Pam: And does being open in that way to your writing spill over into other areas of your life?

Toni: I feel more friendly when I am writing, nicer to people, much more generous, also wiser. I am full of a kind of tenderness toward people and all they have to hide, all they have to construct. Not pity, not sympathy, just tenderness. Knowing that the job of being a human is so hard, and it is the only job there is left—though we keep on pretending otherwise. If I am in that good place and I run into someone I dislike, I feel more human and they seem more human.

Pam: Connected.

Toni: Precisely. I keep telling everyone whenever I get a chance that it took 60 million years to make a human eye. And before that even, it was just a little cell at the bottom of the ocean that was sensitive to light. Just think of how complicated and truly magnificent a human being is. When you think of all we are capable of—being able to love each other, and being willing to do something good in the world for no recognition...I am not saying there are not people who want to step over each other, who want to maim and kill, but that is a perversion of the beautiful things human beings are made for.

There are all sorts of ways people try to stay connected, try not to live in hate. Religion may be one of them, but for me the central thing is the writing. The art itself. Putting my intelligence and my humanity to the best possible use, and I get better because I am doing it. The writing teaches me that I can't just reach some little plateau and say that's it, this is the place. It is always a search.

Pam: And that is the good news.

Toni: That is the good news.

Pam Houston teaches writing at the University of California, Davis.


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