I’d never met him before, and he’d made me cry. What was it like to be Kazuo Ishiguro, I wondered, and to know that, at any moment, you could encounter a stranger whom you’d made cry?
I guess, as with anything: strange at first, and then gradually less strange.
He was reading at a synagogue in D.C., and I sat in one of the pews with my fingers on the embossed cover of his new book. I’d already read two others, his most famous: Never Let Me Go, and then The Remains of the Day. That had been years ago, and his words still hung with me, surfacing at random—unconscious philosophies by which I lived.
From The Remains of the Day, this line (in paraphrase): all our interactions are motivated by the fear of rejection, and by the desire for acceptance.
How devastating…how true.
Kazuo Ishiguro only read three pages from his book. Mostly he was asked questions about his writing, his process, his characters. How do you create characters, Mr. Ishiguro?
“I don’t create characters,” he said, “What I do is much simpler: I create bridges—I create relationships.” When the relationships are interesting, he explained, the characters evolve organically around them.
He used the word bridges, but I could only see a distortion of the air in my mind, like a tiny wind vortex connecting two people, shifting and palpating with their connection.
That little vortex is the centerpiece of his creativity.
In the many years I’d taken writing courses, studied craft books, talked to writers, this was something I’d never heard. But it seemed as true as anything, and so obvious. It resonated with an assertion from another book I’d read, David Castro’s Genership 1.0: Beyond Leadership Toward Liberating the Creative Soul:
“At the heart of every human aspiration to create is a relationship.”
Relationships with others, with ourselves, with some imagined audience: they motivate the impulse to create as well as the process. And it holds true. On reflection, the work I’ve done that I value most was pushed along by people who made me very happy, and frustrated me, and dashed my hopes, and made me laugh—cry—and laugh-cry. Sometimes all those things belonged to one person, to one relationship.
And then Ishiguro was asked a question at once too simple and too big: “What motivates you as a writer?” A sympathetic titter rose from the audience. None of us would like to be asked that, or know how to answer it.
But he took it bravely. “To share those relationships with others,” he said. That was it.
And then I realized that, for all the ways he’s a conscious genius, Ishiguro also perhaps accomplishes what we all seek to do, but on a much larger scale: distorting the air between he and us (in our pews, in our homes, on our buses). Building a world of unconscious philosophies.
So what happens when relationships drive our art?
We are more authentic. We are more complex. Sometimes, we make people we’ve never met cry because our relationships and their relationships are fundamentally the same: whorls of air, rejection and acceptance.