Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guest Rooms

 Most of the inhabitants of your inner boardinghouse are close relatives to the point of being actual aspects of you.  Many of these boarders are able to take over or wish to be in charge, explaining in part some of your less-than-predictable behavior.

There are a few guestrooms, however, places for the occasional drop-in guest, some individual you’re pleased to have at close range in order to observe their behavior, the better to emulate it and/or learn from it.

Two such guests have been with you across the range of your decades, your moods, your visions, and your attitudes.  They are not at all alike, although they do have things in common, such as being Midwesterners by birth.  One is a long generation older than the other; for about fifteen years, they were both alive at the same time.

To this day, you are ardent fans of both.  You’ve more or less hung out at places favored by both, to the point where you made a point of becoming a columnist for the newspaper where the former worked, the Virginia city, Nevada Territorial-Enterprise. 

You’ve spent some time parked outside the latter’s apartment on King’s Road in the West Hollywood area and another on Amestoy Avenue in the nearby part of the San Fernando Valley called Encino, trying to absorb some greater sense of the man.  By a strange turn of fortune, you were even able to pass an afternoon with a friend of his in a now-vanished Hollywood landmark called The Garden of Allah.  The friend, also a writer, made an appearance under his own name as a character in the latter’s second novel, The Beautiful and Damned.

These two guests are Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald, each of whom has a distinctive narrative voice you studied at great length, looking for ways to use similar techniques to enhance what you saw as entirely lacking in your own narrative.  As such studies go, yours produced plausible approximations, but of course imitations soon reveal themselves as being an attempt to pass for the original, and why, you reasoned, would anyone wish an imitation when there was so much delicious original available?

Of course you were in the Pickwick Book Shop on Hollywood Boulevard, a few doors away from one of Fitzgerald’s favorite places, the Musso & Frank Grill, to repair for martinis.  Fitzgerald wandered into this fabled book store to purchase a copy of what many consider his magnum work, The Great Gatsby, only hear the salesman wonder aloud if the author of Gatsby were still alive, a speculative question that sent Fitzgerald with some deliberation to Musso & Frank’s.  You were told this story by the salesman who’d wondered to Fitzgerald if Fitzgerald were still alive.  Actually, he was not much longer for this world.

What alchemy and magnetism drew you to admiration of these two with such a tug?  For starters, it was the depth of vision of each, and the way each seemed to understand how to make characters reveal themselves, even though of the two, Fitzgerald was more the one to describe his characters and their goals rather than being content to let their actions convey their inner agendas and their eagerness to achieve their goals.

Of the many things you have reread, you find these two constant sources of compelling curiosity to see what things you may have yet missed.

Each, in his own way, took extraordinary steps to gain approval.  Of the two, Twain had more close men friends than Fitzgerald, while Fitzgerald seemed bent on appealing to the ladies.  Given the relative shortness of his life—forty-four years—Fitzgerald produced a remarkable amount of work of lasting value.  Twain, who lived to see seventy-five, was even more industrious.

Through their individual voices, each was able to make a range of characters at all social and age levels come to life.  You find it comforting to see such diverse friendships remaining with you over the years, looking over your shoulders as you look over theirs.  Even their lesser known works buoy you with the recognition and awareness that each, in spite of severe inner turmoil, came back time and time again to the thing that mattered.  Their personal lives may have experienced troubles, rejection, loss, and loneliness, but their literary lives often flew.

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