Monday, August 18, 2014

Train Wrecks in Fiction and Reality

Approaching thirty-five years ago, you found yourself, as editor-in-chief of a scholarly publishing company,occupying the same track as an opposing force, rushing toward you.  The opposing force was the sales department which, to compound the magnitude of the approaching collision, had as its major personality an individual who'd in recent months been assigned the position of Director of Operations.

Train wrecks are more frequent outside the rail yards, in a real sense better suited to worlds of metaphor, speculation, and point-of-view differences as personal abstractions rather than locomotives hauling freight, passengers, or both.

You've been in any number of such train wrecks in the making, alert to last minute  switches of track, attempting to apply brakes, or slowing on the engine hauling your array of cars to a speed where you could jump free before the actual collision.

In this scholarly publishing incident, you'd seen the acceleration you'd long become familiar with, in which you'd moved past a point of no return.  You'd already committed yourself beyond your comfort zone of remaining as a senior editor rather than editor in chief, doing what you liked best about publishing, avoiding too many meetings, reverting to functions associated with the term "shirt-sleeves editor," then, within your own leisure hours, setting all that aside to compete in half-marathons and write short stories.  

This was a near dream-like state in which, for the better part of two years, you ran considerable distances every day, short stories were demanding your attention, and you could see about the whispy edges of your imagination a population of fictional individuals whose lives intersected one another with an agreeable grace.

Small wonder, this last; you'd fought off the temptation to move to New York to take over the stewardship of a medium-tier paperback publishing house, you had classes to teach in Los Angeles, but you were much the comfortable individual in a small town you'd wished to become.  

Of course, you'd have to grow if the short stories were to continue to arrive.  Of course, you'd have to grow if the fabric of characters began to present itself as a novel.  The growth would come from the stories and novels themselves, not from the world of publishing.  The growth would come from the ways in which you were dealt and coped with the train wrecks of the self, not the train wrecks of the world of book publishing.

Too late.  You'd already become editor in chief.  Too late, you'd allowed yourself to see you from the organization's point of view, where you allowed yourself to see you managing and coping with things such as meetings, three- and five-year plans, and the entire personality of the publications.  This had nothing to do with vanity and everything to do with a wish to avoid the culture of the train wreck.

That portion of your life was to a great extent about making plans, then implementing them, growing efficient in the execution, taking such pleasure from doing so as possible.  The plan ended one day after a long brunch at the then version of The El Encanto Hotel, a Tuesday, which meant leaving for Los Angeles at about two in order to arrive in time for your afternoon class.

Since the meal was brunch, you'd thought some scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee, but the Publisher and Director of Operations would not hear of that.  You needed, they argued, salmon because it was a teaching day.

The salmon took some time to prepare, perhaps because it was not on the premises.  Ah, procurement.

At about two thirty that afternoon, fighting off a drowse from too much salmon and folle Blanche, a delightful white wine whose name is literally crazy white, you stopped for coffee in Caprinteria, allowing the implications to slip past your bouncer.  You wouldn't need to worry about going to work the next day, nor any subsequent day because you needn't worry any longer about scholar publishing.

What you have become as well as what you have not become does relate, to your great satisfaction, on the short stories, on two longish works of fiction in the works, and to a vision of some longish works of nonfiction.  No doubt your output and self-assessment would have been different, had you not had so much salmon that morning at the Hotel El Encanto.  Less doubt still, had you said yes to the position in New York.  

You like to think you'd have been back in California by now, because there were indeed potentials for train wrecks there and, in fact, after three or so years, you read of the train wreck that took care of that publishing company.

Being "back in California" can have any number of train-wreck potentials since there are Bakersfields and Victorvilles and Fresnos in California as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.  Being back can signify a defeat, a humiliation, a strategic withdrawal, or a complete victory.  Being back can also signify a session of existential chiropractic in which adjustments are made to one's Reality. 

Nevertheless, you are in major ways what you are because of all your experience with publishers.  You write more about your experiences with universities because universities seem to you as fraught with potential for train wreck as anything you've seen.  Thus you are what you are because of train wrecks and short stories and nonfiction in progress.  Dreams of long form fiction abound.  You are not so much back as having never left.  Rather, you walk with the even gait of a man whose existential spine has been given a satisfying adjustment.  Run that through your chiropractor.

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