Saturday, March 27, 2010

Big writers, small writers, and the rest of us

Saturday night. Went to Vince’s fish restaurant to have a drink and watch the fights. Middle weights. I didn’t know either of them. No room at the bar. Waitress did not come to my dirty table. The fight ended with a one-round knockout. It was all wrong. I left, bought a half pint of Bacardi rum, dark, drove to McDonalds, bought a Zero, mixed it with half the bottle of rum and read Paul Johnson on Ibsen.

Before that, I almost forgot, while I was still on the street I called my wife in Mazatlan. Her friend Marta. Marta’s husband answered. Irene was not there, will arrive tomorrow. So I left my message. I said, “Tell Irene that I washed the Jeep.” An inside joke.

Johnson’s Intellectuals is very diverting. I read it first in October,
1991. According to my notes I read it again in September 2004. Here I am in 2010 and it’s all new to me. I find that I am marking it more thoroughly than I did during the first two reads, which suggests that I find it more interesting than I did 17 years ago, and more interesting than I did six years ago. I’m no smarter today than I was then, which suggests to me that I am more alert than I used to be. More vulnerable maybe. What’s the difference?

Intellectuals focuses on the personal lives of the writers who most influenced modern life, such as it is. What stands out most clearly to me about these writers – Rousseau, Shelley, Marx and Ibsen to name the first four – is that each of them wanted a career as a writer. That may be, not my only, but my primary failing as a writer. I was never much interested in being a writer. I was only interested in the writing. I started with it in 1951, close to 60 years ago and here I am. Some stories, a little journalism, odds and ends. It’s as if I am without ambition.

One thing that the big writers appear to share is ambition. But then many little writers are full of ambition as well. So ambition then, ambition is not the thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rest assured you're a gifted writer and an acute observer. Even without the ambition.