Friday, March 22, 2013

Leaving it all behind (at least, this time).

When a writer plagiarizes himself, he's in trouble.
At least when takes the envelope of another's style and fills his own stuff in.
So here is one more rogue elephant story about a middle aged guy who had had enough of his pigeon-grey institution:
A lifetime ago, I was a college professor with a flair for writing fiction. I had a secretary and a receptionist. and a computer hard drive full of emails from important tliving novelists whose work I lectured on. I was still in their circle, at least with the Canadians, and I missed their company, usually at the old but swell King Edward Hotel on King Street, Toronto, Oh, I'd miss the mammoth drunks at that place, from whose upper stories, you cold see the claimed, claimed again-- and reclaimed landfill that was lakefront Toronto, not yet obscured by the somehow Oriental-appearing greed towers that replaced any hopes of waterfront renewal. We merely drank at the club downstairs--or covered convenions on Great Lakes water pollution that never seemed to get anywhere. We were at the old King Eddy to revel and carouse. It was a "Once Upon a Time There Was a Tavern" period. We were young writers, sure to have our way; so sure and exuberant that many times we were asked to leave, after our enthusiastic, animated reconstructions of great sprawling novels, in the smoky air-- back in the days before the tobacco prohibition; nervous, selfconscious waiters who didn't want to hear our ...bullshit, and stop all that smoking, there's a law you know.

Doctor or horses ass, we all loved the place all the same. It was an oasis from reality, though we were all nearly solidly ensconced in our in chosen professions; but he shits were killing us, and we knew it, nevertheless it was fun to rant and revel, to drink the incredible Canadian draught at the time, of which you could drink gallons, feel good, and never get a hangover, back the days when Molson's didn't pay tribute to the chemical industy...Or Toronto the the Peoples Republic of China--or Palermo.

Yet there always came tomorrow, the workaday, and you were at that godawful age of 39, when the artist in you was shouting, now! now! now! while at the college you were parsing the kraut syntax of Franz Kafka.

Some of my fellow teachers had already turned grey. There seemed a restlessness among them, almost a snippiness. "Why should I sully the profession with my own clumsy scrawls?"...But deep in their hearts they knew that writing talent or not, you couldn't make a living of it. So they stayed. Some of them seemed a little ill. Was this the way of writers-turned-teachers?

Ah but there was always the King Eddy where we could often be found, lying, bragging, throwing wild promises to the wind.

During the day, we were pigeon-grey academics in our pigeon-grey pigenhole offices. And we knew, already, in 1977, that things were going to get worse. But Trudeau was in office, the country was in good multicultural hands, and we were sure to have our way.

But the way seemed somehow inauthentic. Something was warping the zeigeist in the midst of the Vietnam war. Further shit was sure to happen, as we watched the completion of the World Trade Centre via New York Magazine and Buffalo TV. And our own CN Tower to almost rival such Faustian projects.

Life was too good. But we all sensed, artistically at least, that things were going to get worse. The Titanic was heading for the iceberg. It would take some time, but the unried monster boat was surely heading for that great white Hoo-Doo.

In the middle of the partying and working, I decided to jump ship.

I went to Mexico to write still another novel.
I got it done by discipline alone. Finished on page 500, but knew in my heart that it was no good. I had to go go to work now, to the old job, or get a new one.
I soon arrived back at the college, where I had once achieved an untenured professorship there by way of an earlier book, a fluke, a local bestseller, an odyssey of novel about about an escape from suburbia, from Tikertown Newmarket, Ontario.
I returned to find not much had changed. There were still lots of restless, greying forty -year- olds in their micro offices in their Dilbert cubes in Toronto who wished like hell to have done what I did, even if it meant loss of security, personal and financial. But they were still in their Dilbert cubicles, and presently, so was I. Return of the native.
I had come home with a manuscript. But what kind of manuscript?

I failed. Bad knight. Broke my lance in the quest. The goal was wrong, my talent somewhat short. At the end of two years of the writing, rejection. Who me? God's chosen?

The Alvin and the Chipmuks song in my head, as if out of a computer: "Yes you." I did not bother to resubmit. I knew that the book was no good. Just knew it. Too wordy, too long, to unstructured for somene who was supposed to be a seasoned pro. I was also broke. I had to get a that job.

Teaching was far easier than writing. Writing was going the long, hard way. Hardest thing about teaching was figuring out what you were going to talk about the next day.It also paid five hundred dollars a day, whereas for an author, the pay was next to nothing The reward would have been fifty thousand dollars flat, and if your book didn't go, you had to pay some if it back. Law of deminishing returns the economics profs said.

But even here, in the ivied halls of Lady Eaton's former estate in King City in my third semseter there, I was beginning to sense there was now even less security at King than in some writer's colony in West End Toronto..

My employer, Seneca College, was trying to fire me.

Even at this, there was now the possibility of failure...


Charles Gramlich said...

Depending on the class and the subject matter, versus the topic of the writing piece, I sometimes find teaching easier and sometimes harder. Teaching my writing class is certainly very very hard, though.

PhilipH said...

Some geezer once said:
"Those who CAN, do. Those who CAN'T, teach".
Cruel? True? Or Wotttt.

Anonymous said...


The trick of a writing master, I found, was to motivate one's students, set them on fire.

I don't know how I had been achieving this, till one student wrote down a sentence of mine and showed it to me.

"Ivan says 'in New Guinea the men have abnormally large penises.

'Corollary: Ladies, ladies, the boat for Port Moresby doesn't leave till Monday!'"


Maybe you're just not eccentric enough. :) said...


And those who can do neither, do they get kicked upstairs to administrate?


PhilipH said...

Peter principle says: "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."
Therefore an author is NOT an employee so it wouldn't apply. But anybody else employed in a hierarchy IS likely to be "kicked upstairs" so to speak.

Anonymous said...


Yes. But like my mother used to say, "Not everybody."
My campus dean at Seneca King City was all the time affecting incompetence, which somehow made him very much liked. "There's old sleepy." He seemed a smart man who walked like a fool.

Heh. I guess he was President material, not having yet reached his level of incompetence.
But then the real President didn't seem to reach his own level of incompetence. Hell, he offered me tenure if I agreed to go to the Arctic Circle and teach the Inuit.

I think I myself had been incompetent in my not looking out for myself. Damn, it meant a year or so in a Gulag, but I would have then been set for life. with seventy per cent salary.
Instead, I said to my wife, "I am an artist, Martha," and went off to write still another book.
Well, Penelope finally had enough of Ulysses' wanderings.

Friends said later,"You gained
a novel, but you lost a wife."
There was slight satisfaction at "gettin' 'er done," but like a Character in
English author William
Goldings novel (Pincher Martin?) he was probably artistically dead while thinking all the time that he was as creative as anybody else.

I guess time will tell, but I'm not placing any bets. I still smile when friends in the pub say, "All you have to do is die."

That's some career move. :)

BTW, Philip, thanks so much for having the patience to put up with my blog's authentication. I myself can't get in to "prove I'm not a robot" and have to try many times to comment on my own domain.


PhilipH said...

"All you have to do is die"

Well, yes - that sometimes works, especially if your name is, e.g., Vincent van Gogh. But you can never actually collect your winnings from such a risky bet.

However, it's definitely a way to become immortal, init!

Anonymous said...

Curiously, when I was in the newspaper business, well-intentioned friends would tell me,"van Gogh? Go to any madhouse.
They all paint that way."

This gave me a double-take.

My friend had been a Typhoon pilot over D-Day in Normandy. He had to know something.