Friday, May 16, 2008

Here we go again. The Wigged-out Prof





I have had the below story with a publisher for six weeks. She says if there is no response in four weeks, it can be assumed that the piece was not taken.

Maybe it's because I keep playing the same song all the time, and not entirely avoiding self-pity.
Blogger Josie certainly thinks I should get out and do some children's stories or something. Anything but the same old saw.

Ah well.

Here comes the McCulloch again. Chain saw.


Thirty years ago, on a bright January day, I decided to quit working as an untenured professor of english and learn something about life. I had taken a walk round the staff corridors and thought about what lay behind the doors, some of them open a crack because a department head may have had claustrophobia. We were all developing a kind of claustrophobia. We were overworked and overstimulated in our trimester-terraced vinyards...No summer holidays for us.
We were all about the same age, abut forty, but some of us were already grey-haired, grey-sweatered, grey-faced. Some of my colleagues weren't any too well. I decided it was time to go. So I did.
My intention had been to be a writer and not a teacher, and now as I neared forty, I came to realize that if you did not at least become an interesting minor in what some writers have termed "the breakthrough decade", you were condemned to these ivied grey walls forever, especially if you did not have tenure..

I had to take a calculated risk. I quit fulltime employment to strike out as a professional writer.

Some kind of law in the universe: Everything takes longer than you think.

The manusctipt you'd been tinkering with was amounting to a work of some 360 pages and much of it was so uneven that major rewrite was needed. And there was food and rent to pay. Where was that money going to come from?
I dabbled a bit in freelance writing for the magazines, placed some stories, was rejected in others. The landlord was now no longer a friend.
Hey, this was getting to be like the classical story of the starving writer, the cashing in of beerbottles, the finessing of the rent, the poor wife and children wondering what had become of dear old dad.
Second law of the universe: Love isn't enough. Soon the wife took a job and presently she and the kiddies were gone. Oh Lord, was I learning about life. Divorce was just around the corner.
Suddenly, I was self-conscious and alone, just me and my manuscript.
This was a part of my grand design?

I decided to leave the country. Isn't that what all the famous artists did--go to Tahiti or, at least, some place where the living was cheap? I opted for Mexico.

Here at last, in some writers' colony, I would be where the other writers were. I might even find ways to an American publisher, so many expatriate writers living there in a place called San Miguel de Allende.

It was a good move, it seemed to me. I enrolled ina writing course In San Miguel, there to be taught by the likes of Vance Packard, Bob Sommerlott and that great spinner of yarns, Clifford Irving. Finally in my element. Canada seemed like such a "down" culture from my new home with its arches and its porticos, its bougainfvillea and Mariachi bands.
Ah Margarittaville!

The letters from home were not cheerful. "If you knew how deeply I resent you for doing what you have done."

The marriage was definitely on the stones, and my leaving seemed just another mistake.

I started again rewriting my novel, which took up an increasingly large amount of time, albeit in a most enjoyable and interesting way. I got to be a teaching assistant, and as the established "profs" went their separate ways, I was soon promoted to teacher of writing.
Full circle. I was back in the classroom, though this time in another country.
What was God telling me?
That I was a marginal writer, but a good teacher?
I finished my semester, finished my novel and hightailed it back to Toronto.
I felt somehow like John Voight in the movel, Deliverance.
I had done it, gone through the hard times and the marriage break-up, the love affairs, some of them profane.
And the strange lesson was that what I had sought had been next door all along.
I had learned enough about life. Enough about emotional rolle-coasting, loss of wife, children, home.
This was just too much material, too much storm and stress.

I ended up publishing the novel at my own expens; no one would immediately publish my work. But I had made some sort of statement, and there was an Ontario Arts Council grant in the offing as at least part-reward for my strivings and explorations. The grant said, in effect, "You are for real."
But I think I had finally learned something.
The blessed familiarity of the chalkboard and the overhead projector!
Don't tempt the fates.
You can die of your dream.
Like you can die of middle age.

The nagging thought came, that I had somehow saved my life.

12 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I admire your bravery. I could never have left such a job to take a chance like that.

Dr.John said...

I am trying to decide if that was a happy or a sad story.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Sometimes the Ronin (rogue Samurai) comes back with a black eye and all cut up.
And footsore and levitation-weary.

When I returned, the other profs said, "You are a pale shadow of your former self."

Looks like this time The Shadow did not know.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Dr. John,

I think the gambler lost that time.

benjibopper said...

you mean my grant doesn't mean i've made it? you mean self-pity doesn't sell? argh. back to the drawing board. only i can't draw either.

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

I kind of like the first chapter of St. Exupery's The Little Prince. .

The little alien prince comes to the downed pilot trying to fix his Snoopy plane.

"Draw me a sheep," says the little alien prince to the busy pilot.

Well I'm sure we downed pilots can at least draw a sheep.

Hard to draw one here with my technology lag, but in Mandarin, it would look like this: 的随手涂鸦

...That is a mean-looking sheep!

Ahh. Bahh.

Donnetta Lee said...

Oh, the path life takes us down. Some twists and turns are our own doing and some are not. Sometimes we're so damned blind we don't know how we got there (wherever there is). Guess the question is: Did you learn anything along the way?
Donnetta

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Well, my mistress at the time, said, "Now you know what you get when you *&^*- around with us broads."
I fear I didn't learn much.

Except that a randy prof will follow a beautiful woman anywhere and as a man, he can do nothing about it.

But that, I suppose, is another story.

the walking man said...

"Thirty years ago" personally I found this statement to be the only flaw in the telling Ivan. Let the reader figure out the time frame, you give sufficient clues to it in the dialog.

The leaving and coming back for me didn't include busting out of a boring claustrophobic job, but a cycle of boring claustrophobic addiction. I left haggard and worn from roughly 6 years of drug trippin' and feeling groovy. It was on the very day I turned 21 that I left. I came back not a shadow of my former self, but a regenerated me.

I think you did as well, come back regenerated, but the difference is I know it. You don't seem to have connected with it yet. It isn't to late to draw that re-birth into your present. It's never too late.

The same loss and starving you went through are the same gates I went through, like you Ivan, I found a way to get food, pay the rent, survive. That is the journey, not the passing through the gates, but what comes after...eh?

Funny thing..if you count back thirty years ago to 1978 I was already three years into my path...does that mean I blazed a trail on a well worn path for you?

Journeyman Peace

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Hey

Anonymous said...

Straight thoughts 167
May 17th, 2008

Ontario’s Health Minister has now reintroduced government funding for sex-change operations.

Our party had a policy against government funding of sex-change operations and other elective procedures since the early ‘90s.

Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins University Paul McHugh classifies transsexualism as merely one symptom in a larger complex of personality disorders, McHugh believes that psychiatrists should treat such patients with the talking cure, not radical, irreversible surgeries.

After extensive research into the subject, he stopped “sex-change” operations at John Hopkins and encouraged other facilities to do the same.

Sex is defined at conception by a gene in the DNA. This triggers a series of hormonal changes that shape people physically and mentally before and after birth.

Sex “change” operations do no change peoples’ sex, but can only shape genitalia. Currently these operations can be performed on men (removing their genitalia and creating a female “pocket”).

Where are the feminists and human rights activists screaming “discrimination” and requiring this procedure to be stopped until the opposite procedure can be performed on women? Someone should call the HRC!

More seriously, the Ontario Health Minister is using scarce taxpayers’ money for cosmetics and deception, instead of basic health.

Giuseppe Gori, Leader
Family Coalition Party of Ontario

ivan@creativewriting.ca said...

Well.

Maybe that's what I need.

I've gotten into an awful lot of trouble with this little dickie.