Friday, November 1, 2013


The last time you saw Thomas McGuane was in June of this year, when you spoke, among other things, of a cherished, twenty-five pound trout living within a trout stream on McGuane's Montana property, and the McGuane-like story connected to the demise of that trout, occasioned in all innocence by your mutual friend, Barnaby Conrad.

You are not an hypochondriac, nor are you in immediate danger of becoming one.  You are, however, aware of an uncomfortable tendency toward ADD, attention deficit disorder, as that condition links to you and certain authors, of whom McGuane is one.

In all likelihood, McGuane was aware at the time of your omnibus discussion, of having completed the short story, "Weight Watchers," and placing it with The New Yorker.  He might as well have known at that time of the story being scheduled to appear in the current issue of The New Yorker.  

Such things did not enter the conversation.  A topic that did enter the conversation was a collection of his short stories, To Skin a Cat, which you were forced to set down at about the halfway mark, out of great respect, rather than boredom, out of the distraction of inspiration and, thus, a continuation of the ADD theme.

You stopped reading the stories in To Skin a Cat because it sent you for the next several months into the first eight or nine chapters of a novel, it's title taken from a stage direction in Shakespeare's play, A Winter's Tale.  What a romp.  Exit, Pursued by a Bear.  

This is one of the projects you have earmarked for completion.  It in fact still speaks to you, often in the manner of Rochester, speaking across the English moors to Jane in Jane Eyre, often to the point of distracting you from things in progress now--nonfiction things.

Another facet of conversation with McGuane was his recommendation of a Montana writer, Maile Meloy, now moved to Los Angeles.  You found her short story collection, Half in Love, which distracted you enough to send you to Liars and Saints, then to A Family Daughter.

At about the halfway mark of reading "Weight Watchers" at lunch today, you realized McGuane had done it again, distracted you from an enthusiasm at hand, then  insinuated you within his narrative, a voyeur, a fly on the wall, a witness to characters who walk about with the stains and mannerisms of individuals caught on the fly paper of story, trying to extricate themselves long enough to find a fresh, unvisited spot on the same fly paper.

Since the image of fly paper came forth like a second grader, waving hands to be recognized by the teacher, eager to share information, you checked search engines to see if this seeming relic from the past would in any way date or regionalize you.  No.  There are still rolls and sheets of it, available in hardware stores and Amazon, still eager to lure flies via its sugary scent and sticky coating, which is what McGuane does, again and again, with every level of the senses.

In a relevant way, McGuane has distracted you back to the work at hand, which is an expanded discussion of the character in a story as a dramatic actor.  By the time you'd finished the story, you were lured back to reread it, true to the promise of a course you are preparing for the Winter 2014 quarter at the University, Reading Like a Writer, in which the enjoyment is not so much the emotional payoff of the story as it is the way the author uses technique to produce effects of live, nervous, sweaty, overweight, pestered, driven individuals, all caught up in some quest that seems romantic to them and which may emerge to some of us as dark, scary, inspirational, or tragic.

There are other writers than McGuane who have this effect on you, some of them still living and producing, others long gone.  You are the first to detect within this recognition the faint presence of defensiveness, shall you say buzzing about like a fly?  Well and good.  

This awareness is not meant as an excuse for not producing more work; it is instead the recognition of why you read in the first place, and how reading has become the equivalent of the fly paper of distraction from which you attempt to free yourself, only to be lured by the sugary scents of promise to the fly paper of the stories you are caught in, and from which you struggle against the sticky goo of technique to capture in yet other ways.

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