I write to keep from going completely mad. I write to avoid crushing depression. I write to externalise my irrational fears. Writing is the distraction from life that best suits my needs. I have weird, terrible obsessions that need to be dealt with. Alcohol didn't work. Drugs never stood a chance against my other addictions.
I live vicariously in and amongst my characters. But my characters are rarely invented. Most of them are or were quite real. I crave novelty but also stability. As with any obsession, the novelty will wear off, the honeymoon over, the sheets smelling fresh, the sweat smelling stale, – and very little stability remains. I cannot build on a foundation of dreams that didn't last. "They fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day."
I read a quote, one of those 'inspirational' tags that I find so depressing, that said, "Maybe it won't work out, but maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever." Thanks a lot, pal. As Peter Pan said, "To die will be an awfully big adventure."
In preparation, I joined the Necronautical Society (seriously), founded by Tom McCarthy, the author of Remainder, a novel that drove me as close to madness as I ever want to get. I even read it twice. The only other books to have done that are the novels of Samuel Beckett – Watt, in particular.
"Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality."
"I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita."
Writing is our contribution to immortality. We pass on what we have learnt, what we know, what we believe, what has been passed on to us, not just by teachers and mentors and family and friends, but by every single person we have ever encountered, however remotely. We keep the thread from breaking. Even those who do not write or create or produce are still contributors to the fabric of life. They may not be the thread in the pattern, but perhaps they are the shuttle in the loom, sending the messages back and forth, moving with each traverse one step upward, into the light of history.
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Completely on topic, my favourite Agatha Christie book is They Came to Baghdad, in which secret coded messages are woven into a cloth used as a scarf. This is not a novelty – real instances of this, some going back to ancient times, are documented in the history of cryptology.
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I simply cannot imagine writing on a 'device' other than a typewriter. I still own two or three of these machines, including an Arabic typewriter I bought when I studied Arabic. That whole era is gone now – paper inserted into the roller, maybe carbon paper and a flimsy behind it, or an ordinary sheet of copy paper. When you made a mistake, you XXXXXed over it and typed again. White-out was fine, but the carbon copy needed it too, which complicated matters. Typing erasers came with long green brushes at the other end.
Layout was a problem as well, tricky with business letters or term papers. It was hard to tell how close to the bottom of the page you were and whether you needed a second page or could squeeze in the closing and still have room for the signature. And then there were footnotes.
I write all in longhand – cursive, as well. Who prints, except on application forms? My favourite advantage of longhand (NOT as opposed to shorthand, though) is seeing all I've written, changed, rewritten, and being able to choose which variation of which correction still sounds best. Then I can circle it and write (print) STET, et voilà! I'm back to where I started, but without the amnesia of a computer-deleted version of my verbal itinerary.
STET is a wonderful, even miraculous, proofreader's command. All it means is 'Let it stand'. I've STETed crossed-out STETs before, too – many times. A computer text shows no battle scars, leaves no traces of the blood, sweat, toil, and tears of true writing.
Perhaps that is why modern writing, and fiction in particular, is so bloodlessly anodyne. Most modern books are assembly line productions with interchangeable parts, a Chinese restaurant menu of chosen courses that all end up tasting the same, except for the boiled chicken feet, which taste of nothing at all.
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My old office mate, the political writer and commentator Kirkpatrick Sale, has a new book out. So far, so good. But he claims it is 'Available Anywhere'. It is called No More Mushrooms, which, when I looked it up, is also a song by Ammagetta, as well as a Quest in World of Warcraft, something to do with TBC Twinhead Twinstar, an episode of Sneak Sometimes by MarioMaker 38, and a life hack for shroomheads on the rollitup website. Nothing about the book or its subtitle, 'Thoughts about Life without Government'. So far not so good. The back cover photo of the book on Kirk's Facebook page reveals the blurred name of the presumed publisher, Autonomedia. Googled? Of course I've Googled. And Binged (bing, binged or bang, bong – verb, trans., irr. – not to be confused with binge). And I've tried to contact the publisher and Kirk himself.
This is beginning to remind me of a treasure hunt or one of those stunts Abbie Hoffman or Louis Abolafia used to pull in the days when we all sparked up with the various member of the Fugs and their crew. At least we managed to levitate the Pentagon. Kill for Peace!
In other words, by all means get published – by any means necessary, if necessary. But don't hide your book under an obscure bushel basket of forbidden fruit.