Note: In a new poll, Mitt "The Millionaire Mormon" Romney is tied with President Barack "No We Can't" Obama. Liberals and progressives must remember that 50% of the voters in this stupid nation are dyed-in-the-wool idiots and idiots vote for idiots. How about Mitt "The Millionaire Mormon" Romney choosing Ted "Kill 'Em, Skin 'Em and Hang 'Em on the Wall" Nugent for his running mate? Sounds like a winning idiot combination to me.
A Writer Dumb to Writing
I am reading Somerset Maugham (A Summing Up) and marveling at his vast understanding of writing and how he's able to analyze other writers and seemingly precisely know what he finds incommunicable about their characters and beginnings, middles, and endings. Like the Russians. He finds Russian writers cold, depressing, creators of characters they don't seem to like, or act like they're bored with. He especially picks on Chekhov, who at the time he started writing short stories (in the 1920s-30s) was the cat's meow in terms of influence on English and American short story writers. Yes, he admits Chekhov was a good writer, but he emphasizes that Chekhov seems to write short stories simply because he finds writing short stories easy. Chekhov, he says, doesn't really develop his characters in interesting ways, that they all seem to be cast in the same light story after story, and that rather than giving his characters senses of humor, Chekhov makes them horridly depressing and frigidly cold even in lighthearted situations. Maugham goes on to praise the French, especially Guy de Maupassant, a very early influence in Maugham's life. Maugham was born in France (his father was with the British Embassy) and spent his early school years in French schools. He finds French short story writers more connected with their characters than English, American, or Russian writers. He mentions how Henry James tried to preach to English writers about their overburdening readers with a lot of peripheral wordiness in terms of their characters and their stories.
In reading Maugham, I come to the conclusion of just how dumb I am in terms of the essentials of good writing, though I feel I'm pretty sophisticated in my reading and in my choices of writers I love. Yes, I do find the short stories of Guy de Maupassant great. And, yes, Flaubert's stories turn me on. But, and I admit it here in spite of the boos that will resound around me from my worthy readers, I, too, also dig the sometimes eccentric stories of D.H. Lawrence. Or the cosmic journeys through words via the blessed Henry Miller. Or the wonderful long journeys found in the works of Nathanial Hawthorne, a psychoanalyst before the profession was even formulated. Or the wonderful writing of the blessed Herman Melville in his masterpiece Moby Dick or the truly amazing to me Bartleby the Scrivener. [I found an interesting quote in one of Melville's letters to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne in which he reviews The House of Seven Gables: "There is the grand truth about Nathaniel Hawthorne. He says No! in thunder; but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes. For all men who say yes, lie; and all men who say no, -- why, they are in the happy condition of judicious, unincumbered travellers in Europe; they cross the frontiers into Eternity with nothing but a carpet-bag, -- that is to say, the Ego."]
I suppose my American writing idols would say they were metaphysical writers. Transcendental in that wonderful old New England sense of being metaphysical, something that can truly be appreciated in the music of my American musical hero Charles Edward Ives, a man who quit writing his wonderful transcendental (metaphysical) music in 1914 but music which today keeps on inspiring me to dare to try anything in my music no matter the neglect it will receive me, that same neglect that will be received by my "old-fashioned" writing skills.
And both Maugham and myself are now way far out of date in terms of contemporary writing and writers, of whom I know absolutely nothing about, same as I have no up-to-date knowledge of who is influential in this plethora of coming-and-going global musicians and pop idols that seem to change week-after-week; yet I stand amazed at how some of my close friends seem to know these people, both writers and entertainers (and aren't writers simply entertainers?) intimately as they come and go like passing ships in the nights.
The other day while dining in one of my very favorite Manhattan restaurants--and I give it a recommended nod: Brendan's on West 35th Street--Brendan, the proprietor, who I can proudly admit knows me in a friendly way from back during his days as a bartender in my favorite Irish pub--I was dining with a woman I highly respect for her modern approach to life--and this woman seemed to know every tune and its performer that came up over the Brendan's music app--a lot of bars and restaurants now getting their music off the Internet these days. She knew music I had no knowledge of, except I did recognize a Sting thing of all things, and all who know me know I hate Sting--but this woman knew Adelle and I had never heard of Adelle. Also this woman is up-to-date on contemporary writers. While I'm still enchanted by the work of Somerset Maugham she's intimately into writers I never heard of and may never get around to reading, though she did give me a mystery novel, Cabal by Michael Dibdin, while I was in the CPU at Bellevue that I read and enjoyed though I found a lot of it cumbersome with detail and a bit contrived in terms of making its surprising plot work out in a surprising way.
My God, I'm still reading Freud. I'm so out-of-date and antiquated in my tastes as to be reading and writing in the shadows of a forgotten past.
Like I'm currently writing on a novel. And, like Maugham, I find novel writing tedious and sometimes nerve-wracking. Like though this novel is evolving smoothly and easy on me, in suddenly going back to Chapter 1 and rereading it, I found myself disgusted with it and rewriting it because I realize, as it has progressed, and I'm up to Chapter 11 on it so far, there are so many damn years between Chapter 11 and Chapter 1 it is demanding tons of catch-up writing in terms of relating Chapter 1, which is in the NOW, to all the ancient history chapters from Chapter 2 until Chapter 11. I mean at Chapter 11, I'm a multitude of chapters ahead in order to bring this evolving story up to the NOW where it will finish. I've got one hell of an editing job ahead of me, though like Hemingway taught me, write it on out before you go back and start it again. I remember reading in Witter Bynner's wonderful book on his life and times with D.H. Lawrence, A Journey With Genius, how D.H.L., who wrote his manuscripts in pencil, would finish a rough draft, put it aside and start rewriting it over again. Bynner said he once picked up a second draft of Lawrence's and compared it to a first draft and he said he was amazed to find them almost word-for-word the same. Oh that I could write with such confidence, though obviously, that is not the case with me--at least not in terms of this damn novel I'm working on. I mean, dammit, the first chapter is reality; yet it has no relationship to the next 10 chapters, except in terms of the main character and what is compelling him to get to the point he is at in that first chapter.
for The Daily Growler
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Once Upon a Railroad
I would suppose most kids growing up these days probably seldom hear a train much less see one. I suppose there are kids growing up by railroad tracks all over the country, but they grow up seeing those tracks as dangerous places and certainly not places you would even want to find kids playing. In fact, railroads now-a-days put impenetrable fences between their tracks and kids who are attracted to their sites as playgrounds.
I grew up alongside the Texas & Pacific Railroad's train tracks, first in the city where I was born, and then later as a juvenile way out in East Dallas. I grew up on the TeePee, as it was called, on the tracks that ran those TeePee trains from Dallas east over to Shreveport, Louisiana, and those same tracks running west from Shreveport and then Texas places like Marshall, Longview, Terrill, Forney, running night and day into and out of the Dallas Harwood Yard, which was due west of our house just by the Texas State Fair Grounds.
My mother had an great aunt who was a permanent resident in the Terrill, Texas, State Insane Asylum, later renamed the Terrill State Hospital. This old aunt's belfry was chocked full of bats, so Insane Asylum fit her to a tee. When we lived in Dallas we would go over to see this aunt and her husband a lot--sometimes the hospital, they were very liberal with her, would let her come home for long stays and I remember mostly visiting her the times she was home. I remember her rocking on the big front porch of her house, talking a blue streak, babbling away merrily about her memories of times past. She seemed OK to me, a little kid, but I was more fascinated by the fact her husband, a good kind gentleman who looked at his pocket watch a lot, worked for the TeePee and that their house was a yellow clapboard house known to all who passed by it as a railroad house. That aunt and uncle's house was the property of the Texas & Pacific and was situated right by the north side of the double tracks of the TeePee as they passed through Terrill. Their front yard, sandy and sloping with two big bois d'arc trees at each side of the yard ran right up to the TeePee roadbeds. There was no fence separating the yard from those tracks. The trains literally ran through their front yard.
The fact that this old aunt was loony didn't bother me. My excitement was when we were there I got to play out in one corner of that yard under one of those bois d'arc trees on a pile of coal that my uncle gathered from the coal that fell off those coal-powered trains or off the coal hoppers if the train were a coal train by the side of the tracks, coal which he gathered into a pile to be used to fuel the coal stoves in that yellow railroad house. That coal pile under that bois d'arc tree was close enough to those tracks that when a train came by it rattled the ground I stood on and I thrilled from first waving at the engineers and getting waves back, and sometimes those guys would let loose a short blast on the whistles and sometimes the big bells on those locomotives would be clanging away, and always the power of these montrous machines, some of the biggest things rolling on earth, kept me thrilled to my quivering bones as they truly thundered past me. After one would pass, I couldn't wait for the next one to come.
In Dallas, out in those East Dallas Johnson grass fields, our house was only about a quarter of a mile over grass fields north of us from those same TeePee tracks and I and my friends year 'round always made one of our play stops those train tracks.
I was even close to those tracks at my elementary school, the TeePee running just over the back fence of the schoolyard. One of my classmate's father worked for the TeePee and had a rail handcar that he went to work in and then came home in at night everyday, parking his handcar in a little tin-shack garage just off the tracks with its own set of tracks in his backyard. That man would stop the handcar, then pick up one end of it, then push it around so it fit down on its own set of tracks that led it into that tin-shack garage.
When my buddies and I played on the railroad tracks we would of course throw rocks. The ballast between the tracks was filled with great solid clean rocks so easy to throw and we all could throw rocks like rock-throwing Olympians, whiz 'em at the glistening tracks, or sometimes, when we felt especially evil, and as most little kids we felt evil a lot, we'd throw those rocks at the moving fastly by rolling stock of those trains. We would also put pennies--and one time I put a dime (a hell of a lot of money for a kid in those days)--on the tracks and then go find them after the trains had rolled over them and flattened 'em out to elongated states.
But our greatest thrill while playing on those tracks was a game we played. We learned to put our ears to the rails and hear the trains coming before we could see them. Then we would all get up on the roadbed in the outside-the-rails ballast as high up and close to the rails as we dared, the closer the better. We would lay down on our backs as close to those tracks as we dared and see if we could stay there as the full sometimes mile-long trains passed by us. Most of us couldn't take it and rolled down to the safety of the grass off the roadbed when we chickened out. One time one of my friends stayed really close up high in that ballast and a rock from the ballast was blown like a bullet by the roaring train and it caught him in his cheek; it almost knocked him out. We came up with a story for him to tell his parents; we were throwing rocks at a squirrel and one of the rocks struck a tree limb and ricocheted back and hit him.
Those were still very active railroad days, WWII being the peak of railroading in this country. After that war, the railroads started declining in terms of business, losing a lot of business to trucks and the new interstate highway projects that started about that time that created a highway network that put most of the old reliable railroad companies totally out of business. The big railroads started going into receiveship in the fifties and started going bankrupt in the sixties and started merging trying to save themselves in the seventies and eighties and by today, there are only three or four lines still running, one the Union Pacific (it merged with the Southern Pacific) and the Burlington Northern (a merger of the old Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (the Burlington) with the Great Northern, the Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee Road, etc.) that then merged with the Santa Fe to become the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe, or the BNSF as it is known to railroad buffs, who are called "railfans." The government tried to organize a national railroad, Consolidated Railroads for freight, called ConRail, and the American Passenger Line called Amtrak. The big eastern railroads, the B&O, the Chesapeake & Ohio, the Southern Railroad, the Seaboard Line, the Norfolk & Western, all merged to become the Norfolk & Southern. Then this conglomerate road combined with ConRail to form CSX. The government so mismanaged ConRail and Amtrak, that they soon were terribly in debt; if you want something mismanaged to death, let the government privatize it; it's a guaranteed failure; look at the US Post Office since the government privatized it? It runs billions of dollars in debt every year in spite of postage and shipping rates going up regularly and the fact they wasted millions of dollars sponsoring the bike team led by Lance Armstrong (pumped up, too, don't you think; like was his cancer steroid related?) that won the Tour de France several years in a row.
To this day, I'm so fascinated by railroads, one of my ways of relaxing is watching railroad videos and I have over 100 of these, and they are long, too, most of them an hour and a half each, and they are boring, too. Railfans just want to see trains; they care nothing about scenery, nature, that sort of stuff; they only care about the trains themselves; especially the locomotives, the units, as they call them. Most of them are of diesels now but I have a lot of steam films, too. I relax on them. But they really are boring.
I feel I'm on the right track with this "riding the rails" therapy. It keeps me chugging right along. It keeps me highballing through life.
I had an electric train as a kid, too. It was a Santa Fe Warbonnet painted diesel unit that pulled 5 cars and a caboose. I never played with it much. Why should I? I had real live trains to play with.
thefanaticrailfan (who is thegrowlingwolf)
for The Daily Growler