We sat down with award-winning journalist and author of My Year of Living Vulnerably Rick Morton to talk beginnings, endings, the influence of science on his work, and how Ocean Vuong is his north star.
Morton is appearing in three MWF21 events: in a discussion about men’s complicated relationship with stoicism, love, and empathy, and its role in trauma and redemption; and leading a workshop on embracing vulnerability in writing.
Tell me one of your first memories connected to writing.
I was given an Aladdin lock-up diary when I was six or seven and remember it so well because it felt like I had permission to write. This thing’s very existence became an excuse to jot down my thoughts and I loved it for that. I still have it and the contents straddle these two worlds when my life changed forever as a child. The writing obviously wasn’t any good, but it is a window into a time and place that I will always have and I think that is what I find so addictive about writing or reading what others have written; the rawness of it.
Can you speak a little about your creative process? How does your day begin and end?
My creative process is chaos. I wish I were joking, but most of the time I write when I feel like I can (which is not as often as I would like) or when I’m finishing a book or larger project, I write because I absolutely have no choice and the deadline/possible death by editor is looming. That said, when I find a rhythm, it usually involves getting up around 7am, making coffee and then sitting down for a couple of hours at my desk. Rare are the times when I have managed to write for more than four hours in a day but when they happen, they are the most alive I feel. Truly, I think part of me writes to capture those days and display them in the room of my mind. Only recently, I have learned to fall asleep without a podcast or audiobook playing. Now my favourite thing to do is go to bed in the quiet and think about what I want to write or do the next day.
What are the most important literary and non-literary forces that shape your writing?
Science. I think I used the natural world as ballast when I was a child and have never been able (nor wanted) to unpick its influence in my life. It was something I could hold on to and at least attempt to explain. Anyone who has read anything I’ve written will notice that I am obsessed with physics, cosmology, neuroscience, animals, the bloody weather. As far as literary forces go, I’m not sure. I’ve never been ‘trained’ in writing and still couldn’t tell you what postmodernism actually means, for example. But I do know what I like, and it is beautiful sentences. I will read anything if it takes care with the pace and the meaning, the precision of its parts. For this reason, perhaps, it is poetry that moves me the most even though I cannot write poetry. Great poets do things with language that thrill me.
Which artists or writers most intrigue you at the moment and why?
Ocean Vuong is my north star at this moment. I first came across his poem ‘Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong’ in The New Yorker in 2015 and have since become obsessed with every word he writes. His debut book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous knocked the wind out of me and is one of the most beautiful, wonderful things I have ever read. In terms of art more generally, I met Abdul Abdullah earlier this year and quite apart from being just a lovely man, his work is spectacular. I won’t describe it—I can’t—but my dream now is to own a piece of it.
How did you know when your latest book My Year of Living Vulnerably was finished?
When my editor said, ‘The book is going to the printer early next week.’
If there is something you never want to see the end of, what would it be?
Books! Real, physical, paper books.
And conversely, what is one thing that could end today and you wouldn’t even notice?
Time itself. In fact, I suspect I may be responsible for its demise.
Rick Morton is an award-winning journalist and author. My Year of Living Vulnerably (Fourth Estate, 2021) charts the rediscovery of love after a trauma diagnosis. His debut memoir One Hundred Years of Dirt became a national bestseller. Rick is the senior reporter at The Saturday Paper where he covers social policy, national affairs and science.
Find Rick Morton at MWF21.