I Will Not Be Had

by Leonard Bishop

 

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Once I received a phone call from an editor on the staff of the writer’s Digest books. They were publishing my first non-fiction book on the craft of writing Dare to be a Great Writer. The editor told me that the book was being retyped and would be sent to me by Saturday. Then she said, “You will be pleased with the new copy editing. Now you can relax and not be so difficult.”

I gasped, “Me, difficult? Are you crazy? I am a genial, affectionate, affable, cooperative, pliant, resourceful, and constantly humble man. Difficult, me? You must be talking about another writer!”

This is the background behind the accusation that I am difficult.

A vital insight a writer must learn about the publishing community is that many people try to take control over what he has written. He must not let that happen because most of the people in publishing, particularly in New York, are authentic phonies, and incompetent.

The writer keeps from losing control of his book by understanding the editorial function. Without a proper insight into what kind of editors enlist in publishing companies, and what they do, the writer can be shafted with a barbed wire wrapped rotor-rooter.

There is the acquiring editor who is, presumably, expert in acquiring new properties for the publishing company. There are also editors who actually edit a writer’s manuscript. They are supposed to be skilled in structural organization, knowledgeable about the assortment of literary styles, and sensitive to the substance and texture of the book’s content.

Many editing editors work on a free-lance basis. They can be hired by the publisher, or by the writer. I have edited many books for professional writer so I am conversant with the acquiring and editing editors. They can suggest, advise, or counsel the writer about constructive changes, but it must be made known to them–by the writer (and his contract)–that he wrote the book and that the decision to perform changes is his. The writer knows his own work.

I was able to deal with the acquiring editor, and the editing editor–but when the book was returned to me from the work of the copy editor, I screamed at the bumbling butchery. Whole sections were removed. Whole sections of content were changed. Portions were rewritten in the most inept prose. I was horrified. A marvelous book was utterly and irreversibly demolished. I didn’t know if I had been pogromized or raped. I rejected the copy editor’s work and would not let them publish the book in that deplorable, ruined condition.

All right–what does a copy editor do? The title reveals the function. The copy editor edits the copy. She does not intrude upon the content. Example: the copy editor checks the facts of the text to keep the writer from appearing the fool. “Marco Polo was a Transylvanian mortician who lisped and had an incurable hernia that kept him from traveling.”

If a copy editor suspects the historical veracity of the statement, she checks for accuracy and put in the required changes. If the writer composes a sentence like, “don’t not cross no street until no cars is writing,” the copy editor must decide if this sentence is grammatically proper. And if all the words are correctly spelt.

The writer, believing that a unique presentation of the content will interest the reader, may write in the margins of the page and leave the center blank. This would cause the typographical difficulties in the book design department. The copy editor should have the expertise to resolve the problem.

The writer, in a flare of anger, may write, “An editor at Reader’s Digest books keeps scratching the place where she had a frontal lobotomy.” The copy editor is responsible for judging if the statement is libelous. She suggests a deletion or change.

Some writers, in their struggle to write original prose, might begin the first chapter of a novel with, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void…” The copy editor is accountable for realizing that the style of writing and the text may not be totally the writer’s invention–then determine whether the writer has plagiarized another creator’s work.

I will not allow people to tamper with what I write, when their tamperings are destructive to what I write. When publishers pay a writer to publish the book he has written–they are paying him because he has written the book. Not because he allows a copy editor to leap beyond her province to rewrite the book he has written. I am not difficult to work with–I am merely experienced and have no reverence for editors.

The only difficulty I have had in a working with editors is in trying to appreciate why it is necessary to have editors.

© 2013  the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published November 29, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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Writers Beware of Editors

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Writers do not get their novels published by writing for people. Long before the public reads what is written, it must be passed through the stratified structure of book-publishing editors. Writers should not struggle to understand the hearts and minds of the people. They should learn the values and appreciations of the editors, if they want to have their novels published.

What are these book-publisher editors like, as people?

It is essential that they be superficial, in sensitivity, and glib in knowledge. Because editors are not hired to withstand the pressure of deep and sustained thought, their focus of choice is always on story and plot. Just keep something happening. Thinking, beyond the obvious, is irksome, and apprised as overwritten. Editors are like politicians, or bottles of Heinz ketchup.

If Heinz is going to sell millions of bottles of ketchup, it had better be common. A politician cannot be successful unless he is as ordinary as the people who vote for him. Extraordinary tasting ketchup is for the gourmand. Only a limited supply is sold in the special foods area. Politicians who are non-compromising and function from integrity have no future.

Book publishing editors must be in tune with what appeals to everyone. To be an excellent editor, the highest quality in your characters should be mediocrity.

There are two prevailing reasons why people become editors: they were former writers who could not sustain the trivial talent they have, or they are people who enjoy the questionable esteem that the title editor carries. Editors are literate but not well read. Their only serious reading was done at the University. Many have taken speed reading courses and have become skimmers, scanners, and summarizers.

Editors do not shape public reading tastes. They develop assumptions as to what the public will pay to read, and pander to this imaginary preference. If most editors knew the genuine public taste and really understood what books to publish, they would be operating on a profit basis. They would not be publishing houses that are used for tax write-offs by the megaplex corporations that own so many of them.

Almost all editors are working people who are constantly aware of one frightening fact: they are quickly replaceable. Too many unprofitable choices (duds, bombs, clinkers) can ruin their careers. They are in terror of an unknown writer who might submit a splendid novel. The first priority that shapes an editors decision is the marketability of a novel. An excellent novel is a marginal book. Quality is eccentric: trash is reliable.

When developing his novel, a writer should realize he must trance-out and excite the editor. A writer should be quick, electric, and immediate in his opening. Editors have facile minds that hop from idea to idea like a goosed kangaroo–but they are on the welfare line of the mind waiting for a creative intelligence handout.

My interest is in guiding writers on how to get their novels published, not to slander editors. Thus far, in my writing career, I have known well over 200 editors and they are all charming, bright, interesting, and well-dressed people. They are incomparable time-passer conversationalists. Every writer should have three or four locked in his garage, to take to publishers parties. They are into jogging, funky French movies, erotic photography, and all have a sexual fetish for Humphrey Bogart.

The latest innovation in book publishing is the proposal negotiation. Editors are no longer interested in dealing with complete novels. The merit of the novel is judged on the proposal the writer submits.

Proposal: an informative description of what the novel contains; an account of what you believe is your market.

Editors are highly skilled in reading proposals. They are not inordinately competent when it comes to reading completed novels.

In the proposal (which assures the editor that the novel is not yet written) you’ll need a chapter summary. They must be written as though you are summarizing what is already written. (Editors call this a Catch 22 paradox. Writers believe it is an inane contradiction).

If your proposal earns you a contract, the editor becomes an integral part of your novel. She (the majority of editors are women) is always there–guiding, leading, suggesting, changing, discarding, shaping. As of today, the editor is content to believe she is a silent collaborator. Perhaps tomorrow, editors will want their names on the book as is co-writers.

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published April 26, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

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Say What You Mean

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I have been criticized for interrupting people what I believe they are describing themselves with an improper use of language. It is annoying, I know. But the language we speak contains both what we mean to say, and statements we should not be saying. What mean to say, is what we are in character. What we actually say is what people presume our character to be. We are constantly misleading and being misled.

Someone will say, “I’m a positive person,” when he means, “I’m rigid and opinionated.” Others will say, “I like to live, and let live,” when they mean, “I’m afraid to get involved.” Many of the people who declare, “I’m easy going and laid back,” should say, “I’m indifferent to people, and lazy.” Often, I am prompted to tell them they are misrepresenting themselves. Thus, I do not develop friendships easily.

Although I am a writer, language is not my idol, or my obsession. It is my method of communication. I try to use it with integrity. At one time, my language was my personal liar. I deluded myself into believing I was someone I was not, merely because I described myself (to myself) imprecisely.

When I claimed, “I stand on what I believe, no matter what,” I should have revealed that no matter how wrong I was, I would not admit it because I was compelled to always be right. To impress naive people I stated that I had great mental dexterity and adroitness of mind. But I was lying. I was a thought-drifter. Without control of his concentration.

The frightening insight into this is that I was not only analyzing myself incorrectly, I was believing my own false analysis. There was no way I could ever live up to what my inexact language persuaded me to believe I was. I was like an apple tree struggling to grow avocados. And what I actually was, as a person, remained unknown.

One year in California, we had used all our money until I finished a novel. But I wasn’t worried. I knew a criminal lawyer loaded with cases. I defined myself as having a keen investigative mind, and an unerring sensitivity for reading people, and I was relentless when searching for facts. He hired me to interview people in a scandalous murder case. “Get them to talk about stuff they don’t know they know, and did not tell the police.” I nodded. No problem. I could talk a starving wolf out of an unguarded hen house.

I was an embarrassing bust. Where I had labeled myself as “persuasive” I was really “intimidating and harassing.” I was not sensitive to others. I was “undeviatingly centered on myself.” While I imagine myself to be “exciting” I was a “genuine dud.” I gave away more information than I got. I had betrayed myself into believing what my misuse of language convinced me to believe.

There is no way that we can know ourselves except through the language we use when reaching a self-estimation. The longer we describe ourselves incorrectly, the longer we remain strangers to ourselves. As people, we are two specific impressions. What we say we are, and what our actions prove us to be.

If we believe ourselves to be “compassionate” and “loving” but all we put out is “pity” and “contempt,” then what are we? If we assume ourselves to be “generous” but actually give only when we are guaranteed to gain more, then we are “crafty opportunists.” And if we apprise ourselves through an improper or misleading use of language, we deceive ourselves into acting unnaturally. We steadily force ourselves into becoming maladjusted, estranged, emotionally imbalanced and alone.

It was when I began teaching professional writing at the University of California in Berkeley, that I was forced into this condition of honest self-examination, through language. What I considered “assertive teaching” was actually “bullying” and “terrorizing.” Students cringed when I came into the classroom. What I felt was my “delightful sense of humor” was really “cutting sarcasm” and “malicious derision” of the students. I thought I was teaching “complex structures.” when I was only “pomping and priding” around a disruptive demonstration of unbridled, nauseating “self-adoration” and “demanding conceit.” I was a jerk.

I had misled myself into believing what I was not–because I did not have the correct language to define what I truly was.

I know people who boast of their ability to reach “snap decisions” and make “instant choices.” They credit themselves as being “decisive.” Yet their personal history has proven that 80% of what they decide or choose is ruinous to their lives. They are not “decisive”, they are “hasty.”

Not allowing yourself to realize what is your actual character, compared to what you assume is your true character, can cause deep unhappiness. Because in the dark of your soul you always wonder, “Who am I?” And you will never really know, nor begin living through your natural character–to become happy–unless you trouble to learn the language that clearly and honestly defines you.

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published April 3, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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You’re Never Too Old

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

When a man believe this he is too old for an additional career, he is really too old for an additional career. An opportunity of that type is beginning to happen for me and I intend to go for it.

Now that the film industry has begun to move some of its projects into eastern Kansas, I am preparing myself for a career in the movies. Not as a writer. I avoided being a Hollywood writer, years ago (one of my novels was the first Movie of the Week) because I did not want to live in Hollywood.

I have never known a fine writer who is able to publish fine novels after remaining as a Hollywood writer for about three years. He becomes used up, burned out, cynical, or his fire is banked beyond revival. Too many become drunks, druggies, and some have committed suicide. I closed my eyes to a career in Hollywood.

I would use my writing experience only as a way of revealing my superb skill as an actor. At the proper time, I will have my literary agent inform some of the film companies that there is a non-drinking, non-drug using professional writer in Herington, Kansas. He is amenable to rewriting poorly developed scripts. But with one contractual stipulation.  He must have a teeny-weenie part in the show he rewrites, and one line of dialogue (which he will write.)

My time has finally surfaced and I will not let it pass me by. The older man character actor is a premium commodity. The cameo-role has a significant place in today’s film. And I have all the personal resources needed to be given a wide range of small parts–as long as they are kept within the realm of the sloppy, grungy, beaten-down old man who was born to lose and finally succeeds in achieving his miserable destiny.

Because I have size and bulk, I could be used instead of two actors. My face would become a cameraman’s delight. There would be much drama portrayed in the bags, pouches, wrinkles, and droops.  Anywhere he focused the lens, he would find a chin. No one has ever been certain the shape of my nose, making it the universal nose. Beady eyes slightly glazed with mucus are quite provocative. The director would be assured that I won’t move my head at the wrong time since arthritis has stiffened the vertebrae in my neck.

I have an old-fashioned, 1940s physique. Meaty shoulders, burly chest, and substantial girth kept in by a thick pants belt. I move like an overfed orangutan straining to get out of a tub of quicksand. I have the criminal look and the thug way of speaking. From the side of my mouth as though talking from behind bars and worried that the screw on duty might hear my plans for breaking out.

I could easily play an over-the-hill saloon bouncer everyone pities so deeply they never fight in his presence, in fear that he would be injured. Or the former toughie whose son-in-law is a rotten loan shark specializing in destroying respectable people. Every time he sends me out to beat up on some mushy nerd, I get strangled, or stabbed, or shoved out a window. I do a marvelous death-rattle or shriek.

Yes, I’m primed for an additional career. Believing in yourself is more important than knowing yourself. Age is for torn underwear and dusty sofas. No one is so old that he must rely on yesterday’s feat to certify him worthy of today’s esteem. The character of a person is determined by what he is willing to risk in face of a fine accomplishment. Yes, I am an event whose time has come!

I am not limited to the thug and mug cameo parts. Tog me out in cowboy duds and deck me with a 5 gallon hat. There I am, the drunken sheriff of Lawrence, Kansas–trying to redeem himself and be allowed back into church. Col. William Quantrill and his legion of Raiders charge into town. I mosey into the middle of the street, gun hand near my holster, ready to slap leather. I drawl,”Ya murderin’ varmint–git!” Instantly, all his men shoot me and trample me under their horses. Wow! I would bring the audience to tragic sobs.

There I am, bullet ridden and gasping; laying in the blood and the gore and the issue of horses. The local preacher pokes a bottle of gut-rot into my mouth and I guzzle the quart as he asks, “Got a last word, Jubal?” Then, in a manner that would reduce the thesbianic stature of Bogart or Woody Allen, I shudder so hard my spurs and dentures rattle as I croak, “Nope,” and grandly die.

Yes, yes, it’s true. I stand with open arms, toupee, and makeup box in hand, waiting for the Kansas film industry to take me to the heights of a deserved acclaim.

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published April 19, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

 

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Dying of Health

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I’m taking a battery of vitamin pills and I feel drugged with supplementary health. My body is becoming befuddled. It has not yet learned how to assort the power I’m pushing into it. Sometimes the cod liver oil slips into the spot meant for the folic acid. So while I’m protected against insomnia, I developed a sore tongue.

I’m not sickly, or unhealthy. But people my age are always on the threshold of common or exotic diseases. Our skeletal structure begins warping and teetering. The carpentry takes on time-rot. The outside covering wrinkles and flakes and all sorts of bacteria build nests in secret places. And the plumbing leaks.

I used to believe that vitamins were for slightly odd people. People who were always sniffling and feeling the texture of their hair. Who had body odor and became terrified when their fingernails cracked too easily. Who examined restaurant spoons and food box labels to be sure they weren’t eating polyester. And now I am one of them.

If I am to get an adequate supply of vitamin D from ordinary food, I would have to eat 30 heads of lettuce a day. So I take a pill. Vitamin D is supposed to healthify my adrenals, pituitary, and sex glands. I also need iron and iodine. But a combination of bubbly blood corpuscles, a muscular pituitary, gushing adrenals, and an energetic cluster of sex glands might be inconvenient. Trying to build up my stamina, exhausts me.

Sometimes I awaken in the morning feeling like a sloshing container of minerals. Potassium, cobalt, magnesium, copper, manganese, fluorine, hydrochloric acid, phosphate, chlorophyll 2, if I continue this vitamin regime too long, I might turn into a bag of fertilizer.

I admit to being somewhat vain. I don’t want to become stooped and develop Angel-wing shoulder blades–have a wobbly-head or splayed hips and vivid varicose veins. But I’m afraid I am turning my body into a rat-maze where my chromosomes might take the path meant for my enzymes and both could become panicky and attack my bladder. But without vitamins, you buck the odds and take long risks.

So much of our food is partially plastic or hyped with synthetics that a traditional diet is no longer dependable. To get eggs fortified with authentic nutrients you have to find hens that were raised in the sunshine and who daily preen their feathers. Unless your milk comes from cows that graze on high mountain slopes, you’re merely drinking an impotent white liquid. An improper diet can shatter your nerves. But I’m so anxious about remaining tranquil, I get nervous.

I dream of vitamin pills. Some prance and romp and tap dance on my pancreas. Some time capsules split open and, like buckshot, spray my kidneys. Cylindrical pills, squat pills, rubbery, slippery, and slinky pills. Some pills suddenly swell and give birth to other pills. I’m so obsessed with remaining healthy, I’m becoming ill.

I have lost my taste for food. But when I see a juicy multiple vitamin, I salivate. I ignore the grocery and shop in the pharmacy. I stand nude before the mirror and study the color and tone of my skin. I must be certain my bloodstream is flowing into the right channels. I stroke myself and feel my texture.–Smooth as a baby’s–oh, no, I found the coarse spot. Quick! Some vitamin A and D, with a pinch of wheat germ. I feel like a ramshackle outhouse trying to become reconstituted into a stately mansion.

For years I heard that the human body was complex, but I never believed they meant my human body. Nutrition experts have determined that to gain a sufficient supply of calcium we would have to eat about 80 apples or 90 bananas a day. Or a bushel of 40 oranges, a bag of about 250 dates. To get the proper dosage of vitamins from the food we buy, we would have to get stomach transplants from the dinosaurs. A side effect of supplementary vitamin intake is hypochondria.

Vitamins have begun to change my life-style and my thought process. A platter of eggs and pancakes, with some hash browns on the side, was an average breakfast. Now it is foolish. It is minimal in nutrients. And the bulk of it leaves no room for the vitamins to wiggle through to their designations. I used to think of chapters for panoramic novels. Now I think about my bone marrow and my spleen, my bowels and my bile.

Perhaps a little sickness might be good for my health.

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published June 1, 1986 the Manhattan Mercury)

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We Always Do Our Best

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I can understand why people who write newspaper columns get tired of their usual readers and hope to gain others. Persistent readers take the columnist too seriously. They begin to believe they know the writer and thus have acquired the privilege of being irritated or offended by what he writes. Some of the people who read this column regularly have slotted me into that status.

They write angry, riled, and disgruntled letters to me. They inform me that I not only have a stunted mind but that I am also a lousy writer. They dislike my subject matter and what subject matter they understand, they disagree with. They do not send the letters to the newspaper, which has my permission to open them and publish them in “letters to the editor.” They send them to me.

They know I live in Herington, Kansas and all they need to do is address the letter to “The Writer” or “The Nasty Writer” or “The (unmentionable) Writer.” Then it will be put into my mailbox. If there is a signature, it is usually illegible or just one name and that one is phony.

There is no return address on the envelopes. The letters are usually handwritten in crude, painstakingly formed words–as though a therapist was standing beside the writer, patiently dictating the content. It is not hate mail. They are letters that reveal an obsessive, fanatic pride about being in Kansas or how they hate people who are obsessive or fanatic about not living in Kansas.

One reader complained that my vocabulary and syntax was not grounded in the traditions of conventional grammar. She was willing to bet money that I wrote so poorly because I had never studied a foreign language. I cannot disagree with her. I can only claim,”La critique est aisee, et l’art est difficile.”  Criticizing is easy, but art is difficult.

The letter that troubled me came from a reader who whined, “I’m fed up with reading about your diets. Change the record or I’ll tune you out.” There was a smudge of chocolate syrup under the date and the writing paper smelled of spaghetti sauce.

I spend hours working on columns I hope will reach clever readers who will understand that I am a compulsive personality writing to other compulsive personalities. I am also safeguarding my career as a columnist. When I am fat, I write badly. When I am lean, I am brilliant.

Most of the readers are poor readers. They are also leaving what they read to get to the refrigerator to eat. They forget what they were reading and must begin again. They therefore never finish what they began. They become sleepy and think, “Ahw, the heck with that.  What was I reading? I’ll read it later after I watch some TV.”

Readers are not subtle. Their minds inch over the surface like crippled worms. They’re not sensitive to the artistically fashioned phrase, the galaxy of symbolic meaning in an image

I do not save these unsigned letters that are sent to my home. I read them, consider the contribution to my character and career, then dump them. They are written with horrid misspellings, abominable grammar, and are about as organized as a bucket of spilled Lego. The writers are so obviously ill educated that I suspect my columns are read to them.

A reader calls me a fascist communist and unpatriotic because I refuse to buy what is advertised on television. Since most consumer goods I purchase are manufactured in another country, I cannot accept the stigma of being un-American.

The columnist does not object to such letters. They gratify his inclination towards conceit. The columns causing the trouble may have been written a month before it was published. By that time the columnist has forgotten it because he is concerned about the current column he is writing. When an irate reader complains, he has to research his files.

He re-reads the column and thinks, “It is a superb column. Truly inspiring. That reader is sick in his head.” I sigh with satisfaction and self-esteem and think, “I do hope I get some more nasty letters which will drive me to reading my own column so I can get some pleasure from my day.”

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published November 15, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

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Modesty: Bah, Humbug!

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

When you finish reading this paragraph you will be convinced that I am one of the few absolutely nice guys you have ever read about.

For long time now I have wondered why people like me. Although my conversation is not always fascinating and I am not foolishly aggressive about picking up dinner checks, people solicit my company. I believe it is because I enjoy being what I have become–just being me. Because I am singular, and individual. And because I am not annoyingly modest.

When someone uses more than 50 years of his life to become accomplished, intelligent, sympathetic, emotionally strong, and generous–it is foolish for him to offer an opinion of himself that states, “Awh, I was just lucky, I guess,” or “You shouldn’t make that much over me. I’m not really all that.” Denying all the agony and dilemma, the turmoil and shock and grief he had experienced to become a good person is demanding too much. Reducing himself to a pittance of self-esteem merely to appear modest is not being guided by reason; it is being tyrannized by a fad.

MODEST: having or showing a moderate or humble opinion of one’s own value, abilities, achievements, etc.” (Webster’s New World Dictionary.)

I believe the formal definition of modest should be changed. It is limiting; it is self-defeating. While I would not favor the behavior of overbearing intimidation, arrogance, or pride, I would redefine the interpretation of modest, so it creates a positive attitude of self-regard. Whenever a rarity or a genuine exception of the rule happens, it should not be hidden behind a facade of social hypocrisy. People like me because I am in a state of daily enjoyment. I have faith in God, love my wife and all my children, I have some friends, and I am perfectly suited and skilled for the work I do.

You may envy my pleasure and even try to misery me, or avoid me–but you cannot dislike a happy man. Most people are modest because they have done little to be immodest about.

My mother used to advise me, “If you are as special as you think you are, people will notice it. Don’t blow your own trumpet. It’s conceited!” But she too was a victim of the Modest Syndrome. Whenever I put my trumpet away, no one hears of me: no one noticed me. They were too engrossed in their own feelings of unworthy to realize that I was special. They were being ultra modest and would not tell me I was unusual, and so passed their feelings of unworth on to me.

If I were a modest person. I would have to learn how to become a liar again. I would be a cookie-cutter non-person who trains himself to become considerately false, deceptively tactful. Just another phone flatterer who is untrustworthy. A modest person is experienced in telling you the satisfying lie. People like being with me because they can depend upon my being trustworthy.

There are satisfying social forms for blowing your own horn without offending people with your noise. Without appearing to be an egotistical fanatic about dominating, or cutting other people down. It is in being able to reveal that you enjoy other people as much as you enjoy being yourself.

The wrong, the defective, the unwholesome personal traits in other people, are easy to realize. Their virtues, their high qualities, the special characteristics are more difficult to discern because they’re hidden behind false modesty.

People like me because they know I am not envious of anyone. If there are people in this world who are better than I am, their caliber does not make me feel less. I never compete with other people. If you want to be the star of the evening, do it. The luster of what you are will not dampen what I am. I am too substantial to be made anonymous.

I am well-liked because I do not judge other people, although I dislike some people who are vicious, greedy, hateful creeps. I do not judge them. I merely exercise my privilege of choice and elect to avoid them. Judgment upon them would be if I demand that others see these people as low and destructive humans. They will be found out, soon.

Immodest: bold, forward, impudent(Webster’s New World Dictionary.)

Immodesty urges me to reveal some of how you can become like I am–a genuinely likable person. Avoid seeing yourself through the standards and appreciations of other people. You are singular, an individual. Estimate yourself by what you believe yourself to be, then accomplish yourself. Become what you believe you are by living as though you have already achieved being what you believe yourself to be.

Don’t be brought down by other people. They are so encased in their own despairing lives that they are ignorant of what you are actually like. They will never know what you are really like unless, with truth and sincerity and immodesty, you tell them.

© 2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published November 1, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

 

 

 

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Writers Need Each Other

by Leonard Bishop, Author of Dare to Be a Great Writer

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Many writers are shriveling. They are alone, and isolated from each other. No one really cares if they are ever published and many of their families wish they would just stop writing and seek employment or interest in more acceptable situations. There are a few art foundations or state organizations that will support them with any substantial grants. They are pariahs.

The only encouragement these isolated writers get is from dreary articles on writing, published in writing magazines, written by bottom-of-the-barrel writers. They pay more for the magazine than they have earned from their own writing. The only hope they have for personal peace comes from their negative expectation to eventually abandon their desire to become published as a professional writer.

If this is true (and I have enough experience as a writing teacher to know it is true) there is a partial solution to their dilemma. It is in risking a bold step forward by starting a writing group in your area. Try a small advertisement in your local newspaper. “Wanted: unpublished writers committed to the purpose of becoming published. Let us form a writers group. Contact…” You’ll be astonished by how many people you know, or are familiar with, who are hidden writers.

If you are to progress as a writer, establishing a writing group in your community is a necessity. Writers need exposure–having what they write, read or heard. Without an audience you are writing in the shadows. Writers need the feeling and identity of being writers–and to be known in the light of being a writer.

Writing groups are positively helpful. There are no instant answers overcoming immediate writing problems. At least half of the writing craft is learned from what the inexperienced writer discovers in other writers’ stories and chapters. Too often the writer is so close to his work that he cannot do what he has written with a balanced objectivity. All he sees is what he meant to write, but did not succeed in accomplishing. The depression, the failure, it’s painful. But someone else in the writing group can see the flaw and, by him hearing it aloud, the writer can also see it. Then you read or hear the chapter someone else has written, and you are critical. Now you find specific flaws in his work. And you teach someone else. And then you think, “Hey, that’s the same mistake I’m always making.” You return to your work and correct the fault and you have learned some craft.

But there is more to a writing group. You are given irrefutable evidence (through the critical comments of the others) of your talents and growing skills, and you can no longer disappoint and intimidate yourself with the nagging, “I’m not a good writer. I will never be published.” You encourage each other, because you are each other.

In a writing group you are not some rejected eccentric hustling after an impossible dream. The others are genuine people (rational, responsible, respectable) – – there is not a flake in the bowl. But they are also unique. They ache and anguish for more than the unexciting dispensations given to them by banal society. They have taken their stand and are working for their success. Failure is for the writer who stopped writing because she believed she was a failure.

In a sensibly conducted writing group, you can also realize that perhaps you should not try to become a professional writer. Not everyone has the talent or the patience in character to learn the writing craft. Some people are just not intelligent or sensitive enough. Some people are so clammed up and tightened by fear, they just cannot be writers. Fear has dried them. Learning this can spare some people a long time of false hope and unnecessary grief.

The craft of writing is like a jigsaw puzzle you buy in some sleazy thrift shop. You work at getting it all together and just when you know you have the picture figured out and where  all the other pieces go you suddenly realize that not all the pieces were in the box. Quite often the other people in the writing group have some of your pieces and you have some of theirs.

While Kansas is not the only state that has little regard for its creative people–it is jealous state that is irresponsible and ignorant of the needs of its creative people. It will fund the farmer and shun the artists–and man cannot live by bread or weed or milo alone.

If any writers are going to become professionals, they will have to do it on their own. Forming writing groups is a reasonable way start. Anywhere you begin is the right time and place to begin it in. You cannot become, unless you first begin.

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published August 23, 1987 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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As I Was Saying

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I collect collections of clever, astute, amusingly wise sayings by past and currently notable people. They are enjoyable and instructive. Example: Not many people realize that the saying, “God helps those who help themselves,” does not come from the Bible. It was said by Benjamin Franklin. And it was not George Washington who, after carelessly dropping his wooden teeth into the fireplace said, “aaaayyyyyyayyyyyyyyayyyyyeeeeeee!” It was Johnny Weissmuller, playing Tarzan.

I’m looking forward to the time when some of my astonishing wisdom’s are put into quotation collections. I did not state, “Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp post how it feels about dogs.” (Christopher Hampton), but I did write, “Sometimes my most humiliating experience is being me.”

Robert Benchley, a critic and author, once wrote, “It took me 15 years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”  There is a song title (author unknown) that always makes me smile. “I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling.”

Quite often as the conversation filler, or to span an interval of dead, have-nothing-to-talk-about silence, I’ll state a quotation like, “An atheist is a man who believes himself an accident.” (Francis Thompson). Or one by Emily Lawton like, “A converted cannibal is one who, on Friday, eats only fishermen.” But I’m never certain if I am citing a maxim, or an aphorism, an adage, a saw, or a proverb. They all seem to mean the same.

The dictionary defines them with such similarity that distinguishing the difference between them is almost impossible. Mark Twain said: “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.” Was he citing an aphorism (a concise statement of a principle?) Was Richard Diran offering a proverb (an adage, a maxim) when he said, “I have a rock garden. Last week three of them died.” Did Abraham Lincoln coin a saw (a saying, maxim, or proverb) or a proverb (adage, maxim) by saying, “If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?”

Some sayings, because they are stated by people of authority and esteem, can be corrupting or just stupid. “What is moral is what you feel good after.” (Ernest Hemingway). Presidents are not excluded from asinine statements. “Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?” (Ronald Reagan) And some sayings should be etched on the minds of people who believe that the solution to Life’s problems can be found in the mechanical sciences. “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” (Pablo Picasso).

I would rather read an intelligently assembled anthology of sayings that a political tract on why it would be inadvisable to invade Peru. You garner the finest distillation of thought without having to slough through the mental process the thinkers suffered.

When you read as many anthologies as I do, you reach a plateau of information, and anything above that plateau, is confusion or misunderstanding. When you are being very intelligent, you become mixed up about what you are saying. You don’t always know if you’re being clever, or if you’re actually quoting someone else’s cleverness. I was once asked an opinion of Richard Nixon’s mind, and I said, “He was not made for climbing the trees of knowledge.” I later learned that it was said by the novelist Sigrid Undset.

I thought I was being clever at a party when I was asked to comment on Nietzsche, and I said, “When he who hears doesn’t know what he who speaks means, and when he who speaks doesn’t know what he himself means–that is philosophy.” But it was said by Voltaire, before me.

Accepting credit for being clever, though I may be using someone else’s mind, is not disturbing to me. I am always consoled by knowing the mind I am stealing from, stole his cleverness from the heritage of minds that thought before him. Or, as Augustus de Morgan said, “Great fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite them, and little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on. Ad infinitum.”

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published April 20, 1986 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

 

 

 

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Mother’s Day is a May Day

by Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

Leonard Bishop

I believe Mother’s Day is a maudlin time, and phony. A celebration of money-spending sponsored by greedy business people. If we don’t offer our women esteem all the days we are with them, then a battery of gifts on that particular date will not produce endearing emotions. But fortunately for all mothers, that is only my attitude. On my wife’s crowded calendar, Mother’s Day is circled in violent red.

It is a menacing holiday. Recognize Mother’s Day as important, meaningful, and be generous with the gift–or else!

Until I began shopping odors for my wife, there were no differences between the smell of Chanel #5 and a spray for armpits. Celia would always urge me to cultivate a “sense of aroma.” I would shrug, “Come off it, Babe. My buck and a half after-shave smells just as good.” But because she enjoyed perfumes and essences and colognes, I worked at smelling and realized she was right. Thus, on Mother’s Day I always gift her with an aroma.

I went to the mall and nodded to the middle-aged woman behind the perfume counter. “I want some oh-D-Cologne for a Mother’s Day gift.”

Her mouth pursed prissily as she re-pronounced the word, “Cologne. Any particular name?”

I winked, “Just bring some out and I’ll sniff them.”

She smiled, “We’ll begin with Passion.” Her voice trembled with sincerity. How quaint, she was thinking, even uncouth guerrillas bring gifts to their hairy mates.

The woman handed me a vial shaped like a fawn. I jammed down the nozzle like I would a can of insect repellent. I gagged and began sniffling. Some people glared at me for bringing my contagious virus into their area. I gasped, “It’s too foreign. Smells like rinsed spaghetti. This is for a beautiful woman, not some frump with great buttocks!”

She kept bringing up figurine bottles with names like Ravishing, Enchantress, Seduction. Failure was making her mean. She sprayed them at me as though using poison gas. “This is pleasing,” she said. “And lovely.”

It made me belch. I wanted to lick the sticky film from my nose. “It’s not blithesome enough. I want a scent to satisfy a mischievous, jocular, kittenish temperament.”

The sounds in her throat were like suppressed curses.  Though she glared at me, I could sense her beginning fright. The day had been windy and my hair was splattered across my brow like a witch’s wig. I had not taken my riboflavin caplets and there were sores on the corners of my mouth. I had spilled some coffee and lots of catchup on my T-shirt that boldly announced, “Writers do it on paper.” When I become intense, I hunker over and my voice growls.

The woman began moving away from me and I hunched after her as she sprayed me from odd-shaped the vials. I kept saying, “No. It’s not buoyant enough. My wife bubbles with frivolity.” Or “No. It isn’t ambrosial, the bouquet doesn’t linger.” Or “That’s religious with incense. I want the aroma of intrigue, a disposition of fantasy.”I was becoming annoyed and my neck swells and varicose veins bulge on my skin when I’m annoyed. I breathe hard and spit begins to pop from my lips. I was becoming dizzy with the fumes of colognes.

The woman clenched her mouth and squinted meanly, then strode to the counter and opened a dark and squeaky drawer. She moved as though cleaning away cobwebs. She drew out a circular bottle and thrust it at my face and aimed.

“Yes!” I shouted. “Yes!” I inhaled deeply. “Yes. Fragile with sentiment–it’s spellbinding and lusty!” The woman glowed with achievement. When she told me the cost I nearly fainted. But it was Mother’s Day–a holiday for expensive sacrifices.

I was teaching a private class in “Writing the Novel.” When I entered the room, the three students who disliked me tittered nastily. One whispered, “Just smell him. He’s finally come out of the closet.” I ignored the implication and taught the class, hoping no one handed me a corsage when it was over. I was glad to leave and get home.

It was 11 PM when I entered the house. I moved into the bedrooms to check if all was right. Luke was asleep, so was Celia. As I turned toward the kitchen, she suddenly sat up and shouted with shock and anger, “What have you been doing–where have you been?”

Cleverly, I said, “Huh?”

She yelled, “You smell like the Lithuanian bordello!”

I shook my head, mumbling, “No, Babe. No.” I quickly thrust the wrapped bottle at her. “I had to sample what I bought. Here’s your Mother’s Day gift, a little early.”

She tore open the wrapping and grinned and began dabbing some on her wrists and neck. She closed her eyes and purred, “Pre-eminent, incandescent, scintillating, truly distinguished. The clerk who sold it to you had exceptional taste.”

Now, I was becoming angry. I had almost been suffocated to death getting her a Mother’s Day gift–and what was she hiding from me that allowed her to know what a Lithuanian bordello smelled like?

©2013 the estate of Leonard Bishop

(first published May 22, 1988 the Manhattan Mercury)

 

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