I have just finished reading Carol Brightman’s biography of the late Mary McCarthy, WRITING DANGEROUSLY: MARY McCARTHY AND HER WORLD. (NY: Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1992). Crawling through the 700 pages I kept wanting to learn something that would tell me why I should, as a writer, be the least interested in Ms. McCarthy, her celebrity life, screwy personal life or anything else. This time, as always, I read as I always do, first for content and edification about the subject, but secondarily looking for nubbins of potential poems or short stories, and getting ideas for titles of anything I might later want to write. Other writers have their own ways. These happen to be mine.
Mostly what came to me was a very odd and largely disturbed and knee-jerk life marked by deep interactions (Even biblically) with the country”s then self-appointed literary intellectuals (as sort of mafia, if you will). McCarthy was smart, talented, glib, snarky, political and contentious. I did make a note to acquire some more of her work to read (having read The Group) long, long ago. I’ll now try to find THE STONES OF FLORENCE (having once been a resident), VENICE OBSERVED (a place oft visited years ago) and her essays collected in ON THE CONTRARY.
One thing in the bio that caught my eyes was McCarthy’s references to “the literary rackets — the Hollywood racket, the New York cocktail-party racket, and the Stalinist racket, which in her mind had all become indistinguishably at a certain point of time in the Sixties. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I sat back, picked up a pen and started a list of modern “rackets” which is a code word for cliques who try to look over an control literature, either pushing it in their own images, or pushing people to conform to certain values, or to control the purse-strings and promotions to make sure only people deserving, by their valuations, can make their way forward through the commercial writing morass. My list included the academic literary racket, one of teachers and critics, another of teacher-writers, the MFA program racket, the small journal racket, the beleaguered literary women of america racket (an extension of feminism), the small club of NYC or Long Island racket, the Community Let’s all read the same book racket, and the neighborhood/circle of friends book club racket, and finally the library racket, all of which function as minor mafioso in the world of literature in books, each with its own claimed territory and vassals. A racket, after all, isn’t much of a racket without some organized element pushing, fostering, and controlling it).
At seventy plus (egad, my eighth decade), with three decades in the “author racket,” I find myself positioned pretty much far outside the perimeter of such mafioso and their rackets, and silly games. It seems to me that it’s difficult enough to keep the pedal to the metal, creating verse, prose, cartoons and paintings in various forms, and more importantly to keep the production up, pushing raw material to finished product on a regular and steady basis. This, after all, is where you actually make a living, not in living the road life talking about work, but by actually doing the work. It certainly makes me wonder how some people can flit around to all these extraneous things AND do their work, but this makes me then wonder if a lot of writers are not as enamored of the hardness of the work as I am. I like the grind, look forward to it every day, sleep it every night and nap. Which makes me wonder how others find solo time and space to do the real work of our chosen profession. The answer, I confess, eludes me still.
The greatest part of the puzzle in this is why my colleagues would bother spending time in such settings. Most of the writers I know (the real ones, not the skaters and wannabes) are loners by nature. Most of us possess adequate social skills to get along reasonably well in a group and some of us are good enough to fool people into thinking we are social creatures, but mostly this isn’t true. Some of us can turn it on when we are”outside” because that is what that part of the job requires and when that part of the job is done, we crawl back into our shells and plod forward. The point is that we are seldom gregarious and those of us who think enough of each other personally, find ways to interact and help one another and we do it without hoopla. You take care of your own kind and you never let a pal down: Pretty simple rules when you get right to it. When people ask me what the writing life is like I generally answer the same, work, work, and more work. Thanks to luck and my genes I am able to read fast and write fast (compared to many others). The largest part of my work takes place in my mind, not on the keyboard beneath my hands. The typing, first draft part is to some extent anti-climactic, though the actual writing often veers off in unanticipated directions and as the writer you have to either give in and follow along, or excise it and get back to your track. Either way, the mind part is far more cumbersome and time consuming than the building-the-story on paper part.
That’s it from here. Lonnie saw her second wolf of summer yesterday, not 300 yards from first sighting point. We are on the edge of territories for two packs her, the Arvon Pack and the Alberta Pack. We have some deer, which is why they are here, and lots of beaver, which is summer quarry, and no coyotes, who, like hunting dogs, do not prosper well in wolf territory. Kari Price, the boss of the campus here is by training a naturalist who is a wild plant guru. Lon is learning to ID various flora from Kari and the latest discovery is pineapple weed. Look it up. Very aromatic, when crushed in your hand, and aptly named. DAY 61 since we arrived, snow and/or rain 32 of those 61. Half the year is gone and the days are now slowly getting shorter, but it is a long march to fall. Not out adventuring much. Wrote three short stories this week and got ideas for another 4 or 5, which I’ll probably write later after I think on them some. The titles of the three are “DELIVER US TO EVIL, EXCEPT THAT’S NOT HOW LIFE IS, and MAWINZO, HE PICKS BERRIES.” Pushing two dozens toons and 20 poems, and output seems good. Even got the camp cartoon book all set for later this month. Will post couple of photos in a minute. Over.
Real pals bring great wines. Mike Vairo visited this week and brought a bottle of Brunello de Montalcino, my favorite.
Pineapple Weed, up close.
Our Deck Garden, including a half dozen kinds of peppers and basil.
Storm photo taken in Iron River area by retired state trooper, two nights ago. Not as splashy that night up here. Great shot of lightning.