Saturday, November 28, 2009
I want to go to MIT and be an engineer of Writing
Ah, summer time. When the publishing was easy.
Writing my poems in the summer with sure publishing by fall time in something called the Fifth Page, my college's literary magazine. Once in with the editors, knowing their ways, their foibles (one had a problem with impotence, so your wrote about impotence)-- you stayed in.
Young man on the make. And one poem in The Fifh Page could get you a job at the Toronto Star. Hang the journalistic requirements. One poem or short story could do it for you.
But once in the real world, you realize that your chances at the big time were not really good. "This is The Star. And at The Star, we have a policy of 'No stars'". So you did rewrites of crime stories, became a grunt, wrote headlines. Interviewed fire victims after a blaze, chased ambulances.
I wrote, on a copy sheet, "Get me out of here so I can hear the angels sing, to write poetry. Get me out of this portrait painting crapcan!" I had crumpled the copy cartridge up, but a woman editor picked it up later and read it. "What are we doing to you?"
Nice lady. Gave me the Education Beat where there was at least some hope. There was certainluy more satisfaction. My new milieu was among brighter, more accomplished people.
Besides writing about new developments in education philosophy "Make education student-centered and not teacher-centered", was the mantra of the Sixties, till they tried it as a matter of policy and hardly anyone could add or spell. Great for the genius, but not so great for the grunt.
I tended to my work and meanwhile entered a circle of really fine writers who did journalism to pay the rent whlle working on their books.
Ah, those were the days before published writers became snobs and snots, where you were welcome, and any number could play. Less egotistical, giving.
Hugh McVicar and Pat Williams.
Support, support. "Writing is a lonely business." "Talent seems to hide in the strangest places." "You got into The Star through a poem...But you can actually do the work. No fluke."
The poem? Frankly, it was not very good.
You tower over me like music
my lofty green-boughed tree
You whisper,You speak
In Paleolithic silence
Till the wretched hour of adulthood comes.
The other published poem, the whimsical one about Sex and the Slavic Social Climber was, I think, better and funnier.
And there had been the short story of impotence and woe, which surely pleased my prissy editor at the Fifth Page, but somehow gave people the impression that I was a poet of mpotence and woe. Maybe that was why Hugh had said, "Talent hides in the strangest places."
In fact, my glamorous new job had strange women calling me at night. Unlike my poor literary editor, there were actually chicks under my bed. Ah, youth. And a star at the Star where "there were no stars."
And then clunk. I was moved to the business pages where I produced grey copy among grey men and women.
I left the Star disappointed. They did not recognize genius, I keened. Are they blind, lazy, or just stupid? Heh.
Slavic social climber indeed.
Seemed to me more like "Nuke the Uke." There were maniacs in journalism. Don't give the cub an even break!
"Nothing personal," wonderful Star editor Gerry Toner had said.
"You just didn't amass enough experience berore getting to The Star."
Going back to Ryerson for my final year, a professor had been less kind. "All talent and no judgment, no experiencece. And I don't like your short stories."
Ah the young fool in the real world.
I went on the the Star Weekly, less fast paced, more open to creative writing. But it seemed I had cooked my own goose by 27. And the Leonard Cohens and Irving Laytons were ploughing deep furrows in Canadian Literature. I was nowhere near those luminaries in talent, but neverheless seemingly stuck in second gear at The Star Weekly, writing about baton twirlers, olympic wrestlers, skaters, professional athletes.
"Watch it, baby," my wife had said." With your stories of impotent professors, you may yet be abused by professional athletes. I worry about you sometimes. While driving the car, you seem to be really shy of being rear-ended," she laughed.
I worried about it too. A professional jock sniffer made good money. "But I want to be a novelist," Martha.
"So why don't you write a novel?"
Ah, nice work if you can get it.
That took much time and learning. Developing your craft.
And I was the hare among tortoises. And the turtles were crowding me. And at this, at the novel writing, I had hardly begun.
So what to do. I was a zippy writer, but not a writer.
I would have to go back to university, to be among professional writers, to really learn how to write.
Hell. Go first class. Go Ivy League, though pedigree requirements were high.
I perused the MIT writing programmes.
The Writing Center (12-132) offers several services to the MIT community during the academic year. Students and staff members can get free individual consultation about any writing difficulty, from questions about grammar to matters of style, including difficulties common to writers, such as overcoming writer’s block, organizing papers, taking essay exams, revising one’s work, or presenting scientific information. They may visit the Center during any stage of the writing process: prewriting, writing a first draft, revising, or editing. Consultations may concern papers that have been (or will be) submitted for a grade. The Center is not, however, a proofreading service; it aims to treat writing as a process, to clarify and promote techniques of good writing. The Center also offers instruction both to individuals and groups in methods of oral presentation (how to write a speech, how to use visual aids, how to conduct oneself when presenting scientific or nonscientific information). The Center provides specialized help to those for whom English is a second language.
Well, English was surely my second language but I saw myself as Zipppy the Lood King, the ougragegeous raffish character out of, I thought, R.Crumb. Write rings around ya!
But, sadly, my marks at Ryerson had not been high enough, I could not possibly make Northwestern or MIT, so I bypased MIT, too rich for my blood, and settled for the Instituto Allende, in Mexico, a branch of the University of California.
Durn. No sooner I get off the plane than they promote me to professor of nonfiction because of my journalistic credits.
And I still didn't know how to write fiction.
I am wondeting to this day if I will ever get it.
Hm. I just got a note about MIT from somebody who had noticed my blog.
Be a novelist. Go to MIT. There are real writers there. The woods are polluted with them!
Ah Walter Mitty. There is hope. There is always hope! Even if long in the tooth.