Friday, February 22, 2008

I'm A Failure

If a man has talent, and cannot use it, he has failed. -Thomas Wolfe

I never read anything by Thomas Wolfe, that I can recall. I know who he is and recognize his work. He gets jumbled up in the Intertube's hopper with our current writer, Tom Wolfe, who is a fine writer also. Although I've never read anything he ever wrote, either. I read a few paragraphs here and there and got the gist. He assembles the words well, and has a lively mind. He just doesn't talk about anything I'm interested in. There's a lot of people like that. There's a titanic load of people after that, that can't write, but do, that I ignore, too. I don't lump them all in together.

A classic is a book people praise but don't read, Mark Twain famously remarked. I do neither, generally. I just read Mark Twain. Saves time.

I stumbled across the quote by Wolfe and it got me to thinking. I say something similar, but less to the point, fairly often: Adversity discovers underlying weakness.

Most writers have one idea. No one will ever admit that, so don't bother looking around for corroboration. It's like a fiddle they saw away at over and over until the bow loses its last hair. There is no such thing as writer's block. The writer just wakes up one day and has the terrible realization that his one idea might not be very good. Since no one has more than one, he just sits there until he goes back to his one idea, or drinks himself to death waiting for another that never comes.

It's a kind of dumb fun figgering out a Dymo label for the intellectual mailslot in your mind for authors.

Hemingway: Adjective-less bull pestering
Kerouac: Lost and afraid to ask for directions
Mailer: Impresses other NYC apartment dwellers
Tom Wolfe: Astronauts paid my mortgage
Mencken: Everybody's a jerk but me
Bierce: I can call you a jerk better than you can call me one
Churchill: In the olden time
Vonnegut: Starts nowhere. Goes nowhere
Thomas Wolfe: Understands Sippican Cottage, in advance, apparently

Ambition is an interesting thing. Tiger to ride? God to shake a fist at? Mob to stare down? I don't really know. What it manifestly is not, however, is anything to do with talking about it with other people. It is a promise, in the form of a gigantic howling curse, that you hurl into the ether when no one's around. Anything you announce to others is either posturing or complaining. Never complain and never explain, as Disraeli said.

I've said ambitious things to nobody a bunch of times before. They always boil down to this: If you will not have me as a colleague, you will have me as a master.