Foto by tgw, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 2011
The Burden of Having to Write
I have been a very lucky man from Day 1. That I admit. First of all, I was lucky in birth. The members of the immediate family from which I'm from were oddities in the midst of a community of same-thinking-and-acting folks. Oddities? Yes. And the oddest of them? The ones who were writers--even the ones who were would-be writers.
First of all, I was lucky to have a grandmother, my mother's mother, who was a writer--a poet and a novelist--and, yes, she was published, so I guess I could call her an author.
As a writer, she loved to read. As a reader, she loved books. In her room was a book case. A tall wooden book case stuffed with books of all kinds. It was a small library but it had the right kind of books in it. Art books, fiction and nonfiction books, but especially a set of "big" books: two large compendiums of English literature from Chaucer to Joseph Conrad and one of poetry from Spenser to Stephen Spender.
My grandmother loved books so much, when her millinery shop failed in the 1920s, she went and got a job at my hometown's Carnegie Library. She became so popular a part of that very active library she soon rose to head librarian--my hometown was on Highway 80 and the Texas & Pacific Railroad, both avenues leading directly from the East Coast straight across America to the West Coast, Highway 80 known as the Bankhead Highway (after Tallulah Bankhead's daddy) and running straight across country from New York City to Los Angeles.
And my hometown was a highway stopover point and a railroad and bus stopover point, as well...and it was a place full of "motor hotels," later shortened to motels--motor inns they were called, too, and two big hotels, the big clumsy Hilton Hotel (it became the Windsor later) and the taller and more stately Hotel Wooten (a seventeen-story landmark whose big red neon sign could be seen for miles and miles all around my hometown's location on that flat prairie known in song as the Lone Prairie).
The other writer in my immediate family was my brother; an older brother, 15 years difference in our ages. After graduation from college and a stint in the U.S. Marines (in the South Pacific and China during WWII (the last war we supposedly won)), my brother, a history major, had no idea what he wanted to do for a living. He assumed all he was qualified to do was teach history, so he started looking for teaching jobs though in all his looks, he had no luck.
He, too, had grown up under the influence of my grandmother. He had been more intimately involved with her than I would ever be since while he was a freshman in college (he started college when he was 16), my parents moved up to Northern Oklahoma and left him behind to live with my grandmother.
He grew up in her library, too. While my mother and father both worked during the Great Depression, they would leave him with my grandmother at the library. He later would write a book about growing up in a library.
Both my brother and I knew library stuff and book stuff long before we went to even grade school. As a pre-schooler, I loved to be dropped off at the library and then allowed by my grandmother to go up to the children's reading room on the second floor and sit--I don't remember ever any children being there when I was there--and look at the wonderful old slides from all around the world through the library's stereopticon [Mr. Ed: This word stereopticon was red-lined by our ABC spell checker and when we clicked on the yellow highlighted word for the alternative it gave us "stripteaser"] and to look at all the wonderful picture books.
When I went to college and had to take Library Science, I whizzed right through it. I'd known how the Dewey Decimal System worked since I was a child. I'd even watched my grandmother's bookbinder, an old Scottish gentleman from Edinburgh, binding and re-covering books--I also knew about papers--like fly leaves and end papers and title pages and quarto and verso and copyrights and who the most famous authors were from several periods of literary time.
When I was 11 years old, living in Dallas and going to junior high, my grandmother, she had retired from the library, had remarried, thus my stepgrandfather from New York City, and had moved to Dallas, to a quaint little house on East Grand just across from Tennyson Park, that was enclosed by huge overtowering elm trees, had a goldfish pond in the back yard, and in the far corner of her back yard was a Model T Ford motor that sat there like a sculpture piece in that jungle-like back yard. Though I lived several miles southeast of my grandmother's house, where I went to junior high school was only a few blocks north of it. I was bused to the school in the mornings (yes, we had busing way before the Civil Rights Movement made it a controversial political matter) but in the afternoons I got to purposely missing the bus home so I could go by my grandmother's and then walk home from there.
Being a writer, my grandmother owned a typewriter, something very special in those days. Most families didn't have anyone with a typewriter in them. The typewriter, same as the piano, fascinated me (keys that you played with your fingers). My grandmother was very protective of her typewriter. She kept it on its special stool-table, a table with real tree limbs for legs. She kept it covered with both its original typewriter cover but also with an Italian-made cloth wall hanging depicting the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
Every time I was around her on those afternoons after school, I would beg her to let me "play" with her typewriter. I got so persistent that one afternoon she caved in, though in caving in she told me, "No, you can't play with my typewriter, but you can learn about it, how to treat it special, because it is special. It's what I write on; it's like my assistant, like a member of my family." And that day, she began teaching me how to type. It took me about two weeks of lessons to finally get her permission to type something up by myself. I still had that sheet of schoolboy notebook paper throughout my life until my last wife sent all my possessions, including 7 completed novels, to the Westchester County dump. On this sheet of ruled paper, I had typed my name and address, my age (11), and then a list of what I wanted to be and accomplish in my life (one being a professional hockey player, due to the fact my dad had just taken me to my first-ever hockey game (a Dallas team vs. a Tulsa, Oklahoma, team)). One of the very first things I wanted to be was a writer, "like my grandmother," as I put it.
And thus began my writing career. And thus also began my true deep appreciation of books.
In the meantime, back to my brother. After failing to get a teaching position, running out of his Marines GI Bill pay and mustering out pay, in desperation one day he walked into the offices of our hometown newspaper, got an interview with the managing editor, and told this man he wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Experience?, he was asked. My brother had worked on his college's literary magazine in which he had published several essays and one short story. The managing editor wasn't impressed much with the writing but he was impressed with my brother's gall--or "balls" as we would say today. Due to this "nerve," this managing editor gave my brother a chance. He assigned him to do a story. He was to take a ride on a new branch of the Abilene & Southern Railroad that was extended just after WWII to reach Ballenger, Texas, some 30 miles south of my hometown and then write a report of the trip (I still have a copy of this article in my collection of my brother's writings and books (my brother published 30 books during his long writing career and literally thousands of newspaper articles and magazine pieces)). The managing editor was so taken with this reportage, he hired my brother. Though not first as a feature writer but as a sports reporter. My brother's first column in my hometown newspaper was on sports and was called "Seein' Red," because my brother had red hair and was very out-front in his promoting the local athletic teams, of which we had many with a high school that had a state-championship football team and three colleges all with full athletic programs, two of those colleges sporting nationally acclaimed athletic teams--one Hardin-Simmons University with a nationally ranked football team during World War II and in the early 1950s led by their great quarterback John "Model T" Ford; and one Abilene Christian College that had one of the world's finest track and field teams, especially their world-record-holding relay teams--culminating in world renown during the Melbourne Olympics in 1953 when ACC's amazing Bobby Morrow won three gold medals and anchored the relay teams to two gold medals and two World's Records.
From being a reporter on our hometown newspaper, my brother was launched on his writing career, a career that carried him to a national fame that I could never duplicate--in the 1980s he hit his greatest fame as a commentator on the McNeil-Lehrer News Hour, Jim Lehrer once being my brother's protege.
My grandmother, my brother, and I weren't "educated" writers. In other words, we weren't "taught" how to write. Writing just simply came natural to us. My grandmother's son, my Uncle Uncle, was a good writer, too, though nobody knew he was until after he died and his wife sent my grandmother a portfolio of short stories he had written, the best one one about being a barnstorming pilot in an open-cockpit bi-winged Curtis Jenny--the best part of that story about his trying to fly over a 14,000-foot Rocky Mountain peak when his plane's altimeter only show the plane capable of going 11,000 feet.
Being around a library that was run by your grandmother inscribed you with literary ambitions; growing up hearing that grandmother and watching her typing day-in and day-out, usually writing poetry, but also I remember her at an advanced age tackling another novel (her first novel was published in 1944) also definitely influenced me toward writing. And she would talk writing with me when I'd ask her hundreds of questions about how she wrote.
And then one day in the 1950s, my brother sold two articles to The Atlantic Monthly, moved from my hometown paper over to Dallas, where he got a job as Book Editor of Dallas's largest newspaper, the Times Herald. As a book reviewer he received in the mail daily advanced copies of all kinds of books, nonfiction and fiction, to a point where at one time, right before the Kennedy Assassination (his editorials on the Kennedy Assassination gleaned him national attention and won him a several national awards), he was receiving hundreds of review copies a week. At that time, he claimed he was reading a book a day--7 books a week. Many a time I went to his house and he would let me go through his piles of books and pick out the ones I wanted--his only specification was that I read what I took. From those piles of books I found my writing heroes at the time, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and my special writing hero, Thomas Wolfe (the original from North Carolina and not the white-suit-wearing fop from Richmond, Virginia). The Sun Also Rises for Hemingway; Gertrude Stein's Making of Americans, and my first Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock, a posthumously published novel that arrived in Maxwell Perkins's office at Scribner's in a huge wooden crate, the original manuscript thousands upon thousands of pages long, Max Perkins himself editing the book down to a readable length. That book inflamed me--and along with my appreciation of Hemingway's and Gertrude Stein's simple let-flow way of writing--and after reading it, I set out to seriously become a serious writer.
And all of this review of books and their importance in my life was instigated after my pal, L Hat (www.languagehat.com) sent me an article on what libraries do with the overwhelming amount of books they sometimes have to cull off their limited shelves. Here's that article Bro. Hat sent me: http://www.cracked.com/article_19453_6-reasons-were-in-another-book-burning-period-in-history.html
Such an article makes me want to puke. How insane is burning books, especially rare Shakespeare editions, just because of rules and regulations? Every institution has its rules and regulations.
New York City's Little Prick Billionaire Mayor Defends His Wall Street Brothers and Sisters
Occupation Wall Street here in New York City is driving our fair city's Plutocratic Mayor Mikey Bloomberg absolutely insane. This little-man prick--Wall Street's buying his stupid stock-analyzing software made him rich (Merrill-Lynch the first to buy into it), so hell yes he has to defend Wall Street, which makes him an accessory to piracy and thievery. This little rich prick recently warned us stupid-ass New Yorkers--he's divinely anointed you know, otherwise, how did he get so rich?--that HE will not tolerate the "wildness" of the Occupation Oakland--the pissed off Oaklanders had started a bonfire near the Port of Oakland, which they shut down earlier in the week, which led to some cars being set on fire and some bank windows broken and that reminded me of the "agent provocateurs" during the anti-Vietnam War protests. "That sort of violence will not be tolerate here," the meanly serious mayor said, that serious more-pious-than-thou look on his dumbass face, "I won't allow that to happen here."
I'm listening to this little privileged jerk lecturing We the People of New York City on what we should or should not do, a divinely inspired attitude of his that correlates with the idea that since he's so fucking wealthy, he must be directly connected to the Divine One. Mayor Mikey is Jewish, so we assume he does consider himself one of the highest of the Chosen Ones. Occupy Wall Street is a force against this little prick, who is supposed to surely be in his last year of office as mayor after he forced HIS City Council (whose female head is head-over-heels in love with this little prick) to authorize him to run for an illegal third term--an election he only won by 50,000 votes over an unknown Black man (Bill Thompson)--an election Little Mikey spent $100 million dollars out of his own pocket to buy.
Mayors! How did these pretenders get to be so fucking powerful? This little billionaire prick has been the same-ole-same-ole New York City mayor We the Citizens of New York always elect, i.e., Ed "How'm I Doin'" Crotch (Koch), Jimmie "Phony" Walker, Abe "Crybaby" Beame, Rudolph "Mussolini" Giuliani, William "Pampered Bill" O'Dwyer, John "Playboy" Lindsay, David "the Black Mayor" Dinkins. I mean why would a man worth billions of dollars (recent statements say Mikey's only worth 12 billion (I've seen estimates he's worth many more billions than that given he's still raking in millions a year from Bloomberg Ltd.) be interested in a job that pays at best a couple-a-hundred thousand a year, chicken feed in terms of our billionaire mayor's worth? The reason: POWER. This mayor has increased his wealth since he was first elected as a replacement for Rudi "Mussolini" Giuliani, who himself tried to rig it where he was our perpetual mayor--though the City Council denied Rudi the opportunity to run for an illegal third term.
Mayors. Who the hell needs them keiko-muckity-mucks? A city as large as New York City should be run by the citizens of NYC--like Mayor Bloomberg's rezoning this city in favor of his real estate developer pals--like Mayor Bloomberg's wrecking our public school system in favor of his charter-school-chartering pals. Truth is, Bloomberg hates Blacks and Latinos just as he also hates poor Whites--and he's rezoning Manhattan so that he can drive Blacks and Latinos and poor whites off the island but especially out of Harlem proper and East Harlem where the Latinos live--Harlem being a well of wealth for real estate developers, EXCEPT, first they've got to drive those god-damn N-worders and Spicks out of that real-estate-developing goldmine. Bloomberg has also rezoned the shorelines of the East River so his developer pals can build 40 hi-rise luxury apartment buildings and executive hotels and luxury condos all up and down that river's shorelines.
Pardon me while I rinse my mouth out with soap to get my profane dislike of this Plutocrat mayor off my immoral mind.
In the meantime, the presidential election bullshit is being flung far and wide, Obama now appealing to his grass-roots base for funds again---Hey, Obama, I thought you favored those thirty-five-thousand-a-plate dinners over the stupid grass-roots idiots who you say you understand their frustrations over these Wall Street crooks and their continuing to be criminals without any fear of being punished but things ain't gonna change so We the People might as well get used to Wall Street crimes to continue full blast and with guaranteed funds for them should they get too big to fail again.
Sorry, folks, but I can't get US politics out of my hair these day! I mean politicians like Mayor Bloomberg feel because they can raise billions of dollars from us to run for a job that pays at most $400,000-a-year they are our dearest Big Daddy figures--we the stupid, the poor, the unsuccessful, the unambitious, the lazy, the ex-slaves, the illegal immigrants--the unpatriotic, the would-be terrorists, the friends of Palestine, the promoters of an Islamic takeover! Of course, they run for these positions because with multi-million-dollar campaign coffers whether they win or not they are elevated, these rather common-ordinary-already-rich men (and women)(the collected worth of Congress, I read last week, is now 4 billion dollars) to the entrance hall to the headquarters of the World's Power Elite.
Ah, Chaos! And when those solar flare storms hit us (starting they say for real in 2012) and all that projected plasma shoots down through this huge hole in our protective ozone layer now expanding widely over our North Pole and shuts down all electrical power it will leave We the People of the USA in the dark, in the cold or extreme heat, without any water, without any fresh food, without a chance in hell when all the nuclear power plants begin blowing up, unable to get any money out of our electric-dependent banks, unable to flee the Chaos since when our cars run out of gas and can't be refilled and the streets and bridges and highways will be jammed with escapees anyway--WHY, what writer isn't hopefully rejoicing over this coming disaster! Something to write about!
Claude Levi-Strauss said: " The world began without man, and it will end without him."
Henry Miller wrote: "The world dies over and over again, but the skeleton always gets up and walks."
Heinrich Heine wrote: "Wild, dark times are rumbling toward us, and the prophet who wishes to write a new apocalypse will have to invent entirely new beasts, and beasts so terrible that the ancient animal symbols of St. John will seem like cooing doves and cupids in comparison."
Kurt Vonnegut wrote: "What's going to happen is, very soon, we're going to run out of petroleum, and everything depends on petroleum. And there go the school buses. There go the fire engines. The food trucks will come to a halt. This is the end of the world."
for The Daily Growler