Monday, April 26, 2004

pinions of buddy don:
on bein a riter

heres a lil snapshot bout ritin frum back in grad skool, witch i writ it in my diary. ye mite call this sum of the exter evidents of the thangs in life n pinions of buddy don, hillbilly. tiz about ritin n whut it means to call yerself a riter. n whuts the point of it all, if inny.

Thursday, February 5, 1981 2:45 pm

This morning, after arising at 4:00 AM, showering, making myself a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper, I picked up a short biography of Robert Southey, read it and the chapter from his The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson and, finally read a number of Charles Lamb's essays, most memorably "Old China" and "The Superannuated Man." As I read about Southey and read through Lamb's essays, I experienced the strongest rush of emotion I can imagine resulting from such unexpected sources. To begin with, the short work on Southey (contained in Noyes English Romantic Poetry and Prose and written, I assume, by Noyes) mentioned his enormous industriousness and poetic output. Noyes then made the point that in spite of Southey's self-assurance about being remembered as a great poet — and he was, after all, poet laureate of England — he ceased being read in his own day and is generally conceded today to have had little or no poetic talent and to have left very little poetry worth remembering.

I could not help but blush as I read this: I fear that I may share his fate, if I share a fate that fine. I have, for instance, already filled up a box that measures 2' tall by 3' deep by 4' long with various attempts to write something of worth. As far as I can tell, with the possible exception of a passage of two here and there, I have yet to produce anything worth remembering. The telling fact, in all of this, is that I myself am unable to recognize any value in my own work. Surely if my talents were developing as I've long hoped they would, I'd be able to recognize the worth of my work by now. It all seems so vain.

Turning to Lamb's essays, especially the two I mentioned, I found my emotions being further blown about by the hot air raised in my soul (such histrionics!!). "Old China" describes the happy state just above the poverty level that makes a person appreciate the value of their material acquisitions — the pleasure resulting from the struggle, I guess you might say. This state was compared with that of a person who has it made, and the former state benefitted by the comparison. This saddened me because Emily and I are struggling to to escape the former state into the latter. Worse: "The Superannuated Man" awoke in me the kind of depression (disillusionment with life?) I first felt (or remember feeling first) when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

(I remember that moment vividly: I was in junior high school, eighth grade, I think. The moment — and the resolve arose in me in a moment — occurred as I read George Orwell's 1984 and I reached the scene in which the woman with the dark, thick eyebrows passes the hero (Winston Smith) a note that said, simply, "I love you." That moment impressed upon me most forcefully the power wielded by a novelist.)

No sooner had I made my resolution than I began to question what I'd accomplish by becoming a writer. The best I could come up with — and it depressed me greatly — was that I might inspire other to write. (I'd considered "bringing others pleasure" and "enlightening the unenlightened" and "spreading truth," but I realized then — and I still half believe it — that these goals were unreachable, really (with the exception of bringing pleasure, which goal I considered both hit and miss and easily offset by the number of readers I'd bore or irritate). As for the latter two goals, I can see there's enough such literary work in the world already to enlighten and "save" all the souls that have ever been — and few souls enlighten or save themselves by literature.) In short, I fear and suspect I'm likely to end up a superannuated man, lacking the wit and grace of a Lamb, leaving behind my pile of scribblings, unworthy even of a Southey.

Then I come here, to McClung Tower, and write about my depression over writing, and suddenly feel energetic again.  But I still can't say why I want to write. I really don't know. But I know I want to publish and live by my writing more than almost anything. (God? Emily? Children? These concerns have precedence, if any do. Or so I say . . . )

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