Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Impotent Jack--and we had the knack!
Always, while you yourself are in a crisis, there's someone cool, collected and calculating, who watches your brain pitching and tossing-- you hanging there on your rack of troubles!--and he might just say, "Why you stupid bastard.
"The solution to your problem is perfectly obvious. You've got your head up your own backside."
The was pretty well the case when I got rejected by Ryerson University's literary magazine, The Fifth Page.
I thought the fault was mine and I splattered the university's newpaper with my self-castigation and tales of woe.
...I could do this because I was editorial page editor of the Dalily Ryersonian, and here at least, I could be something of an artist, that is to say, suffering damnably, but letting the whole world know that I was suffering--the way of the professional tragedian!
"You didn't get rejected because you wrote badly," said Ross F. "You were rejected because you failed to focus on the weaknesses and hang-ups of the editor.
"What do you mean, Jellybean?" I wanted to know.
"Talk like that and I'll think you're as bad a Jack, the maginally gay editor," Ross snapped.
"Come on. Smarten up."
The editor, who is really your faculty advisor, is a frustrated creative type, the most dangerous kind of creature in publishing. He is also something of solipsist--thinks the world revolves around him and his problems...and his wife just left the poor bastard...Get the picture? Your "editor" is a complete mess."
"Well, yes. Everybody knows it. Jane Austen fanatic. Sexually repressed...Monosexual, actually. Pee-Wee Herman fan. You could tell through his lectures in English Survey. Really hung up on Moby Dick. Keeps repeating the title.
"So what of it?"
"You've got to go to the centre of the edifice," said Ross. "Focus on him and his troubles. Write a story about a
guy with sexual difficulties and dark thoughts of murder of his wife, or ex-wife."
"You mean that's why I got rejected? I didn't cater to his likes and dislikes, his fears and phobias? Didn't get him right where he lives?"
"Exactly so," said Ross. "
Now write a story about an alcoholic, sexually impotent guy,who blames it all on his wife and makes plans to "off" her."
Still a student, I was rather good at taking orders, especially from an "upperclassman".
I watched a lot of Alfred Hitchcock on TV, picked up a plot and crafted a short story about an impotent alcoholic who, in a drunken episode, murders his wife and doesn't even know he did it.
"You're not a writer until you can write about murder," said old Dostoevsky somewhere.
I took out a room apart from my ordinary digs--had a girlfriend who might dissuade me from the short story quest--and, with a map of Australia leaking down from the ceiling on a rainy night, and while I shivered with no heat, I wrote the story. .. The one about the alcoholic impotent guy who murders his wife, blacks out, and doesn't even remember.
My story certainly wasn't "In Cold Blood"--far from it!, but thanks to Alfred Hitchcock, I had myself a pretty good plot.
Three days later, I submitted the story.
"Why didn't you tell me you had a story like that?" the editor had said over the phone. "Let's have a coffee at Fran's and we can talk about it."
Well, my arrow did not fall to earth.
Poor Jack in his tiny apartment, his students making fun of him, sending him soft porn just to get him going.
Seems between smart Ross and me, we seened to have an insight into his problem. And maybe even a catharsis, the reaison d'etre of all literature, according to old Play Dough.
I immediately phoned Ross to tell him of my success."
"See? I told you. We might even give the guy a psychoanalysis. Lord knows he needs one"
Just before graduation day, my story, titled "Marjorie", was hitting all the kiosks around the cafeteria and the Great Hall.
Met Ross outside for a smoke.
"You did 'er, you coldhearted little bastard."
"And I still think you're a twerp."
I went back to the cafeteria to read my own story.
Seemed that somewhere along the line, I had missed an important character.
Some writer. Couldn't even tell that Ross had, in his own smart way, been manipulating me.
Ah well. Both of us probably had to be devils to earn our halos. He got his job in government and I got my job at The Star because of the short story.
To be a writer you had to know how smart people manipulate other smart people. Do con jobs on each other.
A little cold-blooded. Both of us.