On Friday’s episode of “Bill Moyers Journal,” Moyers says he lost a few nights’ sleep staying up to finish Louise Erdrich’s new book, “Shadow Tag” (same thing happened to me, actually). The preternaturally elegant Minneapolis writer sat down with the venerable TV journalist to talk about her life as a writer, and she reveals a couple of interesting things: One, she claims she never suffers from writer’s block. Her prodigious output gives credence to that claim; she’s plainly busy enough, raising her children and running Birchbark Books in Minneapolis’ Kenwood neighborhood. She has to be an awfully efficient conjurer to also write books at a pretty steady clip.
“I make myself go upstairs, where I write, whenever I can, no matter how — one thing about this is I never have writer’s block, because I — if I went up there and I had writer’s block, I think I’d lose my mind. You know, I have to get up to my papers and my books and my notebooks. I jot things down all the time. I just keep going,” she told Moyers. And then she read a poem of sorts, a list called “Advice to myself.”
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs at the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew in a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls under the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzle
or the doll’s tiny shoes, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic.
Go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementoes.
Don’t sort the paperclips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don’t read it, don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience.
So, aspiring writers, take that to heart.
She also spoke about the differences between Ojibwe and Catholic heavens. Here’s what the Ojibwe get: “You can gamble. You can make love. You can eat. You — it’s like a world where there’s no sad consequence to any pleasurable thing you do. It’s a happy — it’s a world like this one, but you don’t have the pain.” As for Catholics? Their heaven “doesn’t seem like much fun,” says Erdrich.
She didn’t say much about her new book, and its obvious similarities — real or perceived — to the marriage she shared with Michael Dorris. Then again, perhaps she already said enough, or even too much, in the book itself, a psychological thriller unlike any of her other works. Erdrich talked a bit about the Catholic practice of confession, and even showed off to the TV cameras a reclaimed confession booth installed in her bookstore. Maybe her thoughts on her marriage and Dorris’ death were put into the box of this book. Or maybe not.
The program is archived online now, in case you missed it.