III. THICK ANKLES
BLVR: Have you become more aware of your Irishness as you have traveled the world?
AE: One of the things you want with travel is to get away from yourself, and one of the things about traveling as a writer is that you are obliged to talk about yourself all the time. So you are in some amazing or lovely or interesting place and you’re talking the same talk about yourself and about Irishness, until you want to throw up. Sometimes being Irish feels like a job you never applied for. I don’t mind being Irish, but I am not a big fan of nationalism.
BLVR: How do you recharge, get the creative juices flowing, after a spell of traveling to promote a book?
AE: You have to try to stay healthy. The road is tough. I do an Ashtanga class when I am home. It’s a very hard kind of yoga and I am really crap at it and everyone in the room is very lithe and I’m not, but I feel all that is good for me, that it is important to be bad at yoga. It’s a flow practice, and the sequence of poses is always the same, and it is synchronized with the breath. Anyway, as we know, in yoga there is no progress. There is no proficiency.
BLVR: Does it help you write?
AE: You learn a lot of the same lessons at the desk that you learn on the yoga mat. You learn to observe your emotions about your work rather than indulge them. When you find yourself saying, “This is terrible,” “This is brilliant,” “This is sad,” you learn to just watch those emotions rather than believe them. And there is a monastic quality about working at the desk every day for many years that yoga seems to make sense of.
BLVR: But why do the yoga if there is no progress?
AE: The underlying assumption of that question is appalling: that you must progress in order to do anything.
BLVR: Is your yoga a spiritual practice?
AE: I don’t quite know what “spiritual” means in this context. Or any context. Is it something like looking at a sunset? Spirituality is a spookily private part of people’s makeup, really. Ashtanga is a very physical practice. It’s all about the breath. The asanas are very simple things that you just repeat, really.
No, I don’t get very transcendental about yoga, I have to say. At the beginning, some years ago, I used to see amazing things inSavasana [corpse pose, lying-down meditation], but I don’t anymore. Amazing little thoughts would come, hovering, from nowhere. But not anymore.
BLVR: All of that traveling after you won the Booker Prize must have been pretty amazing. And physically demanding as well.
AE: Yes. When I was suddenly in the public eye after the Booker, it was a very steep learning curve. When I was on the road, I would have to go to the department stores to buy something to wear for the next day. Shoes were always easy, because it’s easy to buy shoes. So I bought a couple of pairs of shoes after the Booker, yeah. I was never interested in shoes before that. But they’re quite fun.
BLVR: Why are they fun?
AE: It depends on if you’re happy with your ankles or not. If you’re happy with your ankles, you’ve got one bit of you sorted that you don’t have to worry about if you have a nice pair of shoes.
BLVR: Helen Mirren complains that that’s a part of her that she doesn’t like. She says her ankles are too thick.
AE: When Stephen Frears put the camera right down on the floor, for The Queen, I thought that was awful. I don’t know how a big star like Helen Mirren let the film be cut like that, because he photographed her thick ankles. He made her look frumpy, and she’s anything but frumpy. He got the one frumpy bit of her, and he made it six feet tall on the screen. I would have killed him.