Friday, March 11, 2016

Late Style

Although you had some early clues about what your ultimate career path would be, there were a few distractions which now, in retrospect, seem noteworthy reflections of a boy growing into the world about him. You thought variously to own a restaurant, design airplanes, lead an orchestra, manage a motion picture theater, and own a used bookstore. 


Because you deeply admired your father, there was a time when you believed you would have to own a clothing store, sell life insurance, and construct things requiring reinforced steel rods, all of which he did. You were relieved to learn, over a span of time, how none of these activities truly interested him because they held no interest for you.

In yet another way than physical resemblance, you are your father's son because most jobs requiring an eight- or ten-hour presence anywhere held no interest for your father and such jobs as you had requiring eight-hour shifts in the same locale tended to cause you to lose interest.

Once, as your teen years approached, you openly expressed curiosity to your father about which career path you ought to follow, thinking his range of experiences might provide some tangible direction. 

As usual, when you reflect about the influences on you of this gentle and generous man, you realize he was supportive in the best sense of the word. "Whatever you become," he said at that discussion, "become a good one."

The year you understood what career path you wished to take, your father was the second in command of an auction company, preparing failed business for liquidation, helping successful business liquidate obsolete equipment, and taking the concept of a used-car sales organization to levels of great originality and showmanship. 

At one time, you had one portable typewriter and five desk model typewriters, plus several dozen reams of stationery to use for early draft manuscripts, as well as a shelf filled with typewriter ribbons, carbon paper, and that great artifact from the days of the typewriter, boxes of half-dollar-size typewriter erasers, each with an attached brush to shoo away eraser crumbs.  

You worked your way through the stationery, the erasers, and most of the typewriters in your attempts to become good at what you did. When your father sensed that your finances might have not yet become something you were good at, he offered you advances on unpublished novels, or so he said by offering you various temporary jobs with the auction venture.

There were times in your life when entering a bookstore produced the same sense of being at sea as your early indecision about career path. There were biographies, histories, plays, classics, and the cornucopia of fiction in its various categories of mystery, history, romance, literary, science fiction, and fantasy, each of these seeming to have discreet sub-genera such as the ones for fantasy: the portal, time travel, alternate universe, alchemy, sword and sorcery.

The bookstore world offered more potential than some of your favored ice cream parlors and their vast arrays of flavor. But the potential came with the awareness that many of the authors you were beginning to admire had made choices of category. 

There you were, bounding from category to category, your next choice only as far away as some overheard conversation between writers or, worse yet, being challenged by brother and sister students in your writing classes, speaking to you with scorn because you'd not read widely in their field of interest.

For some time now, you've been disabused of many of your preconceived notions about the natures of life, of career, and of some one, special kind of story or experience from which a person, indeed an individual such as yourself can find answer and satisfaction.

Story in general is only the beginning of an answer, just as writer is a step of equal generality, leading to the moment within a bookstore where a decision must be made about which shelf to consult.

You've stood on numerous cusps of numerous decisions related to life, to career, and story. Two epic decisions remain large. You're sorry you quit the job managing the parking lot at Wilshire and Cochran; you're still glad you didn't take the job at Pinnacle Books that would have had you moving to New York.  Each seemed a life changer at the time, but the perspective of distance has solved both.

You are now in what the late critic, Edward Said, called late style. Most of your focus and devotion has been on story. At one time, you thought you were quite accomplished at story, having through the writing of it worked at jobs and conditions and philosophies not your immediate own. You're past the point now of wondering if you're any good at it, but you do know you put some effort in every day, trying to be, wondering where it will take you next.

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