Thursday, April 3, 2008

Failure as a Role Model

Showing up for the conventional Thursday lunch with Conrad, which is to say Barnaby, not Joseph, I see a chunk of restaurant window, a portion of sign, and some coin-operated gum ball machines. Thinking this could be a nice shot, I reach into my pocket, remove the Leica and fire away. With luck, you'll see one in a moment or two. From the sideline comes a voice urging me to take a shot of him. Indeed, it is the youngest of the male Conrad siblings, Winston. Fair enough. BC and I are with some regularity joined by a next generation Conrad.

After we are inside and our orders are given, Winston, who has written a book, Hemingway's Italy, reacts to a comment I made about a small town in Montana by remarking that there lived the late Gregory Hemingway, the younger son of the Hemingway. And BC, who has written about and crossed paths with the Hemingway, begins to suggest that Winston has enough contact with the Hemingway family to merit another book. Against Winston's demurral, I volunteer the statistics on books written about Marilyn Monroe, JFK, and Abraham Lincoln. Winston is wavering but still not convinced. I decide to drop my one and only card, which is a low trump but nevertheless of trump rank. I will give you a detailed reminiscence of my undergraduate years in some contact with Gregory Hemingway. Winston's trump card is that Greg's nephew has written the book BC is talking about; he offers to bring it forth next week.

At that point our meals are served and we lapse into favorite the Hemingway stories. BC has the trump card here, one that even surpasses Hemingway's being rankled by BC's temerity in daring to have written the quintessential novel about bullfighting, Matador, based on the life of Manolete, whom BC knew as a friend and the Hemingway did not. BC has found a quote from the Hemingway that he will use in his latest book, The 101 Greatest Openings (of novels) Ever Published. The quote will appear on the first right-hand page after the copyright page--the epigram. "Don't tell them," the quote will assert, "that we had to learn how to write. Let them think we were born that way."

Hearing that, my respect for EMH took a new upward thrust.

I by no means object to the concept of a writer's writer, but each time I see the blurbed assessment that someone--anyone--is a born writer, those parts of me that can curl do. Some writers have a greater sense of poetry or story or drama or theme or descriptive ability; some even have all these in one package, but they do not arrive with right- or left-handedness or color of eye or size or shape or skin coloring. Only work removes the traces of work. Those of us who have been at it from early in our career and are still not content with what has been achieved realize only too well how much it has cost to be where we are, to say nothing of how much it will cost to get where we aspire.

Beckett had it right. Go out and fail. The go out and fail better next time.

1 comment:

Lori Witzel said...

Nice post and nice pic, Shelly. (I could use breakfast in a joint like that this morning since I'm up so ungawdly early.)

"Only work removes the traces of work."

And "yay!" for Beckett, and his unsentimental sentiment.