Monday, November 28, 2011

A Keepable Page

Having your tummy filled with a memorable meal, eaten in the company of one or more dear companions will produce a response of comfort and satisfaction you have come to treasure.  Such moments are not come by with ease, and when they do present themselves as opportunities, you are quick on the uptake.

There are three or four other such memorable times, one in particular where you draw the line at the number of participants to one other, the individual you think of as significant other.  There are moments when you more or less must be alone or in that state of focus where, even if there are others about, you are only aware of them as background ambience you are in fact trying to hold off.  The most significant of these times is when you are composing.

For some considerable time, you’d thought your future lay in the folds of some form of newspaper, a daily, a weekly, and a special interest journal.  All of these required your ability to compose right now in a large room filled with the clatter of typewriters, howling editors—in those days, editors were given to howls, motivated in large measure by impatience, rebarbative individuals whose cynicism and world-weary bearing had taken up residence in their jowls and the doughy lumps under their eyes.  The smell of printer’s ink and the constant pulse of a newsroom were sounds you expected to take with you wherever you went.  We know how that turned out.

You could well experience the sensational experience of music by yourself, although you have been privileged to know others with whom it can be shared almost on a note-for-note basis, the way you used to share baseball games with your father, each movement a nuance of note.

All these joys, whether shared or experienced alone, have in common a short duration; they sometimes last longer in memory than actuality.  A meal, a performance, an act of lovemaking, getting one page to do what you’d hoped—these may happen—they have happened—but they do not last for long and you attempt to pass this information along to your characters, as though they were some adjunct of the children you never had.  You wish to get them used to the fact that there are more frustrations and howling newspaper editors than there are keepable pages.

One old pal from the past, Dennis Lynds, liked to remind you that a keepable page a day was a novel a year.  Another old chum, Day Keene, was too busy writing to think in terms of keepable pages.  His interest was producing keepable books.

You still return to a moment in your memory, from the time of clattering typewriters and howling editors, when, thinking to open the door of possible revelation, you ventured not so much a question as an opinion to a thirty-six-year-old ballerina, the morning after she’d performed the lead in Swan Lake.  It was a scant seven-thirty, the morning after.  She’d agreed to meet you in the rehearsal studio, where, standing at the barre, she’s already worked up a respectable sweat.  “You must really love the dance to be so focused on practice,” you said, already thinking how knowledgeable you were, how much you, too, understood of such things.

“Sonny,” she said, dropping into an extended bend of a squat, “I’m here doing this because if I don’t, I won’t be able to walk.”

You were not yet thirty-six then.  You had no real idea what it was like to do the lead in Swan Lake at thirty-six.  You were able to write copy in drafty rooms with clattering Royal standard typewriters and men who wore green eye shades, who wore both belt and suspenders. With the years, and your memory of that moment, you have learned a number of things, some of them with direct relationship to the facts about why you were not long for those newsrooms, those buildings where the press was actually in the basement.

With all the splatter and removal of boundaries brought about by anyone who wishes, being able to publish work on some electronic forum, you still feel the privilege of being able to set forth pages each day, hopeful one of them at least will be keepable.

For a project to be available toward the end of 2012, you are reviewing some stories from the past, some of them going back in time of having been published ten or so years ago, and you feel the privilege that an occasional scene or paragraph still brings forth the feelings you bent and squatted, and exercised to be able to write.


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