Minneapolis Skyline

Sex in Minnesota

Mississippi River, Minneapolis

In the Minnesota country

"The Hunger for MORE: The Alchemy of Sex, Landscape, and Literature"

This presentation was my final responsibility as the Minnesota Mentor for the Loft Literary Center's Mentor Series. Set in the lovely sculpture garden of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, within view of the beautiful Catholic basilica, the stage for the Sunday afternoon event was a moveable classroom (looked like a cross between a high-tech trailer and a spaceship) that fully opened on one side. As I was about to begin speaking, a female cadre of my former students arrived who, paying homage to my background, were outfitted in large floppy hats and what could only be described as frilly "Sunday" dresses. I finally stopped laughing enough to start speaking. I was a little nervous about the presentation, which included my reading some sensual scenes from my work: I had noticed that every time I talked about sex in Minnesota something odd happened. Sure enough. About halfway through the hour, exactly while I was reading my work, the massive basilica bells began to toll. I stopped and let God have his say and then went on.

An Excerpt from "The Hunger for More":


"At the end of the twentieth century, we live in a world of surfeit and subtraction, where the more we gain on one front the more we lose on another. We have more education available to more people than ever before, but its emphasis is more often on commerce and practicality, the educational foundations of history and languages and philosophy sacrificed. We have more free time and more recreation, but we have fewer children, less sustainable family, diminished human connection. We have more national parks, less wilderness. We are freer to be sexual beings, but that freedom risks a new disease and death. We have more opportunities than ever--we know, we know, we know, about our world and about how to use it. Only to discover that knowledge and opportunity do not always empower.

“The hunger for more,” Anais Nin wrote. “Only closing the eyes and remembering, and the hunger, the hunger for more, more, the great hunger, the voracious hunger, and thirst.” This desire is felt by many characters in fiction--Molly Blume in James Joyce’s famed soliloquy, William Faulkner’s bi-racial Joe Christmas, Michael Ondaatje’s young nurse caring for a disfigured soldier. As the narrator of Edna O’Brien’s novel SPLENDID ISOLATION says, “. . .in spite of it all there used to be inside me this river, an expectation for something marvelous. Where did it go? I want before I die to be myself again.”

To provide MORE. To attend to the losses. This is the work of the artist.

The literary novelist’s job is to hand back to her reader the largely lost experience of heightened intensity, where one may still believe in the myths and archetypes a postmodern world often scorns. Science and social science have explained my world ad nauseum and I’m smarter than my grandmother, if rational learning is what counts. But I have far less mystery in my world, far less magic too, far less for my imagination to do. And with less involvement of the creative self comes a more prosaic world. A prosaic world ironically kept intact by something called Prozac.

Writing is work that I always imagine as alchemy. Ancient alchemy derived from Greek philosophy, Egyptian technology, and the mysticism of the Middle Eastern religions. It’s a perfect analogy to writing in that it incorporated thematic idea, basic craft, and a visionary sense of wonder. It was devoted to the idea of converting one thing into another to produce still a third thing. Carl Jung has shown that the symbolism of alchemy appeals to basic psychological tendencies of the human mind--the search for perfection, the need to re-make raw materials, the need to believe that matter and spirit can unite. What always directed early alchemical experiments, though, were the astrological and religious ideas, the intuitive, the unproven. In the sixteenth-century alchemical text THE ROSE GARDEN OF THE PHILOSOPHERS, the solar king and lunar queen symbolize the joining of opposites but it is only their left hands which touch--the hands closest to the heart--implying that the joining of opposites, of base metals, is to be governed by intuition and creativity rather than by intellect."


Selected Works

NOVELS
A family is torn apart by madness and prejudice in 1950s South Carolina. "Against the Ruins is gorgeous, lush writing that almost takes your breath away." --Natalie Goldberg
A psychological drama set in the mystical Low County of South Carolina in which a small town is devastated by its first confrontation with violence. "Southern Exposure is a terrific novel. . . ." --Pat Conroy
STORIES AND ESSAYS
Why do writers kill themselves? An essay about success and failure in the literary life. (Includes photos of New Mexico.) Read entire essay here.
An excerpt from an upcoming novel about a Tennessee family whose emotional connection to their landscape is as strong as the devastation, and subsequent mental instability, endured by the family patriarch during World War II. (Includes photos of Tennessee.)
PRESENTATIONS
Minnesota Mentor Series Lecture, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. (Includes photos of Minneapolis.)