In her new book, subtitled How to Write with Spontaneity and Control — And Live to Tell the Tale, Alice Mattison, poet, teacher, story writer, and author of six novels, explores this delicate balance between surrender and control, using the metaphor of a flying kite and its restraining string. As a student of nuance and an admirer of dimensionality in both writing and life, I was intrigued to discover how Mattison might propose negotiating this fragile tension.
The Kite and the String does not purport to be either a DIY manual or memoiristic musing. Rather, it is a guide to the stages of writing, exploring an approach which is essentially practical, human, and hopeful — words not readily ascribed to the experience of many of us lost in the bowels of our novels. Instead, the words that come to mind include fraught, quixotic, and foreboding.
But to the dedicated student of celebrity arcana, these books have more to offer than their scattershot quality suggests. Despite their varied themes and the range of temperaments that animate them, they are most interesting when viewed through one particular lens: as a weird little reflection of a public person’s inner life, part whimsy, part memoir, part ego.
I thought that moving to New Zealand would turn me into a new person—someone much more sophisticated and adult. Instead of staying up half the night guiltily clicking through slideshows of Britney Spears’ most daring outfits, I’d read only serious publications. I wouldn’t sleep in until 10 am; I’d get up at dawn to hike for hours through pristine countryside. I’d become so worldly and enlightened that American graduate schools would rue the day they’d rejected me.
Instead, I moved to New Zealand and remained myself. But going there did help me shake some major illusions about what it means to be an adult.
But while the pricing behind various types of tomatoes might be confounding to those of us who don’t live and breathe farm economics, “random” it is not. Digging a bit deeper into the various small and large costs farmers incur—and the factors (like weather, imports from neighboring countries, the supply and demand of grocery stores) that affect what they make per acre—offers a glimpse into the deeply complex economic Jenga that farmers play every season, but that, until now, I hadn’t thought enough about.