Mary Gaitskill

Literary Birthday – 11 November – Mary Gaitskill

Happy Birthday, Mary Gaitskill, born 11 November 1954.


  1. It’s not my job as a writer to tell you how to feel.
  2. Stories mimic life like certain insects mimic leaves and twigs. Stories are about all the things that might’ve, could’ve, or would’ve happened, encrowded around and giving density and shape to undeniable physical events and phenomena. They are the rich, unseen underlayer of the most ordinary moments.
  3. To read well is an act of dynamic receptivity that creates a profound sense of exchange, and I like being on both ends of it.
  4. When I start writing a story, I don’t feel like I’m integrating anything; I feel like I’m marching through mud. But at least some of the time when there comes a moment when I feel I’m carrying all the elements I’ve just described and more in a big, clear bowl. It doesn’t feel like I’m containing them. It feels like I’m bringing them into being and letting them be, exactly as they are.
  5. Writing is…. being able to take something whole and fiercely alive that exists inside you in some unknowable combination of thought, feeling, physicality, and spirit, and to then store it like a genie in tense, tiny black symbols on a calm white page. If the wrong reader comes across the words, they will remain just words. But for the right readers, your vision blooms off the page and is absorbed into their minds like smoke, where it will re-form, whole and alive, fully adapted to its new environment.
  6. My ambition was to live like music.
  7. Most of us have not been taught how to be responsible for our thoughts and feelings. I see this strongly in the widespread tendency to read books and stories as if they exist to confirm how we are supposed to be, think, and feel. …Ladies and gentlemen, please. Stop asking, ‘What am I supposed to feel?’ Why would an adult look to me or any other writer to tell him or her what to feel? You’re not supposed to feel anything. You feel what you feel. Where you go with it is your responsibility. If a writer chooses to aggressively let you know what he or she feels, where you go with it is still your responsibility.
  8. There are no pure people.
  9. Of course there’s something there; unfortunately, there’s always something ‘there’. Something you will one day be sorry you saw.
  10. Each book was an invisible tunnel leading to a phantom world that existed silently parallel to real life, into which one could vanish then emerge without anyone knowing.
  11. Everybody has their sadness. And most people are scared of it.
  12. Newsflash: Real humans are connected with one another whether they like it or not. They are awkward and dumb and wave their arms around if they get upset enough; real humans all have personal touchstones that are ‘off the map’ because there is no map. We are so maplessly, ridiculously uncool that whole cultures and subcultures, whole personalities even, have been built to hide our ridiculousness from ourselves.

Mary Gaitskill is an American author of essays, short stories and novels. Her novel, Veronica was a National Book Award Finalist.

Source for Image

David Shankbone, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 11th November 2014