their work comes into print. The machinery of publication may make it easier or harder for a season to get read or get paid, but I don’t think the real work of a writer ever changes. And I believe good work will always find a lasting place.

EL: You’ve been working on this new project Songs About Books, could you tell us a little about it?

Songs About Books is an EP of songs that I wrote and recorded about the books I love, in celebration of the paperback release of The Blind Contessa’s New Machine. It includes tracks about Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams, and So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell. It’s my way of saying “no artist works alone” and pointing back to some of the writers who have lit my own way. It’s not for sale, but I’ve been making it available for trade. If anyone would like a copy, they can just send me something they’ve made. So far, I’ve received fine art, a knit bunny, a handmade bag, homemade cookies, paper flowers, a ceramic tea cup, photographs, jewelry, and dozens of other amazing items. I’ll be posting them in a gallery on my site soon, but in the meantime you can find out more information about the project here on my website and email me for trade directions at theblindcontessa[at]gmail[dot]com.