Struggling all night with a recalcitrant muse, I somehow got Baker on the brain, Russell Baker, the famed columnist who began one of his Sunday Observer reports with "How quickly a man's reputation can go to seed."
Thirty yearss struggling with a mechanical typewriter, all the nicotine, prescription drugs, booze. Three million words in print--no wonder that this man is burned out and his reputation has gone to seed.
And only now have some of the brains come back, and they came, strangely from a meal of roast beef, where the brains are. Vegetarians are a tad anaemic, and alcoholics don't eat well enough. Got a mental block? asks Mencken, " Well just put on the old bib and tucker and have a good meal."
I had hoped to get some of the old thunder back by writing a short story about a man and his muse, but though the spirits were definitely around and something was tugging at the drapes, what seemed like beautiful words in the wee hours turned out to be hackneyed words and even the writing mood, the "muse" was just counterfeit genius.
So into the oven goes the roast beef, a kind of refined uranium to light up your life and you hope the fork witll be an isotope for the artistic explosion you hope will occur. Little H. P. Lovecraft explosions going on outside your head as you get into a Ken Kesey mood of lightning flashing all around and creativity high.
Except that it is a false high and you jump off the mechanical Remington muse and back to the computer keyboard, which is easier and faster.
Rudyard Kipling says poetry and writing is produced by the very materials of the process, the typewriter, the erasers, the pencils, the butt-filled ashtray--and he is right, but that is only for the first draft. The second draft has to be clearer, more sure.
But something was happening during that image of the man entangled with his muse. Not for nothing were the drapes going wild and the windows rattling.
It was your soul trying to catch up with your body--thirty years of running flat out, pedal to the metal without stopping for one good meal of roast beef where the soul no longer seems to hide behind a knife, but where it waits for a diner's knife and fork, to be eaten like a sacrament. Where the hell had you been for thirty years? Chasing your own tail, jumping up all the time high on your booze and drugs, like a rapidly deflating baloon, an ordinary and somewhat dull man pumped up with his stimulants and depressants, made interesrting and exciting only because of those stimulants and depressants. Whooosh!
Maybe it was not Russell Baker but good old R. J., a contributor to this space that I had on my mind and how similar out processes seem to be.