Thursday, March 31, 2011


Of all the onerous work-related tasks you've been required to perform, the simple act of cleaning out some restaurant cooking vessels stands out as the worst, not only because the vessels needed to be cleaned of months old chicken remains but because those remains reeked with such intensity.

More often than not,the concept of hard work was related to and in fact informed by the slow passage of time while it was being done.  It was one thing to do lifting, straining, pushing or, on a more non-physical level tasks that seemed to require mindless attention to details such that no one would notice them.  You did not object to the physicality so much as your sense that you were entering a competition with Sisyphus.

No need,then, to fill in the details of an equation where such elements as purpose and interest trump output of effort.  No need to delve into discussions of karma yoga, works as worship, if you will, or work as an offering.  

Think instead of the most difficult work you've ever had, which is writing.  Think how, its difficulties to the side, you are pained to be away from it.  The experience with those tall stock pots called in restaurant lingo bain Marie (literally bath for Marie) altered your relationship to such chicken dishes as coq au vin, and pollo en mole, both of which you had fondness toward.  The experiences with the difficulties associated with writing may have had effect on your feelings about bad writing, particularly your own, but nevertheless present in your editorial activities.  

And yet.  Yet there is the sense of awareness that this activity is worth the effort; this activity is the one activity that might be onerous but isn't; this activity, however many difficulties reside within it, is not really work so much as it is a portal to another sense of being and awareness wherein you stand for some precious few moments a chance against the events of ongoing reality.

A chum of yours from early in your Santa Barbara tenure was William Campbell Gault (1910-1995), a prolific writer of mysteries and adventure stories for young readers.  In addition to being a client of a literary agent you knew well from your own publishing days, Gault had appeared in the pages of Black Mask, the quintessential mystery pulp.  

You were pleased to have been the instrument of his having connected with the late Sara Freed, editor at Walker, a publisher of a nice mystery line.  The thing about Gault you remember to this day is his emphatic statement, "I'd rather be the world's worst writer than a good anything else."  Happy man, Bill Gault.

Those sentiments of his are not far apart from the relationship you have forged with it.  In some serious ways, there is for you as a man, an analog between caring so much for writing and being attracted time and again to women who are smarter than you.  There is the surprise and adventure of something to be learned in either circumstance.   

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