Monday, July 06, 2009
You mean even Nobel winner Heinrich Boll had my writer's problem?
In January of 1950, Heinrich Böll, a promising young German author yet to publish his first novel, was nearly in despair. To his friend, Paul Schaaf, he conddided how close he was to giving up all hope for a literary life.
If I were to describe my situation during the past three months, you would hardly be able to believe it;it's totally impossible for things to go on this way. My wife can't take it any more--things have gone so far that novels and shorts stories mean nothilng to me measured against a single tear shed by my wife:that is how things are...up to now, I've been unbable to work freelance, nor do I earn enough to buy shoes for my children. I've simply undertaken something impossible, and I have to confess I've reached a dead end.
Well, if it happened to an eventual Novel prize winner, it was small wonder that it once happened to me in the same situation.
Here is Chapter 16 of my second novel, THE HAT PEOPLE.
Quitting work suddenly with 200 dollars in the bank and a wife and child to feed was no easy matter. John thought that he would now keep up some sort of income by freelancing magazine pieces while working on his novel, one he had tentatively called The Climbers. It was to deal with people in the system, and what the system did to them. He had great plans when he started. Here at last was an escape, a way out of a regular newspaper or magazine job, the bloodsucking bane of every serious writer for a hundred years. Well, he had beaten it he thought. Laura did not take the news of his quitting well. You'll be sorry honey. A 200 a week job thrown over just like that.
He got up every day with the intention of writing. But Laura and young David were always around. Without an extra room it was almost impossible to write. He tried freelancing pieces, and he sold a few, but he was panicked to find that it was almost impossible to write from home. No privacy, too much going on. And they were starting to starve. Weeks would go by without anything in the fridge. Finally, no food for the family at all. The lean freelance cheque would be spent before John got them. And in a panic, he found he was losing his ability to write. He began to get rejections from his few contacts. The landlord hounded him. The Becker's Manager sneered at him when he would pay for a few badly needed things with, say fifty two pennies found in the piggy bank and around the house. After two months of being out of work and trying to make it freelancing, John and Laura faced leaner days than they could remember. Leaner even than those periods in Mexico, when their monthly cheques would get held up by the slow, confused Mexican mails. During those desperate days, in San Miguel, they would survive on potato pancakes and cheap fried sausage of dubious origin. Now, here in Downsview, Ontario they could not even count on such staples.
They had borrowed from anyone and everyone, losing almost all the few friends they had left, because of non-repayment. Pride kept them from going to either set of parents.
Desperation, panic. No gas in the sagging Austin. The last Mac's milk jar, which originally brought in 45 cents when returned, had been cashed. Something had to be done, John decided.
On a rainy morning, John got into the car, drove the Austin three blocks to the service station, praying all the while that the fumes he was running on would not give out, and produced a silver dollar to pay the attendant. The silver dollar was supposed to have been little David's to keep for life, a gift gotten in better, more optimistic times.
John, in his suit, clutching a scrapbook full of clippings of his old magazine and newspaper stories, felt like a bag of dung taking little David's money. Laura softened the feeling by saying, I think David will understand, don't you?"
I wonder if he will, John mused, wondering if he had a real plan for the future, pulling up to the offices of the Toronto Sketch, a new paper he had heard on the journalistic grapevine that the Sketch was now hiring.
Well, I had better luck than poor Henry Boll. I actually got the job. Journalism, yes, but shoes for the baby. Eventually I got a column as a rock critic and hey, having been in bands, I was practically in my medium, rock music, though the novel I was supposed to write was stuck somewhere on page 100.
....So good on the journalistic jackrabbit stuff. So disappointed when the editor threw up his hands at my first few chapters and had said, "Man, this isn't fiction. Travel, exotic settings, adventure. But you can' write, you can't fucking write fiction!"
Great to have the job, but what a let-down to do with the fiction project.
Tradest thou another ten years of poverty for a hope in learning fiction?
Well, I quit my job again and sort of did that.
Janitor by day novelist at night.
Got tired of the farting sounds and whoosh of urinals as I made my rounds. I was an artist, Martha! Not a klosetputzer.
Finally chucking everything , including the Stanislaw Dupa job and the mop, heading for my own personal Tahiti, where I would "paint".
Well, I am not Gaugin, but I think I hear a publisher knocking at my front door, apparently interested in my storyof Wahines and other women of exotic beauty.
I hope this isn't an illusion.
Probably is, as the last thirty years appear to have been.
I hear my Newfie friend wondering at my quest at authorship,
"Will he? Will he? Will he?
"Will he? F*cking asshole!"