Saturday, January 28, 2012

Catch-and-Release

You are not by any means a fisherman.  The times in recent years you have gone fishing were less from the standpoint of bringing home fish than for some aspect of sociability.  Your times of freshwater fishing, with one exception, have never been in California.  You were reminded of this fact some time back, when preparing for your move from the relative largeness of Hot Springs Road to the more preferable now but nevertheless smaller studio apparatus here on E. Sola Street.  One of the items you tossed was a license to fish within the boundaries of the State of Tennessee.

Your visits to Tennessee were in connection with the fact of the publishing house you worked for using what was then called Kingsport Press to manufacture most of its books.  The fishing was more curiosity on your part because you’d never before that time fished freshwater or lake.  Your most memorable recollection of that first immersion has you in the extreme, head pounding stages of hangover, slithering about in waders a bit too large for you, up to your chest in the icy waters of an Appalachian stream, waiting for the thud of a canon that announced dawn and legal time to begin fishing.

Sure enough, to the east a faint trickle of light had begun to appear, but there was more than one thud, mostly seeming to come from inside your head.  Your line was baited and ready.  All about you, sounds of rebel yells seemed to peal forth.  Fisherpersons about you began casting and, as if by some ethereal design, a cadre of men in bib overalls and the most basic fishing gear you’d ever seen, emerged from the streamside, burlap sacks tucked into their denims as though they were bibs.

These men, all highly scornful of you, your plastic rod and sophisticated reel, your woven creel, and of course, your waders, moved like the predators they in fact were, seeming to gather trout from all sides, sliding them into their burlap sacks, moving quickly downstream.  “This innt sport for us’n,” one of them told me.  “This is our supper.”

A mile or so away from where you were, the wives of your fishing mates, all of whom were employees of Kingsport Press, had set a camp.  Even now, they were using Dutch ovens to bake corn bread and remarkably fluffy soufflés to which would later be added such trout as you and your mates caught.  There were Coleman stoves at the ready, fresh bacon grease crackling away in anticipation of the trout, which, like much else in Tennessee, would be dredged through self-rising corn meal.

Breakfast was some time away, which was, to your opinion, all to the good.  The pocket pint of Martel cognac in your wader pocket did not seem a good inducement.  You were vulnerable to experiences about you and the experiences of the night before. By the time the sun was up and contributing to your bodily warmth, you sought the comfort of a rock outcrop for what you’d intended to be a brief nap.  In actual time, your nap was over an hour—payback for last night’s conviviality and vulnerability.

Breakfast was a welcomed switch from hangover to a greater sense of comfort.  It was here you’d learned that the men in bib overalls and primitive fishing gear were “hill people,” who indeed did not consider this sport but rather a necessity.  You were also lectured on the virtues of catch-and-release fishing, a philosophy built around using hand-tied flies rather than bait, after you’d taken the one or two fish for your morning meal.

Each year, after the conclusion of the writers’ conference in which you participate, one of your dearest friends repairs to Montana for such catch-and-release trout fishing, joining other friends from the area in taking one or two for breakfast, then switching to the hand-tied fly for a day of catch-and-release fishing.

It has come to you how, in many ways, when you set forth to your time for writing, you are in effect catching and releasing words, sentences, ideas, notions, hopeful some of the material you’ve put down will be keepable.  Your friend, Dennis Lynds, used to say that a keepable page a day amounted to a book a year, which would have been all right to an earlier friend, Day Keene, except that Day could not have managed to survive on the income from only one book a year.  He and Dennis were skilled enough to produce more than one keepable page, a place you thought you might reach if, to mix the metaphor, you stayed in the stream for long enough hours, casting away.  In time, you were able to produce a book a month, but the cost was great and you in effect had to spend considerable time unlearning some of the bad habits you picked up.

There are any number of things you must be vulnerable to, in life and in writing life; it is no small thing to go about with guard down, flesh, impression mechanism mechanisms, and feelings open as, again mixed metaphor, fly paper.

No wonder you need so much music in you life.  No wonder you talk to yourself.  No wonder you have long conversations with Sally, surely keeping her awake longer than she relishes being kept awake.

In a real sense, you are reminded of what your Tennessee friends called “the hill folk.”  Fishing was not a sport to them, it was a necessity.  You had not thought at all about keeping yourself open to things when you began writing.  You were young enough to weather disappointments and satisfactions, often experiencing them in such close order it was difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Now, you more or less take being open to disappointment and satisfaction as a part of a day’s work, but on occasion you have to stop for some moments to sort things out, talk them over amongst yourselves and Sally, then find a way back into the stream, catching and releasing.  Disappointments still come, their rate is about the same as always, and their effects have in no way diminished.  Disappointments are the natural outcome of the work.  Not all work works.  When it does work all the time, you have no doubt particularized boredom.  It is by no means all right to be disappointed, nor is it all right not to be open to possibilities.  As with the metaphor of fishing, the worthwhile satisfactions, like the trout, seem to be hiding in the deep pools, off to the side, where the footing is a bit risky.



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