by Leonard Bishop
When I am in my studio, I am compassed about with four walls solidly shelved with books. Tacked onto the shelves are particular quotations by people whose insight and wisdom have touched me deeply. When I’m researching a subject, I’ll read some quotations and pause what I am doing and stare at the quotation and think about what it means to me.
“When sorrows come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions.” (Shakespeare: Hamlet)
Some mornings I’ll leave the bedroom and the day becomes like leather balloons popping me into despair. Someone will complain of cramps and he’ll stay home and my worrying about him will disrupt my work. The plumbing will start to back up, and electrical connection will begin smoking, the mailman will shuffle past the house and not leave the royalty check I expected.
I’ll take my load of vitamins, then forget I’ve taken my vitamins and take them again and I’ll feel bloated, or hyper, or faint. The can won’t work. I have to chase the dog to stop her from chewing off the cat’s leg. I am unable to think of a plot line. The inside of my head sounds like a truck without a muffler. My hearing aid batteries die. This goes on all day and when the day is over. I moan,”Hallelujah,” and finally, back to bed.
“In fact there was but one thing wrong with the Babbitt house: it was not a home. (Sinclair Lewis: Babbitt”)
That quotation makes me sigh with sadness for other people. My home is large and sprawling and the inside of it is peaceful, loving. We are always talking with each other. There is laughter. Whatever we do, someone is always interested in what we are doing. If Luke is home, I listen to him play his guitar. Celia will be reading something I have written and her gentle smile makes me feel it was worth writing. We have food, and as someone sets the table, some one else is looking for the napkins. We have clothes to wear and good friends to telephone or come over and visit with us. Someone will put on the television, then shut it off because we do not have cable or whatever other service people usually have. We watch carefully selected videos. There is no tension, no irritating distractions. Celia lies on the long couch, blanket across her legs, potato chips and hot tea on the coffee table. Luke is practicing his guitar chords. When our daughter, Kiersten, is home from Kansas City, she sits on the floor, leaned against the piano leg reading a thick law book as she researches for information on how to develop a case for her law firm. I’m laying on the other couch, legs curved over the thick arm, pretending to read a soul-shaking book on philosophy and hoping I don’t snore. So, tomorrow will probably be different but it will never be better than today.
“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp post how it feels about dogs.” (Hampton)
Critics are self-declared judges whose standards for approval or rejection are based on their eccentric dispositions. They specialize in being meaningful at the sacrifice of the work. They usually do not understand or have not completely read. Never, in the literary history of civilization, has a critic provided anyone with the perception worthy of recalling. Critics comprise a profession for which there is no social use. No one ever raised an altar or created a monument honoring a critic.
There is no ordained school for learning how to become a critic. There is no examination issued by an educational body to determine if anyone is qualified to become a critic. Usually there is a void in some publication caused by the arrest of a quirky editorial writer. To curb a crisis of having nothing to print, a filler is dropped into the space, written by some critic. Then, because you fill the void three times, you are declared to be a critic. Yes. Critics are void fillers. Their product is little more than diluted bovine excrement.
“Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.” (C. G. Jung)
Celia calls me a writer whose greatest skill is in arranging discord into planned chaos. She does not understand that my desk is not repository for clutter. I can always remember some of what is on my desk and the reason why, months ago, I piled it there. The box of staples is there for the time I decide to buy a stapler. The seven stiff and dried teabags are being used to stop the ball point pen refills from rolling over the used coffee filters. I can’t throw away the scraps of paper on which I have written telephone numbers until I find out whose phone numbers they are. And the eyeglass case is there for the time I find my spare eyeglasses. Celia is wrong to say that what is on a man’s desk reflects what is in his head.
“Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you.” (Luke 6:26)
When someone is a dedicated writer. His greatest difficulty is in trying to appear like an average undisturbing human being. Most people make themselves become what other people expect them to be. The writer is forced to be with real people when he would rather create his own. People demand that he be odd and unique and interesting. When, in his depths, he is a bland, remote, and droningly repetitious. So while he tries to become what he really is–average, mundane, redundant-redundant-he is forced to behave in an odd, noticeable manner so that he can be thought of as different.
As a social person, I am boisterous, bizarre, often irritating, a sloppy dresser, a blunt opinionizer, somewhat sarcastic, pretentious about being wise and talented in counseling, and a proclaimer of rules of behavior, no one can fulfill–not even the proclaimer. But within myself, wherein is the real person, I am easily confused, hypersensitive to being disliked and will make great sacrifices for the approval of people for whom I have no respect. I am even timid, reluctant to commit myself to a positive opinion because I haven’t the character to back it up. Only when I am writing am I bold, enigmatic, and forthright.
I became a writer, partially because I wanted to expose my soul and reveal what I really am like– rather than let what people believe I am like, become what I am.
“To thine own self be true.” (Willie-the-Shake).
That is a quote I never understood, though I often use it. How can you be true to yourself when you do not know who yourSelf is? Tis a puzzlement.
©2013 The Estate of Leonard Bishop
(first published November 27, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)