Monday, February 20, 2017

Learner's Permit

Among the rites and rituals you encountered on your arrival at the present moment was the assumption made by your parents that you had the judgments and motor skills necessary to cross streets. This was a major step on your way to being able, on your fourteenth birthday, to secure a document known as Learner's Permit, possession of which allowed you to drive a motor vehicle.

There were restrictions related to the Learner's Permit and with the parental permission to take that huge step toward adulthood, crossing streets. Streets were there to be crossed, at corners and midway. Your father, who knew a thing about you, surmised that crossing midway held forth the most adventure, thus his advice, "Always do your best to look both ways before you begin. Look left, then right. Then repeat the process. But if for some reason you can't, make sure you move damned fast."

License to cross streets set you apart from a number of your peers, who saw your new status as something they aspired to and, at the same time, spoke to a difference between you and them. You saw the privilege as a path away from the boredom of restriction and into the worlds of potential and actual adventure. At the time, you made few distinctions between potential and actual; your range was limited to events formulated in your imagination.

In time, you were to cross another street, more a result of volition than permission or encouragement. You crossed the street from civilian to writer, not looking first left, then right, then left again. You moved damned fast, unaware of the oncoming traffic that was human and metaphorical.

Two major aspects of the human sort were literary agents and mentors. You had an enormous number of the former, perhaps to the point of promiscuity, possibly to the point of irony. You've had the right amount of the latter, to your immense satisfaction and, if such things are possible, to their satisfaction. 

The way things stand now, you'll probably transition to the Great Remainder Bin in the Sky as a client of your present literary agent, and so far as mentors are concerned, you sense one major move coming. If you're correct about the evolution, you anticipate the kind of unfettered satisfaction you experienced--but could not articulate at the time--when you were given leave to cross streets--any streets.

Your first literary agent was already on his way toward legendary status when you joined forces. It was clear to both of us that Forrest J. Ackerman took you on because you were one of the few who could keep up with him when matters  involved puns, those groan-producing revelations and comparisons that tie language and meaning into lovers' knots. In your recollection, the deal makers were your Little Hearse on the Prairie, A Hearse of Another Killer, and The gripes of Roth.

At the time of your meeting, FJA, Forryac, or Fojac represented a burbling cadre of men and women who wrote science fiction, fantasy, and alternate universe. FJA did in fact place some of your attempts at sci-fi and fantasy, but in a real sense, the puns were your undoing. He secured a number of assignments for you based on titles, alone. The deal breaker for you came one evening when he asked you in all FJA seriousness, "Do you think you could write a story around the meme 'I Was a Teenaged Werewolf'?"

Someone else did and at least for a time, their career as a writer was launched into an orbit. You moved on to an unrepresented, freelance state, attempting to distance yourself from puns and move closer to the seriousness in a number of your peers and advisers questioned your intentions. This bewildered you beyond your ability to describe, because you thought you were serious enough already.

Soon, you were ready for that beacon-like experience so vital to the writer. You were ready for a mentor. You were ready for Rachel Maddux, who wondered, "Do you have anything of yours I might read?" By this time, seeing your name in print over something you'd written was no longer an equivalent of crossing the street. You'd crossed that street in fact and fiction, already to the point where you had scrapbooks filled with your clips. And in proportionate measure, in yet another scrap book, your meetings with one of the metaphoric presences in the life of the writer, the rejection slip or letter.

With the help of a forged ID, you'd found your way into the cocktail lounge of The Garden of Allah, where known screenwriters, short story writers, and novelists actually offered you bits of technical advice and recommended writers who'd influenced them. One such person, who'd worked as a sand hog on The Holland Tunnel in New York, before "hitting it" as a writer, then earning his way "out West," laid it all out. He explained to you how he'd taken Mutiny on the Bounty as his frame for a film in which John Wayne was the old West equivalent of Captain Bligh and Montgomery Clift the analog of Fletcher Christian.  

Overhearing this tendered advice, yet another chimed in with the observation that there weren't all that many different stories in the first place. And both men agreed that the more you read, the more you'd be able to see your own narrative, presented in its classic form.

You had enough money for one more Manhattan, which you nursed with slow deliberation while a third writer said he didn't want to demean anything the previous writers told you, but there were two things you had to take home with you. There were, he said, two kinds of writing, descriptive and interior. If you expected to get anywhere, you needed to go beyond describing things and write as though you were trapped inside them, trying to get out.

And, you asked, the second thing?

Oh, yeah, the writer said, looking now at your Manhattan. Mixed drinks will be the death of you. You want to drink sipping whiskey or, as they say in Scotland, whisky. Bourbon and water. Two ice cubes.

And now, an adult, published writer, whose work you'd already read in books, was asking you if you had anything she might read. 

In those days, there were no computers. Only upright manuals and a few portable that seemed even heavier than the uprights. You write ten, twelve pages on one of those and you knew you were a writer.

Do you have anything of yours I might read?

You went home, put a sheet of Eaton's Corrasible bond into your Remington, then dashed across the street without looking.


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