Wednesday, May 19, 2004

life of buddy don, chaptur 119: payshunts

durin the winter quarter of 1981, i tuck a class i wuznt spozed to take n everbidy tole me twood put me behind on finishin my masters 'on time.' twuz hard to unnerstand what the hurry wuz on a counta thay wuznt much in the way of jobs that i could see fer folks with thar masters in english, but twuz a refrain i herd a lot whenever i sined up fer a class name of advanced creative ritin. they had em a riter thar who had dun published a shelf of books. twoodnt do to call his name, so ill jes refer to im as the grate riter.

twernt lack i dint take the reglar graduwait assistunt -- 'ga' -- duties n a cuple english graduwait classes, witch i wuz takin one class in the victorian novel n a nuther in 19th centry poetry. fer my ga duties, i had a class i wuz teachin with a dee jay feller name of eddie philips, witch he claimd he wuz whut they call a abd, witch that stands fer all but dissertayshun. he wuz gittin a lil long in the tooth fer such a pursoot, speshly since he had dun been at it fer near ten years n fer him, time wuz a'runnin out. i reckon thats why he tuck the job of a dee jay at that classickull musick stayshun they gut over at utk, witch ye kin tune it in a 91.9 whenever yer in knoxvull ifn ye wonta here how it sounds today. tuther ga duty i tuck wood be much more importunt in the long run of my life, witch twuz to wurk in the ritin lab. ill cum to splain thatn direckly.

but whut wuz eggcitin to me that quarter wuz how i gut to show my wurk to a real publishd riter n could git him to tell me whuther twuz wurth it to try to make a livin by ritin. the anser i gut wuz bof bettern wurser than whut i wuz a'hopin, witch i had dun figgerd how twuz often the case with tellin fortchuns frum all the tarot card readin i had dun.

on the furst day in that class i could see why folks wuz a'tellin me not to take such a class. twoodnt do nuthin tords gittin me graduwaited n wood take up time n woodnt have me bein pushed by the rite kinda competishun. that las lil bit dint make much sense to me till i gut to the class n found it filld with verr young students who wuz still ritin down how bad it hurt to be a teenager. i wuz thonly grad student in the class, witch that meant i had way more eggsperients than innybidy else, bof with ritin n with livin a nuff to have sumthin to rite about. so them that wuz advisin me, witch that wuz manely my major perfesser dr alexander, wuz rite in one sense, but they dint know jes how big a hed i rilly had: fer me, the competishun wuznt tuther students atall. twuz the grate riter.

now twernt lack i wuz hopin he wood read my wurk n deecide he had met his match nor nuthin lack that. twuz i wonted to proov i had the talent i figgerd i had n i wonted him to bless it n mayhap innerduce me to his agent or sum uther kinda way give me a laig up on the ritin bizness. so i polishd up my bes wurk, stories i figgerd wuz good then even ifn i caint find a one of em now nor wood i wont ye to be a'readin em, lessn twuz to proov a point, witch is that i wuznt near as good as i hoped i wood be. that aint to say that the grate riter dint lack my wurk purty good. i handed in this one story name of 'entertainment for men,' n he sed twuz purty well dun, good dialog n care ackters, but then he sed sumthin that put me into a real quandry: 'you write well, but you are still trying too hard.'

no ye coulda dun sed mos innythang to me bout my ritin, even criticizin it n all, but whut wuz i spozed to do with add vice lack that? ifn i wuz trine too hard, how wuz i spozed to git better? try hard not to try too hard? quit trine? i hardly knew whut to thank bout that add vice, so i tuck him sum stories i hadnt hardly tride to make good jes to see whuther mayhap i wuz a natcherul or sumthin. he tole me he dint much lack it when folks wuznt willin to rite new thangs fer his class. twuz a ritin class, not a class on diggin thru yer ole papers to find sumthin to hand in. mayhap i dint take his class all that serious.

well that gut me a'goin rite good. i had been a'wurkin on a novel frum the time emilys mom maureen brung us sum notebooks. i had tride to doot a differnt way frum how i dun crap notes, witch i jes rote a chaptur n then tride to figger out whut to do next, even tho i had the mane idee alreddy. but with the new novel my hope wuz to make a outline n do lil care ackter sketches n all that kinda thang. turnt out to be a lot of stuff a bidy could do to make hisself feel lack he wuz wurkin on ritin sumthin without ever havin to rite much of nuthin. but i tuck them notes n a few drafts i had writ n wurked verr hard not to wurk too hard on ritin em up into a chaptur or two of the new novel. thang wuz, even whenever i had finishd typin em up n tuck em in to show the grate riter, i knew i dint wonta rite that particlar novel. i jes wonted him to tell me i had talent n he could hep me git started.

but twernt whut happend. he tole me twuz the bes thang i had handed in up to then, but whenever we wuz goin over whut had been handed in, he dint ast fer me to read mine to the class, witch he had dun that with the furst cuple thangs i handed in, even ifn twuz to show the class how close a bidy could cum without hittin the mark. in sted, he wonted the class to here a story write by a young gurl, witch to me she seemd lack she should still be in hi skool. i wuz burnin whenever she gut to readin. i wuz trine lack crazy to spot flaws. sum of the ritin wernt nuthin but pure cliche. it hardly had no style toot but wuz jes a purty strate tellin of how a young gurl gut raped by her boyfriend but cum home thankin she wuz the one dun rong. i wonted to hate it, but by the time she had the young lady packin her thangs so she could leeve home n brang no further shame on her fambly, i wuz so caught up in it to whar i couldnt hardly member to figger out whut wuz rong with it.

whut hurt the mos wuz how twuz bettern innythang i had handed in my ownself.

so i tuck to ritin sum quick pieces, trine my hardest not to try but trine hardern ever. it gut to the point whar i hated a'goin to that class on a counta how it seemd lack he wuz jes a'usin everthang i had writ to make points to the class on how ye kin be a real good riter n still make the mos basick miss takes, lack fergittin to mentchun the weather or how sumbidy looked or eggazackly whar sumthin happend or jes not bein all that specifick. i wont never fergit how he sed to the class, after he had dun red one of my stories to the class his ownself, pointin out all the good thangs but notin that whenever ye gut dun with it, twuznt a verr good story. he even had a hole class on why twuz such a failure.

corse, whenever he sed my ritin wuz a failure, it seemd lack he wuz a'sayin i wuz a failure. i wuz shore twuznt true n wonted to proov it to him in the wurst way, but whut i wuz a'doin wuz usin the wurst way to doot, witch wuz to git mad at him n try to show im. i finely tuck it into my mind to rite a letter to im splainin how rong he wuz, but i figgerd twood be better ifn i let it be lack a story with a care ackter gittin reddy to have a fuss n fite with sumbidy. once i gut it set up, the thang pratickly rote itself. by the time i handed that in, i dint keer much whut he thought bout me. corse, that turnt out to be the bes thang i rote, lease accordin to his way of lookin at thangs. whut made is wurse wuz how all my anger at im faded bout as quick as he handed it back with a 'a' on it n a lil note sayin 'This is some fine writing, Bud."

after that class i went by to see him in his offus. i reckon the rest of the english department wuz a lil ashamed of the grate riter on a counta his offus wuz on a differnt floor frum all tutherns. thays that sayin, witch i probly dun writ it once but it bears repeatin: them that kin rite, rite, but them that caint rite, teaches. innywho, i went by n wonted to let him know how serious i wuz bout ritin. i ast him could i brang him a novel i had dun writ, not fer credit in the class, but to find out ifn thay wuz inny point in trine to git published. corse whenever i wuz astin fer his pinion, i wuz rilly jes wontin his praze. he tuck the manuscrip fer crap notes n even ackted lack he wuz glad to git it.

i kep throwin thangs together to hand in, gut in the habit of thankin thru a lil thang i wonted to show bout the weather or the way grandie's house smelt or mos inny lil thang. i figgerd i had dun muffed his class n mite jes as well git sum practiss in on thangs bout my ritin i needed to wurk on. i even rote one purty good story witch i kin stand to read even today. but all i rilly wonted to here wuz his praise fer crap notes.

we finely gut to the las day of that class, witch fer me twuz lack the las card bein laid onto the table of the celtic cross. i could see how he had brung the manuscrip to class n i half hoped he wood tell the class bout his discuvry of a grate amurkin novel n ritin talent. it dint go thataway. in sted, he handed out the last thangs we had writ, lettin folks go once they had gut em, witch they had bof the grade fer that last bit of ritin n fer the class on em. bout halfway thru i figgerd i wuz a'gonna be last, witch that made sense on a counta how i wuz thonly grad student.

finely everbidy wuz gone n he give me the last paper i had handed in. i wuz a lil sprized to see he had give me a 'a' in the class, speshly after all the criticism he had dun put me thru. then he give me the box holdin crap notes n sed, 'It's a big old baggy American novel.' i dint hardly know whut to say bout that, so i kep quite. then he sed i wood need to have payshunts.


'Bud, I know this is going to be hard for you to hear. You are young and full of energy and talent. You want to make your living as a writer. That's not much of a living, by the way. But you have a metaphysical mind and that means you have to avoid becoming impatient. It's going to take a long time for you, longer than for most, to settle down. People with truly great talent always take time to settle down, to do their best work. You haven't got it made by a long shot, but you are well on your way and, barring unforseen disaster or unperceived lack of character, you will make it, probably beyond your wildest imagination. Realize that you could be a writer such as Kafka.'

i wuz about to burst with pride to hear that. twuz all i could do to say, "kafka?'

'I mean, you might not find any success until after you are dead.'

i doubt ifn i touched the ground fer lease half the way home. i wuz verr happy n could hardly wait to tell emily. but i dint make it that far befor them doubts gut to settin in. i wonted to git published rite then. i wonted to make money by ritin. ifn i wuz a'gone take a long time to settle down n do my bes wurk, whut wuz i spozed to do in the mean time. fack is, by the time i gut home, i wuz feelin bout as down as i knowd how to feel.

i dint even brang up whut the grate riter had tole me whenever emily cum home, manely on a counta how she had dun talked over her thesis with her major perfesser n he had praised her wurk n tole her she should be thankin bout whar she wuz a'gonna go fer her doctorut. twuz moren i could stand hearin on a counta i wuz reddy to quit livin in acadeem n git to livin in the real worl. i could feel the itch to fuss n fite with her risin up in me n no doubt we wooda been scrappin befor dinner wuz et, but thar cum a knock on the door n twuz virgil. i et the last of my dinner n ast him did h he wonta take a walk, witch he figgerd we could go down to the vol market n git a quart of beer n mayhap walk over to the expo grounds.

we dun jes that n i tole him all bout whut the grate riter had tole me. i sed i wonted to be grate, but i dint wonta half to wait. he sed he envied me in lots of ways. he had his inventchuns, but the problem with them wuz how hard n eggspensive twood be fer him to make inny progress on makin a prototype or gittin a patent n all that kinda thang. fer me, he sed, all i had to have wuz paper n pen n time. wuznt that a nuff? did i half to have the worl tell me i wuz grate fer it to be wurth it? caws ifn twuznt, then why doot? ifn taint wurth it to try n fail, if the ritin itself wuznt a nuff, then why bother?

he wuz rite. we wuz bout halfway thru that quart of beer by then n wuz i ever sprized whenever he pulled out cuple joints mj had rolled him. he give me one n we lit tuther. we wuz sittin on a concrete wall in the dark a lookin over the ruins of the old trainyard n watchin the moon cum up. twuz a humid evenin n ye could spot the mist a'risin on the town. the beer n reefer wuz kickin in to whar we wuz bof feelin rite good.

finely i stood up n gut to deeclaimin, as twere. i tole him twuz wurth it to rite n ifn the choice wuz betwixt makin a lot of money but havin no ritin dun n havin a pile of paper dint nobidy wonta read after a life of barly makin it, twood be better to have the pile of paper. he laffed n drunk the last of the quart. i knew he wonted a nuthern, so i ast did he wonta walk down to the vol market. he waited a secunt n sed, 'payshunts.'

we musta sat thar sayin nary a wurd fer half a hour, watchin till the mist cum up hi a nuff to cover henley street.

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