In Ocean Vuong’s 2020 novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, his background as a poet becomes clear in the shards of impressionistic scenery, the free-flowing memory, the jolts of fricative emotion.
He also, in one sweet line, asks a question that many writers might think they know the answer to:
What if art was not measured by quantity but ricochets?
Writers would say, Yes and amen to that. Because a good numbers of want the numbers, of course (whether it’s sales or fans or even compensation). But what sits down deep in many of us is the idea that what we do leaves us and bounces out there in the world, maybe connecting with somebody, and possibly even multiple somebodys.
But then Vuong lops off the last part of that line and circles back to ask a harder question:
What if art was not measured?
This is the healthier response of course. But also one that so many of us will find it impossible to follow by not measuring ourselves against all the other writers out there.
Try as we might.