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When a Mexican male nurse who looked strangely like me—of the same age and toothy smile—pushed my gurney into the surgery, he softly told me, his face upside down over my head, that he had survived the same operation, and that I must not worry. I smiled almost to laughter when I shook the lead surgeon’s hand. I appreciated your take on it as a somehow fertile place.I had come to associate it with boredom and acedia, the noonday demon, about which the desert monastics used to complain.
, Rodriguez, who turned seventy in July, has had a wide-ranging career, and I wanted to discuss the shift of his work from cultural identity to religion. I had seen you referred to as a Mexican-American writer, a Californian writer, and a gay writer, but never, until recently, as a religious writer.
But our schedules were tricky to coordinate, and then I lost my wallet. Have you always considered yourself a religious writer?
(The wallet was recovered by one of the famous bellmen at Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Anthony dressed as a beefeater,” as Rodriguez put it.) Instead, we corresponded for several weeks..
Of course, I haven’t, until lately, considered myself a “writer”—in the grand sense.
But it also opens the soul to a longing for the solitary God who yearns for us.
I do not mean to imply a deterministic interpretation of religion, but I cannot write of the Abrahamic religions without writing of the desert. Do you have any advice for younger writers hoping for a career? You are asking me to live in an era other than the one that formed me.And yes, I write of “postlapsarian” California, where I live. In writing about dying newspapers, I end up noticing the decline of the American cemetery, as more and more Americans are being cremated and their ashes are cast to the wind. But I will tell you this: An editor in New York told me the other day that, even as the reading audience for serious prose has diminished, the unsolicited manuscripts she receives are better than ever.And look at those boys and girls of modernity, along with their crazed parents and grandparents, walking up Fillmore Street, consulting their digital toys of “communication,” oblivious to my staring. Even while I think we are leaving the splendid Victorian age of serious popular literature—novels and poetry—we may be entering the Elizabethan Age, when few in London read, but there was an intensity of thought and beauty to the prose, and the poetry, and, of course, the plays.I consider acedia to be the thorniest flower of the desert.Acedia is, on the one hand, the midday loneliness the monks find burdensome.The hideousness of anti-black racism could not undermine the clean line of his prose. I learned from George Orwell that narrative was compatible with the essay, that it was possible to write what I call the “biography of an idea”—and trace the way an idea makes its way through a life.Beginning with my first book and in all the books after, I employed the fictional devices of the short-story writer in writing my essays.For most of my writing life, I have stood truly, if uneasily, on American bookstore shelves as a sociological sample—shelved “Latino” between a gangbanger’s book of poetry and the biography of a Colombian drug lord.Only in recent years, as it has become clear to me that so few people I know read books, have I been struck by the fact that I am a writer. From boyhood, particularly my lower-middle-class childhood in Sacramento, I was transported by religion into the realm of mystery.For all of the passion and energy in Saroyan, however, there was something sexless about him—the son of a Presbyterian minister.Maybe that sexual diffidence deepened my sense of companionship with him.