Secret Lives

Another quote that rattles around in my head all the time, from the Paris Review interview with James Thurber (which I first read in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series, but which is now available as a PDF download as part of the magazine’s amazing DNA of Literature project, here):

I never quite know when I’m not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, “Dammit, Thurber, stop writing.” She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, “Is he sick?” “No,” my wife says, “he’s writing something.”

Both moments are sadly funny in a Walter Mitty way, but also depressing as hell when you think about the fact that Thurber, at 60, was almost completely blind:

I have to do it that way on account of my eyes. I still write occasionally—in the proper sense of the word—using black crayon on yellow paper and getting perhaps twenty words to the page. My usual method, though, is to spend the mornings turning over the text in my mind. Then in the afternoon, between two and five, I call in a secretary and dictate to her. I can do about two thousand words. It took me about ten years to learn.