Friday, January 15, 2010

Our Truck Will Be in Your Neighborhood...

Politics have been the essential nature of the larger groups or organizations you have been associated with. You first became aware of this as you considered the politics of your family, both on your mother's and father's side and, indeed, in their reactions to one another. Much of the politics radiated outward from one individual, its effects coming back to haunt you much later in life. Your next significant awareness came when, as an undergraduate, your attention was directed to the generalization in a political science class, from which meetings you strode into the politics of the campus humor magazine of which you were the editor and then, when politics and your writing got the humor magazine on the wrong side of the administration, you tumbled into the politics surrounding the daily student newspaper. From that point onward, you might put the matter into a neat apothegm by appreciating the politics of every relationship.


Politics left the campus with you when your two o'clock class ended and you rode crosstown to the Los Angeles Times building at First and Spring Streets, wherein you took the stairs or elevator depending on your whim to the editorial floor, whereupon you repaired to the night office of The Associated Press. Indeed there were politics.

Even when you opted out of a job with a newspaper in, of all places, Calexico, in order to spend the next several summers working for the Foley and Burke Shows, a carnival that rode the county fair circuit throughout California and Nevada, there were politics and, to a near equal degree, sociology. You, as an agent or manager of a concession booth (baseball throw, dart throw, Guess-Your-Weight, etc) were of a higher status than the ride monkeys, men who assembled and disassembled the rides and admittance shows, not quite as lofty as a concession owner who was your employer, nor as schedule-bound as the food preparation workers.

Politics followed you into unemployment and attempts to make your living as a writer, even when you were living in near hermetic seclusion and your big night out on the town was going to the post office to mail manuscripts or the monthly party at your agent's. A different kind of politics rode the Greyhound Bus with you to Mexico City where, because you had a letter of introduction to someone who knew someone, you were able to earn approximately 100 pesos for short, vaudeville-like skits.

It was political when you went to work for a publisher, more political yet when you moved to being the so-called West Coast editor for a New York publisher, and ever so much more political when you invented your way into a job with a scholarly publisher that resulted in your moving to Santa Barbara, and it was politics that made you decide against the offer that would have returned you to New York to run a publishing venture that was much more to your taste and ability than the scholarly publisher.

You appear to have forgotten the politics that leap-frogged you from mere membership in the Mystery Writers of America to a series of elected offices, a circumstance where your awareness of politics among writers reached an intensity you thought was the absolute acme--until you discovered the politics of the university and the faculty, leading you to the belief you still hold that the politics of a faculty who are unabashed writers--novelists, poets, short-story writers, dramatists--is the most corrosive of all.

Some of these recollections came tumbling forth this morning at the usual Friday coffee gathering, where the more or less regular group contains at least two of your fellow workshop leaders at the Santa Barbara Writers' Conference and upwards of four who have attended the conference for at least five years. Your response to an observation that there was no politics among the workshop leaders began as a mild rumble, growing in intensity to a six or seven on the Richter Scale.

It is the nature of the writer to grow in stature to a point of competence at which publication, thought not guaranteed, is a likely prospect. This state of mind causes an amalgam of emotions including defensiveness and the basic law of drama which states that every character believes he is right. The state may include arrogance or humility or indifference or curiosity; no matter, they are all scooped from the carpet of effort by the vacuum cleaner of compulsive and obsessive behavior. Your own favored ad hominem labels for writers you know and do not care for start with laziness and emphatically include derivative.

Whenever you find in yourself the qualities you see as reprehensible in other writers, you pause to take inventory. Your plan is to set these qualities in perspective and neatly package them so that the next time the telephone rings and someone from Goodwill or The Salvation Army or the Alpha Thrift Store calls to tell you of its truck that will be in your neighborhood, you can invite them to stop by. Some perfectly good hubris here on Hot Springs Road. Hey, I'll leave the derivative material, all those stories with the equivalents of polo players on them, right out front.

You are thinking there is the beginnings of something rumbling around in these remembrances and recollections of yourself engaged in the politics of self, thinking they are about your dealings with writers when, in fact they are the outriders of your awareness of the reasons writers hone themselves into lonely travelers, thinking to protect their growing individuality and vision while wanting at the same time to pay some recognition to the social nature that lurks inside.

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