I’ve always thought that the best writers were those with too much money, or none at all. Both conditions leave the aspiring novelists and poets with the audacity to not give a two-penny damn about what others are saying or thinking. But this constricting, insufferable middle class life that we have all been forced into, willing or not; that I suppose is the real tragedy. The angry fight not against epic enemies or demons of the written word hiding in the rafters of ancient hallowed halls – but bugs in the carpet and a mortgage that ticks down upon you in regular unending rigidity like Chinese water torture. Belts pushed back from hole to hole, fighting the entropy – one hour in the gym becomes two becomes four.
I read often the works of the great authors. To be sure, great authors are those who are still read 100 years after their publication; that is the definition of a classic. Those writers did not know they would be great – but they still wrote. I wonder if they too suffered the pangs of futility, the anger at life that seeks to make the mundane out of the majestic; a marvelous tree used to hang threadbare laundry, a mighty racing horse pulling a plow.
I’m reading right now “Living to Tell the Tale” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I find it one of his most readable books: and if it is to be believed, he’s one who persevered through the frustration. To keep writing, while your country collapses around; assassinations and wars. Poverty. Provincial – that is Gabo’s writing, but it works for him. We like to read stories about Macondo, though stories about Gary Indiana do not find a place in our imaginations. Wars in Colombia – those work, exotic and foreign. I read once about the life of W. Somerset Maugham, though he never wrote an autobiography. He flippantly mentions, that “he tried his hand at writing” and “after his first novel was a hit of sorts, he became a writer.” I wonder if it was indeed that easy? It is said of Joseph Conrad that he hated writing – that he sweated out the agony of his novels word by word. Marx let half his children starve.
Dylan Thomas once wrote, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right, because their words had forked no lightning they do not go gentle into that good night.” It is said he was writing about death – “Rage against the dying of the light”. I’m not so sure, I often wonder if he wasn’t talking instead about something worse than death – that condition where one is still alive despite that the light inside no longer illuminates. “You know when you come across one of those empty shell people, and you think ‘What the hell happened to you?’” Yes, an Under the Tuscan Sun quote – one of my favorite movies of all times. Because it’s about a writer. And it’s about a dreamer who is almost destroyed. And it’s about somebody who finally reminds herself that her life is actually her own – and she, finally, begins to rage.
Lives of great significance can be parochial too – they don’t ever tell you that, do they? A cubicle looks the same – though it’s beset by violence. The piles of paper, filed in triplicate, do not change though they are recording the names of those starving to death or dying at the hands of a great evil. An antiseptic world, that is the heritage bequeathed to us by those whom the rage has left, not in an explosion but in a frustrated shrug of lethargy – the empty shell people.
Toilet bowls and diapers and an exhausted hour of television – then sleep, to do it all over again. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.