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Instead of Watching the Convention

Earlier tonight I listened to Lou Reed and the Velvets singing “Heroin,” on their 1967 album, The Velvet Underground & Nico. “Heroin” was one of the very last songs we played in our house in Lynchburg, Virginia, 1986, the house empty and echoing, all our worldly goods already in the rental van at the curb, at the time I was kind of laughing with our friend Mike Gambone over the negativity of the song, but as usual loving the swoop of its sound and the imagined glamour of the blanked-out lifestyle—although, of course, in reality, I was moving my family to California to take a job a professor in the then-new field of Computer Science. Some junkie.

Suppose that I only plan to write one more book, what should it be? Wait—why just one more book? Well, maybe I have some rare condition that dooms me to die in a few years. Or maybe I just feel like claiming that, because it makes my life seem interesting. Or maybe I have a sense that I’ve written so many books that it might be time to stop…only not quite yet. “Just one more!”

When he was seventy, my father wrote an autobiography called Being Raised. He was a good guy, a human, a thinker. It’s an interesting book, and he even put in some fairly wild stories, although of course I kind of hunger for whatever he left out. Certainly it’s inhibiting if you imagine that you’re writing your memoir “for your children and grandchildren.” Though, really, by now I’d forgive my father for any imaginable sin, so he didn’t really need to hold back on my account.

But—still—if I were, like, writing my memoir, would I really want to include stories about crummy things I’d done when I was drunk or high? Well, maybe just a few, so as to give the illusion that I’m being frank and forthcoming, but, really, I’d rather write about the events in the main stream of my life: family, teaching, writing, and philosophical investigations.

And, aside from any purposeful sorts of recollections, I’d like to drift back and muse over some of the earlier memories, the things that an old man misses the most.

Like the handful of times my father took me fishing—I think of Sleepy Hollow near Prospect, Kentucky. Catching my first fish on a fly line. A bluegill, naturally. He’d invented a device called the Retrieve-O-Ring to rescue an expensive lure when it got snagged on an underwater log, he even sold a few of them via ads in sporting magazines.

Thinking of those times, I remember the G. family who lived in a shiny log cabin in the country near Harrods Creek. The father was the church organist, quite a musician, and the mother was my second-grade teacher. Cultured, pure people. They had an open house party once and my family was there, enjoying ourselves. I was talking to some big kids, telling them I was in the second grade, and one of the older girls said she was in the tenth grade. I was stunned. I had no idea the grades went up that high.

Mr. G. got my brother and I to come to choir camp one summer, and before each meal we had to sing this song, “Hey-ho, nobody home. Food, nor drink, nor money have we none. Fill the pot, Hannah!” I wondered if the cook was named Hannah. Soon we boys began thinking of “fill the pot” in a vulgar way, first to our great amusement, but eventually to our disgust, and for me it became a terrible way to start a meal, thinking of that chamberpot image.

I definitely want to write about fireworks and rockets, not to mention dogs and smaller pets like white mice. And the canteen of bourbon that Willie F. fetched for me when he was pledging for my high-school fraternity Chevalier. And my friend Barbie van. C. who got me to play a game where we were separated lovers who’d been looking for each other for years and we walked right by each other in a snow storm, missing each other by only a foot, but not seeing each other in the torrent of ice-crystals. This enactment was taking place in a pasture on a sunny September afternoon on her farm, you understand. Barbie had two older brothers and they had an amazing toy circus upstairs in the play room. I used to dream about that circus a lot, the dream even made its way into my novel, The Secret of Life.

And of course I want to expatiate upon life and death, as in—why, whence, and what’s it all for? When my father was on his last legs, finding his way towards death through a maze of heart attacks, hospitals, strokes, and nursing homes, my brother and my son and I were visiting him in a sick-room, and that afternoon I’d bought my son a black suit, just in case. “Why…why’d you get him a suit?” asked my father. “Funeral! ” said my brother in a stage whisper, pitched too low for the old man to hear. We cracked up. Times like that—what do you do? Laugh or cry?

Seeing my grandchildren is such a nice bookend to having seen my parents die. The other day, I was visiting my son and his twin girls, and one of them was toddling out the front door to the porch—she’s only just learned to walk—and I was cheering her on, and she got this proud, happy, shy look on her face, for all the world like a great lady entering a ballroom and being announced.

12 Responses to “Instead of Watching the Convention”

  1. Henry Wessells Says:

    Rudy,

    May I recommend a very interesting book on precisely this topic of the gaps: Tales My Father Never Told by Walter D. Edmonds (Syracuse Univ. Pr., 1995) — the author of Drums along the Mohawk. There are a couple of surprises and vivd passages; and any recollection of a family member is inextricably linked to all the others in the family.

    HW

  2. womansvoice Says:

    R

    Thx for the alt media option to
    heating up another meal of the same canned political meat on CNN et al.

    About the memoir, there are tons of good books out there to guide you on this project though I trust that at this point you know how to construct a story and how to move it forward in the mind of a reader. A memoir is just another story – in this case a story about someone you see in the mirror every day.

    Key to writing a good one is… to ask in a private journal (or sometimes to muse in the open, as you did in your blog)… who is this person, the one I call “me”? If I were to create a fictional character with my name, face and life experiences what would drive him? Is there a symbol, a creature or a location marker that symbolizes this for me?

    That’s an approach that would give the memoir some focus.

    Another approach, as you described, would be to decide to write about all the little stories that fell into the underbrush because the leafy canopy of a bigger, more demanding story (the story you wrote by your actions under the influence) kept them away from the sun and the elements. (I guess I’m thinking in terms of landscaping right now because my husband and I are about to hire out some major work on our new land).

    The second method allows writing a memoir to become an act of discovery, something that might make it more interesting to a science minded person like yourself.

    I’ll be curious to learn how you decide to go about this project.

    I do hope that if you write a memoir you’ll include some of your beautiful photos, a flash story or two (as you did with Lifebox etc) and a reference to some of your favorite music.

    I’m also thinking you may have a lot of old personal writing stashed away, some of it no longer useful because it reflects a lifestyle you’ve since outgrown. But with new eyes you may see something of value in some of your oldest work. By planting it into your memoir, you can “recover/discover” or regrow those (hidden) parts of yourself in your daily identity.

    I bet it will be fun for you to write about the process of writing the memoir as you develop the book itself. Not that you don’t usually do this, reflect on your work as you develop it, but the whole process of reflecting on what it means to reflect on your life becomes… well… like looking into the mirror of a mirror, toward the infinite space of your personhood.

  3. MarcL Says:

    It’s an odd thing…the thought a writer would decide to stop. Truly depressing in some ways. On the other hand, people announce their retirement all the time, maybe to mark some kind of formal end to some exhausted internal process they think they comprehend (and can willfully end) but then a few years later keep on going…maybe in a different way, or maybe just doing the same old thing again. Stephen King has retired a few times now. Miyazaki announced that Princess Mononoke would be his last movie, and has gone on to make several more splendid ones.

    A few years ago at Norwescon I was hanging out with a well known sf writer I’ve known for many years, and he remarked that after the book he was currently writing, he was probably going to retire…at least from sf. His attitude was very businesslike: He’d been doing this long enough, writing one book every few years. He had it all worked out. I couldn’t imagine having that attitude, but then again, I haven’t been plugging out a book every few years…and even when I was, they weren’t built on so much research as his.

    Chip Delany talks about how many writers someday realize that they are no longer a writer, that it’s over. This is probably moreso the case for writers who start very young, like Chip. Maybe like me. I can’t imagine it because it has been the way I always defined myself. Always. My earliest memories of what I would do with my life all involve being a writer. Some of my earliest memories of doing anything are of writing…probably because I have polished those memories and kept them bright over the years.

    L. Sprague De Camp wrote a book on the business of writing, which I read when I was a teenager, and said that writing is a profession that gets harder the longer you do it. I don’t think that’s true for everyone…except perhaps in the sense that one’s standards and skill get higher, and therefore it’s more work to get something to a level of polish that feels right.

    I know that in terms of energy, I’ve never been more disciplined and able to just throw myself into the creative trance of writing than when I was a teenager, with no real life responsibilities (really, no life), sitting alone in my room for a week at a time just writing a novel in one continuous dream. Those were amazing sessions in terms of entering into a vision, where I could hardly type fast enough to keep up with the visions…and writing a story was exactly like living it. I have dreamed of being able to get back into that state, with the experience I have now…but I think that was largely a product of my age.

    Well, these are some morose morning thoughts.

  4. Rudy Says:

    I like womansvoice ideas on memoirs, and MarcL’s comments on quitting writing.

    I don’t really think I’ll stop writing, it’s just a kind of wishful thinking thing. I polished up all my tasks (the revisions, and the story with Paul Di Fi) and now stand at the edge of the memoir pool. If I imagine this might be my last book, maybe it’s easier to jump in.

    Describing oneself as a character is a good way to think of a memoir. And I like the notion of events that are on the forest floor as opposed to in the canopy. The things that somehow seem so important, those tiny crumbly recollections.

    This morning I’ve been working on a painting.

  5. Gamma Says:

    hey rudy this stuff yu just created touched me slightly i only ever met yu once and that was in Brighton at whatever world con it was – when i arrived i was invited to a room with bongs – i sat on the bed next to this guy who happened to turn out to be Robert Sheckley & then later on in the pathway to SubGenius i think BOB – just trying to smile – yu may have heard that the great Artist & Dick-head KEN CAMPBELL has entered into the old blue tunnel wherin hath gone BOB and Theodore etc

    love from us all over here in KT

  6. Mac Tonnies Says:

    Ever thought of writing something strange under a pen-name or feigning collaboration with a nonexistent writer? (Now that I think about it, that’s essentially how you tackled “Saucer Wisdom,” one of my favorites from your canon . . .)

  7. greg r Says:

    I have not read it yet, but j.g ballard recently wrote an autobiography in response to a nasty diagnosis titled Miracles of Life. I believe he intends it to be his last book.

  8. rs Says:

    isn’t every book the last? if not maybe it should be, then rebirth a new author.

  9. womansvoice Says:

    Hey Rudy, are you gonna vote this year?

    I mean, I know you have ideas about politics and the like but do you believe in voting?

    Some of the radical thinkers in my life refuse to vote. They say it’s about buying into an illusion, the illusion that we belong to a participatory form of government.

    There were actually people in my home town during the 1980 Reagan/Carter campaign who were trying to sell not voting as the truly progressive thing to do. Some of the progressives I knew fell for the bait until one of us figured out that this was a fake CIA movement. He had a dossier with the FBI for yrs because he did so much, um, community organizing -lol- !

    There were a lot of spooks around the campus where I came of age.

  10. Rudy Says:

    Oh, for sure I’m going to vote, and I hope everyone reading this votes too. Normally I like to stay away from partisan politics on my blog—as it provokes discussions that are somewhat repetetive—but I’ll say something on the topic right before the election…

  11. womansvoice Says:

    R

    I hope you’ll forgive me for a third comment in your public community forum but I want to say something about this part of your answer:

    “Normally I like to stay away from partisan politics on my blog—as it provokes discussions that are somewhat repetitive…”

    When I read that, my mind said “Interesting… one can see discussions with no (easy?) resolution as repetitious patterns (rounded, returning, female image) instead of contests (opposing ideations, linear, male image). Could they be definitive patterns within the wider fabric of social interactions, and could there be some mathematical expression that defines the pattern (repeating sets, based on equations, are patterns) of discussions that consistently lead nowhere?

    My primitive instinct says there is some connection though I lack the scientific training to back my hunch.. And maybe I’m just a bag of hot air, I dunno!

    It’s just that my mind made a connection here – because I connect the idea of repetitive patterns with sets etc… um, and you said it and I link the two ideas in my mind because of that… perhaps with two things that have no connection point at all.

    I hope I’m not wasting time in this forum by asking this q.
    It just seems like a fun q to ask, that’s all.

  12. geebert Says:

    great photos and art, per usual! no matter how you do it, you’re making your memoir as you life naturally. keep on keepin on!


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