One of the things I used to know for sure before I lost my marbles was that all work and no play makes Jack.
Possessed of only pen and paper and working like a devil I found myself one day propelled into uppermiddleclass
comfort and good food and thought to myself, "doesn't everybody?"
For most folks life is failure, rejection, pain.
I had put up with "present" pain for future gain, that good old middleclass motto and while others played, I was dead serious, the very image of that cartoon character with sparks coming off his nose from the grindstone he so assiduously applying himself. I recall chuckling at the the caption, "I fight poverty--I work"
But this was the Sixties and Seventies, a time when anybody in Canada with a modicum of talent could make large bucks in journalism and advertising. As for the novels, you knew your way around and would sometimes get the magazine you worked for to serialize something of yours. My novels would rarely impress the editor of the Big Canadian Market--the Star Weekly. She was sometimes described as a "Victorian spinster with this huge brain", sequestered in her office at the Simpson Tower On Bay and Queen and cutting cheques for lady writers of
fiction and exurban fantasy. She was a tough market to cracks, so I went around her and got stuff in something called CANADIAN PANORAMA, which travelled inside the Star Weekly.
I was soon noticed by Peter Gzowski, the then-editor of he magazine, was given a fulltime job as staff writer for that publication, and I was on my way. Pay then was $130 a week, and in today's money hat was $60,000 a year and nothing to sneeze at, certainly not for a boy who was one day dropped in a potato field--his mother may as well have been a cow--and shown a meadow which would be his organic garden. "Graze, kid."
War, pestilence and famine soon changed that and I was suddenly the Canadian kid with the high ambitions, wanting to avoid the middleclass altogether and marry or bully my way straight into the upper.
I made it, but so many of my peers did not. Nor talented enough, not lucky enough, not smart enough.
I do recall some comments on Norman Podhoretz' similar climb in his book, "Making It", some of my Jewish friends wondering precisely what it was that Norman had made. A man of Mr. Podhoretz own background went on to snort that the book may as well have been called Kik*'s Peak.
Well, I was at Chuck's or Ski's Peak. There weren't too many of us up there, we were enabled by the likes of the late and great Ed Mirvish of Toronto, and writing about the arts (Mr. Mirvish's passion)--yielded solid coin. The beauty was that you didn't have to be terribly accurate as long as you spelled the Star's Name right.
One day I gave it all up.
"I am an artist, Martha."
Hah. "Build that addition to the house, artist. Here is a broom, artist. Who in hell do you think you are, artist?"
I was certainly not as good as I thought I was.
Took forever to write the book--nose to the grindstone again--but I did and surprised the hell out of everybody.
I did have to put the book out at my own expense--blow to the ego!--but my friends in the review business took it seriously, every bank manager had a copy of the review on his or her wall and I was on my way.
Grants, fellowships and teaching positions somehow followed and I became something of a Duddy Kravitz. Certainly dabbled in real estate.
But then came the age of forty the time of the BIG WHAM.
Something happened, nothing happened, but suddenly I stopped. Can't go another mile. Yuppie flu.
Now was the time to pay for all those superiorities, now was payback time for all those energies one had expended and never fully got back.
Oh yes, there were plenty of palliatives. The drinking, the thinking, the toying with the idea of a mistress--not a literary mistress this time, but a real one. Yuppie palliatives.
But no further progress with the career.
What to do. Cut an run? That was the simplest. But it was a solution that was okay for the self, but not for those who had been around you. Leaving the family to fortune, off to make another fortune.
And landing flat on your ass.
Floor cleaner in a factory. Also had to clean the washrooms.
Amid the farts and belches coming out of the stalls, you finally realized where your new course of action had taken you.
In the apartment elevator, going home at night, smelling of ammonia and Old Dutch.
"Sweep, sweep sweep, eh Ivan?" my chainstore owning father-in-law would say.
So hire me in your stores," I'd said.
Back up he ladder of success again, the Nassau holidays, the condo in Fr. Myers. Doesn' t everybody?
And then back to the fine madness.
"I am an artist, Martha."
Off to an exotic land this time Gaugin and his Wahines.
And having again to put the book out at my own expense.
There is a quasi- country song by some Winnipeg group, a lot like Blue Rodeo.
It goes, "You piss me off, you f*cking jerk."
In Gogol's Diary of a Madman, the character goes off on a similar series of odysseys.
"Oh, here in Spain they have no manners. They beat you often, and put you into chains. Call you a madman.
"Spain is a terrible country."
Well, I suddeny feel I am in "Spain".
And they do knock me around quite a bit.
"Go back to Yugoslavia, ya bum."
Halleluja. Bum again.
Uncle Vanya. Chekhov figure. Stopped.
Got to get out of the Chekhovian doldrums and get a job.
Time to put the dream aside. Again.
Sha-na-na. Get a job!