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Artists and Writers Have No Real Choice
“One of the good things about modern times: if you die horribly on television, you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.” – Kurt Vonnegut
How true! Vonnegut died a couple of weeks ago. It’s a sad commentary on society’s values that so little was made of the passing of this man who made people think. Obviously, he had little entertainment value.
They maundered on hour-after-dreary-hour about Anna Nicole Smith, whose main claim to fame was an outrageously large bosom, a vague resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. Thank goodness we’ve learned the parentage of her baby! I have nothing against her, you understand. She did the best she could with the material at hand!
I mourn the deaths of great writers because there will be no more books by them. Others may try to continue their sagas as did J. J. R. Tolkien’s son, but there was only one Tolkien, only one Margaret Mitchell, and only one Daphne du Maurier.
Just as painters and composers have an individual style if they’re really good, writers have an authentic, personal voice. William Faulkner, Clyde Edgerton, Harper Lee, Carson McCullers and Truman Capote are all southern writers, but their styles are nothing alike. (Have you read To Kill A Mocking Bird? Or Capote’s story about the fruitcakes? You can even find Capote’s story on the Internet. Oh, are you in for a treat.)
Just as good teachers are born and not made, great writers cannot be imitated. Unless one reads their biographies, one doesn’t realize that writing is hard, day-in-day-out drudgery. A fine piece of writing is not a random act. It’s a purposeful activity where every word is carefully chosen.
“The practice of art isn’t to make a living,” Kurt Vonnegut said. “It’s to make your soul.”
Artists are driven to practice their craft. Studies indicate that the brains of musicians are wired differently. I think that this may also apply to painters and writers. Monet stood in the snow to paint his marvelous snowscapes such as “The Blackbird” while icicles formed in his beard. How many of us would be willing to do that?
Ernest Hemingway, unable to stand the noise of his wife and baby while he worked, rented a chill room in Paris that was heated only by a few faggots of wood a day. They were so poor that in the afternoon, he would wheel his little boy in a baby buggy to the Luxembourg gardens where he’d lay a trail of corn to tempt pigeons to come ever closer. He’d wait for the pigeons with the brightest eyes, grab them, wring their necks and hide the under Bumby’s blacket. There would be squab for dinner that night! “Real” readers like old Granny and I have to read, and “real” writers must write, cannot stop writing and write every day. (Perhaps Hemingway’s single-mindedness explains why Hadley, Bumby’s mother, was the first of four wives!)
Some of them, such as Jack London, Rosamunde Pilcher, Daphne du Maurier and Maeve Binchy, are wonderful spinners of stories. Their writing reads like cream, as Robert Ruark put it. Others do more than write a “good read;” they say something of import about the world and the human condition. Shakespeare was not only a great poet, his plays lay bare the mechanisms and machinations of humanity. Dickens exposed the poverty and injustice of his society, as did Zola.
Being truthful is of the utmost import to great writers, even if it brings down disapproval on them or costs them friendships. Everything is grist to their mill. One of Hemingway’s friends took to her bed for three days after the publication of The Sun Also Rises. Truman Capote lost his best friend for what he revealed about her.
Old Granny said, “Their writing and my reading make our worlds match up!” This it is with Clyde Edgerton’s Lunch at the Piccadilly, which is about the residents of a southern nursing home. Edgerton cleverly depicts the tragic-comic human condition from a rather skewed perspective. He says that in one part of his mind are the real people whom he knows. Sometimes he reaches into it and deposits snippets of them in the part where his fictional characters live.
Edgerton is one of those writers who hold up mirrors for us to look into and see ourselves. Lunch at the Piccadilly is a funny but poignant story about the residents of the Shady Rest nursing home who have had to give up their homes. It’s also a perceptive account of the people who look after them. It strikes uncomfortably close to home and makes me think about my own rapidly-approaching old age. Some would call me old now, but I assert that I am just nicely ripe!
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