Thoroughly enjoyed the article in Time Magazine, August 23, 2010 on Jonathan Franzen and his new book and am fascinated by what he has to say about freedom. But also noteworthy is his work ethic. “Franzen works in a rented office that he has stripped of all distractions. He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop from which he has scoured any trace of hearts and solitaire, down to the level of the operating system. Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the Internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port. “What you have to do,” he explains, “is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue, and then you saw off the little head of it.””
And his sense of work and purpose is tied to the thematic concept of his novel: boundless freedom is not always a good thing. “Because my purpose on earth seems to be to write novels,” he says in the article, “I am actually freer when I’m chained to a project: freer from guilt, anxiety, boredom, anger, purposelessness.”
His only hobby is bird-watching. “Birds are supposed to be free, or that’s what the song says, but when Franzen looks at them, that’s not what he sees. Birds aren’t free. They have work to do – eat, breed, fly, sing – and they do it. They’re not paralyzed by self-consciousness or indecision. When Franzen watches birds, he sees himself, but himself at his best, which is at work, miserable work, in his rented office, chewing tobacco…shouting himself hoarse in front of his crippled laptop. Birds don’t take vacations, and neither does he. “I’m already losing sleep,” Franzen says, “trying to figure out how to lock myself inside a big novel again.”
Inspiring words. The only caveat is that he also says that “until The Corrections was published and had done well, I’d never allowed myself joy for its own sake.” Now that’s a pity.
Freedom, Franzen's new novel, is due out any day now.
Causes Jess Wells Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Heifer Project, Forests Forever, NRDC