Monday, August 13, 2012

David McGlynn, Interview #180

Name: David McGlynn 

Where you live: 
Appleton, Wisconsin. About 30 minutes south of Green Bay, Wisconsin. About an hour south of the North Pole (not really).

What you do as a vocation or avocation? 
Besides being a writer, I'm also a professor at Lawrence University,a small liberal-arts college in Appleton. I love it: the students are smart, down to earth, and generous souls. I'm also an avid, devoted, life-long swimmer. Much of A Door in the Ocean is about my love-affair with swimming, and even years after my last big meet, I still swim every morning. In fact, in a few weeks, I'll be swimming from the tip of Wisconsin's Door County Peninsula to Washington Island—a 4 mile stretch of water famously known as Death's Door.

Your two favorite books: 
I read constantly, which means that my favorite book is never fixed. But I started writing A Door in the Ocean (in a very different form, many years ago) after reading Mikal Gilmore's Shot in the Heart. It's an amazing work of nonfiction that I go back to again and again. Another memoir that helped me understand the form and direction of my book is Debra Monroe's On the Outskirts of Normal. Debra's a friend and her work has shown me how to be simultaneously smart and vulnerable, academic and accessible. I recommend her book to everyone I know, and I keep it beside my computer on my desk. I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention Andre Dubus' story, "A Father's Story." I read it years ago and it completely captivated me. It gave me the courage to write about spiritual matters.

Your two favorite songs: 
Van Morrison's "Caravan" and Ben Harper's "Amen Omen"

Why you are interested in spirituality?: 
There’s a stark division in the American media between how evangelical Christians (a subculture at the heart of both my fiction and nonfiction) are portrayed by so-called “outsiders” and how they portray themselves. Evangelicals are often interested in portraying themselves as enlightened, that they have found the truth and can rest comfortably in the knowledge that they are right. Secular, or otherwise unsympathetic, observers often paint them as crazy or myopic. Neither portrayal, in my view, tells the entire story. I believe that people come to faith in the same ways we come to friendship and marriage and our political affiliations: informed by our experiences, fueled by our passions, driven by complex, contradictory psychologies. I wanted to tell an honest story about why evangelicalism drew me in and why it couldn't keep me, to show both its good and bad sides. I wanted to paint a complex picture of a culture that’s most often drawn (and draws itself) in crayon.

Your favorite quote: 
It's the epigraph to A Door in the Ocean, from Mark Jarman's book of prose poems, Epistles
Out of chaos, beyond theory, into a life that peaks and breaks, the wave emerges. The shore where it dies lies ahead and waits, unseen. A life must peak as it rides up the shallow approach, steepen, and break. I want you to think of yourself like that, of your body and soul like that, one flesh traveling to shore, to collapse, all that way to end by darkening the sand and evaporating. Where do you go? You repeat in other waves, repeat and repeat. Each bears a message.Each has a meaning.

Your favorite web sites: 
Your hero?: 
My wife. She's a social worker in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a hospital in the town where we live. She confronts mortality and the limits of human emotion on a daily basis, and she remains a generous, loving, and hilarious person. She's strong in ways ordinary people are not, and in ways most of her friends never see. 

A spiritual lesson you hope to learn? 
I’ve managed to hold onto faith—despite my break with the evangelicals—because I still believe in a grand meaningfulness to human existence, that I am part of something larger than myself. Many people can find such a meaning without faith, without a conception of God, but I cannot. I have spent too much time puzzling out Christianity to suddenly jump to another faith, another system. And religion is a way of expressing what it means to be human. As I write late in the book, I like being part of the broad cloth of humanity. In that way, faith is, for me, like music and literature and art: an ongoing conversation about who we are, and why. The "why" is the ultimate spiritual question, and one I'll likely pursue for the rest of my days. 

A place in the world where you feel spiritually "connected?"
I love old, musty churches with worn-out wooden pews and stained-glass windows. And whenever I get in sight of the ocean, I feel my heart-rate slow a bit, a sense of serenity creep in. The ocean—as the title of my book suggests—is my doorway to the spiritual realm. 

Editor's Note: NPR's Book Review of David's book A Door in the Ocean

1 comment:

Lorraine said...

Thank you for the insightful interview. I came to this article in a search for information about swimming Death's Door. How did your swim go? I heard there will be a swim event there next year.