Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Deus ex machina
Sorting through the garbage to determine what the hell my damn theme was.
Computer and phone out for a week; strange sense of isolation. Women had been on phone. Three a.m. loneliness-I'm-on-drugs-I-want-to-be-social-now chucks. Can't answer; they cannot reach me; I canot reach them.
Driven to old electric Smith-Corona that I had now forgotten how to operate. The damn thing is humming, waiting for you to do something. You press a key and out flies the paper. How did we get by in the old days?
You need to build up a lot of oomph to splatter the page with words. It all comes out in a huge dollop, only an artistic decision allowing you to finally place -30- on the final page. Who was that maked man, Thirdee, and why is it that we sometime journalists all place his code name at the end of our typographic scrawls?
Scrawls or not, I had produced something like a first page just to start working, working on any machine to get the mind off ones awful self and onto the production of, hopefully, literature. . What a drug this writing business is! How it is that as one grows older, he needs a crossword puzzle, a paper, a game of pool--anything to stop those wheels in your head from spinning.
I had thrown away that first page in disgust...All that labouring over precisely the right words, all that testing, sounding, scanning for style.
All that shit.
You know when the piece is good, when you have covered all the bases, when it comes first draft, all of a piece.
But you had been labouring over it. Sweating the copy, straining it, pushing the river.
And yet that's how it had been for thirty years and more. (That man Thirdee again, the end of my journalistic career). I had been a novelist in addition to journalist, but I was largely drawing the outline of my own face, something W. Somerset Maugham says you do anyway, but I'm not so sure. The self tends to be small and rather ugly. The Chinese referring to it, over the thousands of years as "that insignificant thing standing before you."
I have discovered, rather late that there are people in the world truly gifted. Genius does what it must, while mere talent only borrows; the droppings from the tables of the truly adept.
Journalism is chores. Journalism is trickery. Journalism is a blow job.
Journalism is hated by the litarati, just as commercial art is hated by the so-called "creative artists", the abstract expressionists and other optimists.
Yes, yes, that was my theme, the hatred of the journalist among the writing elite.
Yet neither can really do the other's job.
Literary types are largely disfunctional. They have a hard time with facts and procedures. Facts bore them. Technology drives them crazy.
It is the production of that monster crawling out of your typewriter or keyboard, the play's the thing, yes.
And if you labour too mightily you may well produce a mouse.
So it's getting up that oomph, having something like an epileptic fit (ten coffees will do it!) and having the piece come out all of one string. That's writing.
But it happens so rarely like that. So you become something of a Bob Woodward or John Updike, having the book go through about 34 people, spell checkers, checkers for fact, tone nuance. And more often than not, it comes out a lot better than
the author's original script. "Poetize this scene for me," Jerzy Kosinski used to order his underlings...So many freelance editors suing that talented bastard for non-paymentof fees, sometimes for plagiarizing entire rewritten manuscripts.
Ah, old Plato's parable of the cave. We can only see what we are allowed to see.
None of which is going to write the Great Canadian Novel for me.
But I have learned something over the past thirty years.
There is absolute hatred for the journalist in the literary community both here in Canada and the United States.
I was turned down for a major scholarship at Stanford University by Wallace Stegner, who said I wrote too much like a journalist, and in any event "was not an American."
Has anybody read Wallace Stegner. He is likely dead by now, so I don't fear libel.
I have never read such bird-like clumsy scrawling in my life. The man must have been one hell of a politician--that or writing has changed so much over the past seventy years that what was taken for truth and beauty a hundred years ago turns out to be charming, over-wordy Victorian swill.
Journalist vs. novelist. That was my theme; there it is on its way over to Michigan with the rest of the garbage...Biggest country in the world and we can't even figure out what to do with our garbage--Send it to Michigan; let the Yanks worry about it!
Like some of my manuscripts? Hah. Say it on!
Anyway, that first draft is gone, out to the Michigan landfill where it belongs.I finally remember what I'd typed in that first draft.
The antipathy between the journalist and the novelist.
But then look at what Truman Capote did with "In Cold Blood" and Norman Mailer with "The Executioner's Song."
Outjournoed the Journos!
Well, here's hoping that those of us who try to get to the arttistic heart of the matter-- can eventually score a Cupid hit on literature.
But then I am not sure these very different gifts are part of the same family in the first place.
Schizophrenics make the best novelists.
And we multi-media monkeys do the best we can.
We may not be greatly talented, but bigod we're fancy!
We have drawn our own face?
Why Ivan, you ugly fuck!