PAUL GUSTAV DORE´
I finally have gotten my measure as a writer. Not found it, but got it -- understanding what I did well and should continue doing and what I did not do well and probably should no longer keep trying to do.
I had been working on figuring that out for some time. Okay, actually for a few decades, a super slow-motion epiphany that finally began to take shape a couple of years ago when I was scratching around for a suitable topic for a third book, a book that would take us -- me and the reader, that is -- well beyond my 2010 true-crime thriller, which has been a steady if not spectacular seller, and a 2014 historical fiction-ish account of my life on a hippie farm in the 1970s that has set neither the world nor my bank account on fire although it was a pretty good effort that seemed to stretch my writerly capabilities. But on reflection actually was dolled-up journalism written by a guy who was, at heart, a journalist.
I had been carrying around a lot of what Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter calls "gestalt baggage."
These are the duffels, totes and suitcases of life that together are bigger than life itself -- that is, in keeping with the principle of gestalt, should be perceived as more than the sum of their parts. In terms of that third book, this would be a perspective-bending twist on eternal return, a story within a story in which the narrator slowly realizes that he keeps stumbling on bits and pieces of himself as he researches a book that he thought had nothing to do with himself.
A nifty, idea, I thought, and one that plumbed some of my deeper nocturnal dreams. In any event, I gave up on my idea and can sense your relief that you never had to read it.
That slo-mo epiphany has jelled considerably through the early months of 2017 as we shake, rattle and roll through the mind-blowing alt-reality of the Age of Trump.§
I wrote over 150 columns in the run-up to the 2016 election, at a rate of two and sometimes three a week for generally receptive audiences, while plowing through Thomas Wolfe's four major novels, which total some 2,900 doorstop-sized pages in all.
Wolfe was an appropriate messenger to bring home the realization that I should stick to writing that was more . . . uh, terrestrial. He is considered a genius, but at the same time churned out an extraordinary amount of bad prose which reminded me of my halting attempts at that story within a story, although on balance his work is brilliant while mine merely waggles its fingers at the concept. Yoo hoo!
This is not acknowledgement of defeat, or retreat or something, only a better understanding that I am pretty good at the kinds of writing that have been my meal ticket for many years and less good at the Dionysian flights of prose fancy that kept Wolfe aloft for much of his too short literary life although he was a crushing bore.
I had been told for years that Proust's In Search of Lost Time (aka Remembrance of Things Past) is the greatest novel ever written, but it wasn't until I had slogged through Wolfe and was into recovery after Trump was "elected" that I picked up the first volume of three, which is a mere 1,070 pages. In Search may not be the greatest novel. That is not for me to judge. But it is great without compare in my experience and unfolded before me like the Bayeaux Tapestry as it went on and on and on. And then on some more with extraordinary beauty.
Had I paused to affix a Post-It Note to each page with a memorable passage, as is sometimes my custom with an especially good book that I plan to review, In Search would have looked like a porcupine with bright yellow quills in a blue library binding by the time I finished it.
There was one passage in particular that resonated especially deeply because it recalled my halting attempts at that story within a story:
Thus it is that most of our attempts to translate our innermost feelings do no more than relieve us of them by drawing them out in a blurred form which does not help us to identify them.Guilty as charged.