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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Which I Reach the "I Have Been a Bad Blogger" Point with Alarming Rapidity


Well, that certainly didn't take long. Blogging unfortunately gave way for some time to my other activity, which consists of doing my bit to keep the wheels of commerce greased. It can be a somewhat dreary occupation -I remember a conversation about a year ago with a good friend whose mother said to her, with some asperity, when she began working in PR after a stint teaching math in South Africa, "You know, I didn't send you to Princeton for this."

Another good friend, who is also an editor I work with, once remarked to me that the shreds of dignity one has as a magazine writer essentially consist of whatever modicum of quality and work ethic you can bring to your writing, and that in the venal world of being a hack for the slicks (as Damon Runyon would have put it) that's pretty much all you have to keep you going. A rather bleak but not inaccurate assessment, although I suspect it depends
somewhat on the kind of journalism you're doing. Sir Kingsley
Amis once wrote, "There's no point in being a journalist if you can't offend people" (he should know) and I have fairly few opportunities to do so in my current journalistic incarnation (not that I would necessarily attempt to emulate Kingsley Amis in any general or particular way -though another of his famous remarks, that any habit the giving up of which would merely result in an extra two years of life in a nursing home in Weston Super-Mare is not worth giving up resonates more and more as I get older.) This picture of Amis (thank you Wikipedia- again) always reminds me of a painting by Philip Guston:


. . . called "Smoking, Drinking, Eating," which are a sort of quintessence of the three bad habits I'd indulge in to the hilt if what I wanted was a sort of hedonistically logical extension to where the kind of writing I do now locates me philosophically. However, at least for now I'm trying to follow my Editor Friend's advice to wrap such shreds of qualitative decency remain to me as a writer around me like a warm blanket and warm myself therewith as best I can. God knows there are worse ways to make a living, of course, but I do miss the opportunity to be pejorative. The fact is criticism is often at its most interesting when you're taking something or someone down a notch -or better yet, when you can just excercise the faculty for appreciation and insight without worrying about whether you're either currying favor or giving offense at all.

Which brings me, rather circuitously, to one of my favorite passages in English literature. I'm sure that We Have Always Lived in the Castle is not everyone's, haha, cup of tea, but it has a great opening paragraph. I don't know whether it's one of the greatest opening paragraphs in English literature as such (whatever that means) but I certainly enjoyed it more than almost anything else I've read in a long time:

"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenent, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."

I have had to be content with what I had. Haha, forsooth. Haven't we all, Merricat, haven't we all.