As faithful readers of this column will recall, my timetable for book marketing was made a hash of by my printer’s failure to deliver the goods on time. By the time I had the books in hand, the insanity of the Christmas season was upon us. So I put most of my marketing campaign on hold. On Monday I leave the nerve center of Iconoclastic Press for a long-scheduled trip to California, which will no doubt be pleasant enough though it does now seem a bit ill-timed.
But it can’t be put off any longer because my mother’s live oak tree has been growing by leaps and bounds, and desperately needs a trim. Also, Carel the IT god has moved into his new house, and there are lots of trees and shrubs that want trimming there as well, along with the drywall and plumbing work that he needs done. This is what comes of years of avoiding anything resembling a career. Why couldn’t I have been sensible, and gone to law school?
Heinrich Böll, in Ansichten eines Clowns (Opinions of a Clown), which is a marvelous piece of work, talks about this. The narrator, who is the opinionated clown of the title, is complaining about his manager. He says of managers (my translation):
They also know perfectly well that even an artist with no conscience at all has a thousand times more conscience than a conscientious manager, and they possess a weapon against which there is no defense: the simple insight into the fact that an artist cannot possibly do anything other than what he does: paint pictures, travel around the country as a clown, sing songs, or chisel ‘permanence’ out of stone or granite.
There was a kid who showed up at college my sophomore year. He lived next door to me, so we got to know each other, and one day I asked him what he intended to do with himself after he graduated. His glib answer was that he would be either a doctor or a lawyer, depending on which profession he felt would earn him the most money. At the time, the first thought that crossed my mind was that with a mercenary attitude like that, I hoped he wouldn’t choose medicine. Probably he’s driving a very large and shiny Mercedes by now, whereas I’m driving a seventeen-year-old pickup truck.
Would I have it any different?
Well, actually, yes. I wish I’d accepted poverty gracefully when I was younger, and done more writing instead of working so hard to make a living while avoiding falling into a career.
Then again, maybe I needed to go through all those non-productive years in order to learn what I know about writing now. Because even though I wasn’t getting much done, I was writing, and when I wasn’t writing, I was reading. And, avoiding a career, I ended up learning a lot of useful skills, and meeting a lot of different sorts of people, along the way, and, even more importantly, I inadvertently avoided the trap that Cyril Connolly fell into. Everything Connolly writes has a strong odor of academia and the world of literary criticism. He could never have written a book about, say, farmers. And he could never have trimmed his mother’s oak tree.
So maybe things have worked out in the end. Maybe all those years trimming trees actually helped me learn to write. I used to meditate, suspended from a rope high above the ground, on why it was that I found arboriculture so much easier than writing. The obvious answer was that tree trimming was merely a subtractive art. You can’t add branches to a tree; you can only take them away. You learn, daily, that less, if properly chosen, is more.
And, despite the insanity of the season, I have managed to get a few things rolling. You can now, for instance, find my novel at Amazon.com. So for those of you who may have been putting off buying the book until you could pay by credit card, the time is now.