Thursday, April 10, 2008

Catch-30


One of the most remarkable magazine articles I had ever read was Catch-30, by Gail Sheehy.

At that age, I wondered why I had seemed to be slowing down, feeling a bit logey and not quite so wonderful any more.

I pick up New York magazine, and, whaddaya know?

I had caught "Catch 30".

Thirty, said Sheehy, was the borderline bewtween youth and maturity. You who had enjoyed life and sampled some of its pleasures, will-- face it!-- die.
To someone bulletproof, like me at 29, this was depressing news.
I had taken a huge gamble on my novel, The Hat People, quit my job over it, and somehow, through the dance of the dialectic, fallen into a million dollars. The novel remained unpublished, save for one chapter in TOPIC magazine, but I was rich. Still, I had failed to win a New York agent. Rich and depressed.

Why? A paid-for house, two beautiful children and not having to work for the rest of my life.
Still, depressed.
Catch-30.
"Father says, "What is the matter with you. You not got enough to eat? Hah! Pepsi Generation. Good for shit."
(Ukrainian fathers tend to talk that way).

Yet here was Gail Sheehy telling me that it all starts to slow down at thirty, that you don't have the energy of a teenager any more, there is a biological slowdown and soon, you will be delving into more of life's mysteries.

Fact of the matter, I was totally seduced by Sheehy's writing style. It is almost poetry and seems to go past the usual intellectual wall in writing.
I guess marrying Clay Felker, top editor in New York and top magazine publilsher didn't hurt.
But the writing seemed all Sheehy's.

When I speak of New York Magazine, I don't mean the New Yorker, which, for the longest time seemed to talk of people living in the l930's, not having a crisis, like Catch-30.

Father used to say, "Not married by 30? Hah. Peple generation. Good for...."

Well, I certainly got married before this deadline decade. Family pressure. Girlfriend pressure.
I had proposed in a bathtub and my intentions were straight and clean.

Anyway, as I sat in my neat white cottage, case of beer usually in front of me, I had noticed that I could now guzzle down only seven beers instead of the usual 10.

Catch-30. The slowdown. Lost capacity.

On the typewriter to do some editing, my toddler is tugging at the paper in my typewriter and I complain to my wife over the frequency of my turns at babysitting.

An editor calls. I would at least be out of the house, working for the Star Weekly magazine, writing about baton-twirlers and inventors of the snowboard, chuckling over what Mordecai Richler had said about baton twirling: The Orangeman's flamenco.

" Still at today's equivalent salary of $60,OOO a year, I could put up with it.
Off that morning to interview Toronto's top hostess witht he mostess for the food and drink column.

Yet the novel was going nowhere. Rejected by a writer's co-op! Teased by House of Anansi Press because it might not be "our kind of book."
So what if you were a published writer. The folks at ANANSI were in fact using the word "sellout" quite a bit.
But didn't you sell out a little when your novels had to dovetail with Canada's public policy of political correctness and gay rights?
Well anyway. Catch-30. Doing stupid stories and slowing down all the while. And the rejection letters for your novel.
Ah, but there were emoluments. The Reader's Digest reprinted something of mine.
Got me a trip to Florida.
Yup. Right to Ft. Myers Beach to join others in a Reader's Digest world of rich middle-aged f*ck-ups.
Wow. Is this how it goes? I want to be a rich middle-aged f*ck-up at once!

Back home at the cottage, with the Thirties Crisis upon me, I was starting to feel like a real middle-aged f*ck- up.
Off to Toronto to see "Jacquea Brel Is Alive and Well", wherein an artist sings, "The Middle Class Can KIss My Ass."

Well, I'd sent a rewrite of The Hat People back to Anansi. Maybe soon, I would be able to sing the same.
But the news was nor cheerful:

"The character in your novel doesn't entirely avoid self-pity. He is a spoiled brat."
Hah. I am thinking to myself: "Besides that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"

Clearly I had to stop using myself as my gristmill.

Animal stories. Yes. Animal stories. I wrote about my dog Gulliver and the frequent times I wanted to shoot the son-of-a bitch.

Got an award.

But still the Uncle Vanya feeling. Chekhov. Men who just slowed down and froze.
I was an unpublished novelist while my peers were ploghing deep furrows into Canadian literature.
And I was 30.
Bird in a gilded cage. Married and 30.
"Oh you poor thing," my wife is jibing.
"Look around at all your friends. Living in cramped quarters, drinking cheap booze. Making noises like writers, but not having published a line.
"I am an artist, Martha."
"Well, 'artist', here is the vacuum cleaner. I'm tired of picking up after you."
"But I'm a genius, Martha."

'Who says? I made it in the top percentile at Mensa."

"Oh yes. Mensa. 'Open the encyclopaedia anywhere and I bet I can spell the word.'
Encyclopaedia salesmen all and not an achiever in the crowd"

"So achieve, achiever."
The money had come from her family. She was really my patron.
Ah, Catch-30.

Wasn't until decades after, I would hear Alanis Morisette singing, "I Got One Hand In My Pocket, And The Other is Swingin' on a Cigarette."

But Alanis had written the song at 24.

And here I am at Catch-69, still trying to write one.

And the turtles have long since passed me.

From white rabbit to something like the Red Queen.

Running madly to stay in just the one place.

Egad. My wife used to call me a king.

Now she's using terms out of anatomy.

##

20 comments:

benjibopper said...

i think you could publish a great memoir, maybe call it catch-70. those things are selling like hot-cakes these days, just ask that guy who wrote million little pieces. fudge a little if you gotta, just don't tell oprah.

ivan@creatrivewriting.ca said...

Benji,

Quire an idea.

The oddity is that I have already done it.
... Seems all I have to do is collate my oder blogs!

the walking man said...

Ivan

"Billy rocked all night about a suicide, kick it in the head when he was 25...speed jive."
Bowie at 20


"Fuck it. I wake, I live, I sleep and tomorrow is going to be different how?"

Mark C.Durfee at 53

Peace

mark

Monique said...

Catch-50+ speaking here. Never too old to write a good novel, but the market place is full with biographies of celebs who publishers think will sell, but they don't (anymore). Pity them, not yourself. Keep writing Ivan, even if it is for your own sanity.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Well, Dyland wrote somewhere, "I'm a poet
I know it
Hope I don't blow it."

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Monique,

A lot of people had been telling me that. Especially "The Anthill Mob", my rescue team when things get bad.
Went on a wander last night. Ended up in a labyrinthine library. Looked under Pro.
Well whaddaya know?
There they were, four titles of mine.
Okay. I recall placing those books with that library. They were certainly dog-eared. Damn. Somebody is reading me.
Cheers.

Charles Gramlich said...

I was just thinking what Benjibopper said. There is a lot of grist for a memoir here, and points to be made. I remember the quote, "an unexamined life isn't worth living." Well, you've examined. And there's worth in it.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Charles,
That sounds sincere. Thanks.

Heh. I might end up like the famous
Charles Bukowski in the photo atop my blog. :)

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

Ivan,

You are already famous in the eyes of many.

T

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Tara,

What a nice thing to say!

(turns red).

Inside our hands, outside our hearts said...

:;smiles:::



T

Ginger said...

The People I don’t Want to Be….Version 1

I ran with a “bad” crowd, back then
Scammed for deceased grandparents’ Medicaid checks
Cashed food stamp dollars so there would be enough change for cigarettes and beer
Slept in a basement storage room
So romantic, we made love on top of buildings….
But it was really because we had no other place to go…
I remember listening to early rap in the basement of an old folks’ home…
We could camp there because no one was awake after 10.
Had sex on the gravel of their roof, and in their basement.
The occupants all blissfully unaware…..
He used more gel than I did, but it was the 80’s
Not unusual to try to run your fingers through your lover’s hair
And find them stymied by hairspray….

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Ginger,

Well. Hi stranger!

I was one of those people who somehow had it together at 30.

Went bananas at 32.

Old Platonic Ukrainian philosopher named Skovoroda said "if it's too difficult,don't do it."

Ran with geniuses while possessing what seemed a room temperature IQ.

Somehow confused calculus with cabbage heads.

Cracked my spine.

Spiked my hair to run with a rock'n'roll band.
Ran away from my wife to a garret and a typewriter.
Purssued by wife and editor and had my snout pointed back at hearth and job.
Brings to mind the politically
incorrect story of Mandy and Rastus.
"Rastus, get off that tree branch.
That train is going to go by and suck you right off."

Rastus: "C'mon train!"

Dr.John said...

I came to your blog today from Josie's as a first time visitor. Somehow as a man of 68 years and little money I just can't feel sorry for you.
Your task is to liveall of life as the gift it is . Don't complain you could be dead.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Ah Doc,

It's just writin'.

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