12th Street Journal’s Editor-In-Chief, Daniel Gee Husson, closes his eyes and sits down to a dreamy and eccentric conversation with the ghost of the avant-garde playwright, Samuel Beckett.
It was winter in my junior year of high school when I first read Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I was struggling with the normal problems teenage boys all over the world have: isolation, loneliness, failure to fit in…
These feelings were compounded by the fact that my family and I had just moved from London, England, to Upper Arlington, Ohio, a suburb outside Columbus. Culture shock doesn’t even start to describe what I was dealing with.
Anyway, back to Godot…
I was walking down the hall between classes and I saw this English professor—odd that I can’t remember his name now; he used to give me shit about wearing blue jeans. I remember once he walked up to me during a fire drill, and said, “I’m really disappointed, Dan. Why can’t you wear red jeans or something?” “Red jeans?” “Yeah. Or purple or green. Blue’s too boring for you. All the guys on the football team wear blue jeans.” I developed a dyed jeans habit after that.
Anyway, back to Godot…
So Mr. Whathisname was standing outside his classroom and handed me a copy of Waiting for Godot. I won’t even try to explain how poorly I pronounced the word Godot. “Trust me,” he said. “You’ll read it and it’ll ruin you for everything else.”
I ran home after school and put it… somewhere. I lost Waiting for Godot in my house for over a month. Everyday, I would see that same teacher at the same time in the same hallway and he would ask me about his book. After three weeks, I started taking a different stairwell to avoid his classroom.
“You will take my 20th Century Drama class.” His voice boomed through the cafeteria. “You’ll take it, and you will have finished Godot before class starts in the fall.”
I found Godot wedged between the Yellow Pages and the phone, sharing space with the little golf pencil my mother left there to jot things down. It was three days before Christmas and we were about to drive about six hours to a relative’s house for the holidays. I read Godot twice on that trip.
Nothing happens. Nothing happens in the play and nothing happened to me. It’s not like a lightbulb suddenly turned on above by head and I said, “Yes, that’s it. That’s what I want to do. I want to write.” I was going to study acting in college and just didn’t see a part in writing for me.
I kept reading more plays and I noticed I was comparing them all to Godot: the pacing, the language, all of it. I always looked to Godot when I started writing plays myself. Even as I sit here and write this now, I have been glancing up at my bookshelf to that same copy I was given years ago.
Anyway, back to Godot…
Daniel Gee Husson: Thanks for agreeing to speak with me today. I have a lot of questions for you.
Samuel Beckett: It will help pass the time, I suppose.
DGH: People often lump you in with other Irish writers. How do you respond to that? Do you think it’s fair to be compared to Joyce, for example?
SB: James Joyce was a synthesizer, trying to bring in as much as he could. I am an analyzer, trying to leave out as much as I can. So that’s the comparison. To find a form that accommodates the mess; that is the task of the artist now.
DGH: You say you like to leave things out. I feel that one thing that connects a lot of your plays—Godot, Endgame, Happy Days—is the meditative quality that they contain.
SB: Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.
DGH: So your advice for writers would be to embrace the pauses and the silence in their work?
SB: Silence, yes, but what silence? It is all very fine to keep silent, but one has to consider the kind of silence one keeps.
DGH: What about observation? Do you think it aids writers to be especially in tune with what they see and hear?
SB: Normally, I didn’t see a great deal. I didn’t hear a great deal, either. I didn’t pay attention. Strictly speaking I wasn’t there. Strictly speaking I believe I’ve never been anywhere.
DGH: Doesn’t that strike you as a mistake; to ignore your surroundings?
SB: My mistakes are my life.
DGH: Let’s changes gears. Do you think it helps to have a routine? Did you have any solid work habits when you were alive?
SB: Habit is a great deadener.
DGH: So not to have any particular time or place to write is important to you?
SB: I tend to rise late in the day.
DGH: How did your journey as a writer change as you grew older?
SB: I always thought old age would be a writer’s best chance. Whenever I read the late work of Goethe or W.B. Yeats I had the impertinence to identify with it. Later, with my memory gone, all the old fluency disappeared. I didn’t write a single sentence without saying to myself, “It’s a lie!” So I know I was right.
DGH: How about advice not just for writers, but for any artist trying to make their way in the world?
SB: Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.
DGH: Thanks for allowing me to visit with you.
SB: Come back tomorrow, if you’d like. I’ll be here.