Thursday, November 28, 2013

Writing Is Easy; Teaching Is Hard

You are in a place about eighteen miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the company of persons you've known long enough and well enough to feel comfortable saying such things as, "Although your father and I were not on the best of terms, I came to know and understand the functions of labor unions from him in ways I might not otherwise have experienced."

Comfortable enough for the individual to whom you said that, scrunch up her face in a moue of  discomfort.  "I got some stuff like that, too,"  she said.

The time is just past two; guests will begin to arrive at four, in anticipation of which, the cordiality of beckoning odors already emerge from the kitchen.  Tables are being placed about in a strategy designed to capture and hold conversation.

The resident cat, Annie, who has white paws and a striped body, and who has her own, ceramic drinking bowl, greets you this year, leans against you for a moment in stark contrast to her regard for you last year, when you were here not only reeking of dog but having brought a dog with you.  Cause and effect. To Annie, it is now apparent you are no longer a dog person.  You are now trustworthy.

Preparations for today began last evening.  At about the same time, a different preparation began for a different kind of sharing, over the Internet.  You were on a list of individuals inviting you to a subsection of Facebook, where former faculty and students of what has variously been called The Professional Writing Program, The Masters in Professional Writing Program, and the more direct MPW, all at the University of Southern California, gathered to respond to the news that the Program would cease to exist after 2016, and further that no new students would be admitted.  This was in effect telling us the Program--at USC, programs are faculty populated by working professionals, as opposed to the ladder faculty of Departments--was now being turned over to Hospice.

You were recruited to teach in the Program (remember, always Program, not Department) in 1974, when your day job was running the Los Angeles office of a New York publisher with adjuncts in massmarket, young adult, literary, genre, and mainstream book publishing.  Your local rival had to be in New York for a sales meeting. Would you kindly take his classes?

When you agreed, you had no idea of the implications these years later.  This is a good arrangement.  We should not know outcomes.  We should be in the moment and respond to the moment, devil or whatever else take the hindmost.  

Your rival was the California representative for Bantam Books, where you already had some street cred as an editor for a hardcover publisher that brought Bantam among other things the reprint rights to its first million-copy seller.  Two names from that time, that 1974 time:  Fred Klein, sales manager; Mark Jaffee, editorial director.

As recently as last week, Fred told you he'd just heard from Mark, wondering when he, Fred, and you could meet to discuss and implement further the notion of the three of you starting a publishing company.

After you took your rival's classes for two weeks, Irwin Blacker, the then chair, called you into his office, poured large mugs of coffee into porcelain cups with USC stencilled on them, then apologized for how little he'd be able to pay you.

You explained that you'd not expected any pay; you were doing this as a favor to Charlie.

For the future,  Irwin Blacker, whose middle initial was R., said.  Charlie's students had threatened revolt if you were not brought back to teach.  "I assume,"  he said, "you'll want to use Forster's Aspects of the Novel for your text."

"Of course,"  you said.  Then you said "What class?"

"Why, fiction, of course,"  Blacker, who kept the manuscripts he was working on in a fire-proof refrigerator, said.

That night, you read E.M. Forster's Aspects of the Novel for the first time.  It has been your companion for years.

Today, on this day for giving thanks, you've been hanging out with family in the kitchen of 11 Old Road, Lamy, New Mexico, and hanging out on line with faculty mates and students, exchanging stories, saying things to one another that are quite appropriate for this time of year.

"We should stay in touch."

"We should have a large, in-person meeting."

"We should write a memoir of the Department."


"Whatever.  We should tell our story, and you can edit it."

"Who besides us would buy it?"

"Always thinking like an editor."

"And you--always thinking like a writer."

"Hey, how come you didn't mention me in your Facebook account?"

The Hospice Nurse approaches you.  "It is good for the patient to have so many visitors."

"Writing is easy,"  you tell the nurse.  "Teaching is hard."

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