Josh Ritter: What I Know for Sure About Certainty...and Uncertainty
As told to Leigh Newman
August 04, 2011
This celebrated singer and author of the tender and unexpected novel Bright's Passage tells us what he's learned from life on the road—and on the page.
1. As humans, our most valuable quality is confusion. You should always leave some room open to live in the real world, which is completely nonsensical most the time. I find that most of the time if we're being honest with ourselves, we don't know what's going on. And that's an important place to be.
2. Everybody has an Arctic. Starting out on something new—be it a book or a sculpture or a song or anything—feels really exciting...and it feels foolhardy and crazy to think you could do it for your life. But that's the beauty more than anything else, that excitement of starting out across this blank white void.
3. Two risks worth taking: Slow-cooking a chicken and skinny-dipping. It doesn't get much better than that.
4. Stand on the chair. Back in 2000, I was at a bar. Somebody had a guitar and he said, "Sing a song." It was a packed little bar, and it wasn't for music. And as I started playing a song, I saw an empty chair in front of me. I thought, "I could stand on that chair and sing, and that would be amazing." But I didn't. I was too intimidated. But since, I have always thought about that chair. And it's almost Shakespearean to me: Whatever it is you're doing, you've got to stand on the chair.
5. Remember the Five Days. Every time I sit down to start a new piece, I think, "That's it; I'm done. I've dried up." It's always terrible. I make people's lives hell. Then after five days of writing nothing, I finally say something that really matters to me. Then it's great. But I forget the five-day lesson every single time.
6. My one rule to live by: Get embarrassed and move on.
7. My other rule to live by: Never sleep with your feet over the edge of the bed. (You never know...something nameless and scary might decide to nibble on them.)
8. Most of all: There's uncertainty in our lives. At night, you just have to go to sleep and have faith in the fairly large certainty that you'll wake up in the morning. Fear only has as much power as we give it space.