Sunday, October 26, 2008

Interviw with Charlotte Bacon-Turning the Page to Bali

Charlotte Bacon: Turning the page to Bali
By Uma Anyar
Writer Charlotte Bacon has recently moved to Bali with her husband Brad Choyt, the Director of the new Green School in Sibang Kaja, near Mambal. She will be participating in the fourth Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, October 14-19, 2008. Ms. Bacon has published three novels, Lost Geography, Split Estate, There is Room for You and a collection of short stories, A Private State, for which she received the PEN/ Hemmingway award.
Bacon taught Creative Writing at The University of New Hampshire but left mainstream academia to help create a more relevant and ecologically conscious form of education, which aims to serve the needs and talents of the “whole child.” Sustainability on every level is the goal of the school. The international program will “combine rigorous academic content taught through a holistic approach that aims to inspire and enhance all of a child’s capacities.” The Kul-Kul campus is buzzing with workers building bamboo houses and classrooms, landscaping and planting vegetable gardens on the 8-hectare site. The visionaries for the school, John and Cynthia Hardy, are also providing the funding. The school will open September 1st with 100 students, one of who is Charlotte’s son, Tom.
Charlotte Bacon is an intelligent, strong, highly ethical person, who wants a better world and is willing to embrace a challenging undertaking because she believes the Green School will make a difference. It was inspiring to talk with her about writing, education, motherhood and the future of publishing.
UA “Will you be teaching Creative Writing at the Green School?”
CB “No, I want to work behind the scenes, be in a supportive roll and assist where needed. I don’t want to talk about fiction anymore; I only want to make it. I’d rather have a life that helped me to think richly about my art rather than talk constantly about it. Right now I am passionate about the Green School and the potential of what is possible here in Bali. We will have twenty percent of all students on scholarship. Amazing things are possible here. I love writing but I have come to see it as almost ornamental. But that is not what the planet needs. I probably will not publish large size editions of my next book. The cost in trees is not worth it. Publishing will be changing. I wanted to plant bamboo to offset the paper in my last book. Do you know I would have to plant 250,000 seedlings to offset one book? One book! That is not sustainable. It isn’t even the paper and the oil to produce the book but the gas to ship it, the gas and energy to drive to the store or the library to get the book. That sort of thing has to counted.”
UA “What about the internet as a publishing venue?”
CB “Yes, I think we will be publishing artisanally, by which I mean publishing an edition of beautiful, well-crafted books that will go to the Library of Congress and to private collectors and other special venues. The rest will be on the Internet and it will be downloadable. Maybe paperbacks will hang on as they are less harmful to the environment, but hard cover books are dead. Look at what has happened to songs, to images. Everything is downloadable. That is what people want.”
UA “How will this change the nature of creative writing?”
CB “People no longer want long novels. They want it fast, succinct something to read on the cell phone. What I do is a dying art, an old craft. People still want fiction, story, but they want it easily codifiable. Simplistic. Fast. They don’t want the long, drawn out leisure of a finely developed character.”
UA “But this is a loss for the whole culture. Novels are invaluable! It is easier to find thoughtful, meaningful encounters with characters in books than it sometimes is with live people who are too busy to be present or aware.”
CB “Yes, a terrible loss. There is much that fiction writers have to say about how to live a life. Novels can aid in private healing. Books are vital; we need to relearn how to think more complexly. Reading is part of a vibrant life. To hold a book in your hands is important, but we are in a critical time and it is hard to find the proper balance between the planet’s needs and our own. I know what I do is an old art. It is destined for obsolescence. It is just like gold gilding and we are in critical times ecologically.”
UA “Charlotte, for me this future you are describing feels hallow and deprived of the things I hold most dear.”
CB “Yes, me too. I’m sorry to say all of this, but it is coming.”
UA “What made you become a writer?”
CB “I loved language, words. I think this is something you either have or you don’t, also writing helped me to sort out what I thought about things as I was growing up. Don De’Lillo once said ‘I write so that I find out what I am thinking.’ I feel that too. Language can be a springboard for meaning. I write ten pages for every one I keep. The writing process is looking for the underneath of meaning; recursion, returning in little steps until I have it. This sounds mystical but it isn’t. It’s a lot of hard, silent work. It’s sitting alone in a room and doing it. But now I have become monkish, simpler about writing. I do it when I can. I do as my kids are crawling over me. I do it while others are talking. I just do it. I am a mother and a wife, not only a writer.”
UA “ What do you like the most about writing?”
CB “Besides language, I love story and most of all that I can connect with people silently when I am not present. Storytelling, I like being part of something that has an ancient history.”
UA “What do you like the least?”
CB “Publishing, or rather, promoting. I don’t like selling. I don’t want to be in front of the work. I want it to speak for itself. But that is not how the market place works.”
UA “How will you be participating in the URWF?”
CB “I will be offering a workshop on writing and materials, reading from my book and participating in a panel discussion.”
UA “I think your readers will enjoy listening and learning from you and I’m sure you will attract some new readers who will like spending time with your silent voice on the still available, paper page.”

1 comment:

phil said...

What a great article in the July 7th NY Times!

It speaks eloquently to the sense of great loss that most Americans experience when having to live in featureless "build-it-and-they-will-come" suburbs. There is indeed a lot to learn from places like Bali especially as so many of us are forced to live out our lives in places that have been designed to wring as much profit as possible for the developers and accommodate automobiles to the exclusion of all else.

Its long past due for us to re-think and re-shape the places we live, learn and work in. Ask any wildlife biologist what makes for a successful species and they will tell you all the time "Habitat".

The same applies for our species. Maybe the real estate collapse isn't such a bad thing in the long run if it gets us to think much harder and more sensitively about the design of the places we call home.

Phil Allsopp, RIBA, FRSA
transpolis global
Scottsdale, Arizona