As I begin this I am looking out the back door onto the rain-spattered deck, which in turn looks out on a common garden area and its foliage bowing and scraping to me in the wet fits of sudden wind. It is a Friday afternoon some weeks prior to the appearance of the column, and this chill, Friday afternoon may already have become a distant memory lumped in with those of last winter’s. These kinds of days are among my favorites and the kinds of days on which I find it most enjoyable to work. In another era I might be fondling my ascot as I ply my quill over parchment. The flame from an oil lamp might be winking from the monocle in my right eye; and of course I would be, and I am, smoking a pipe.
This imagery — as absurd and pretentious, almost comic as it is — may be primary in what attracted me to the profession of writing, as little as it has to do with any of it. That, and the jacket photo of Mickey Spillane on one of his typing collections with a title like The Erection Set, or something like it. He is wearing a snap-brim hat and leveling a .45. It seemed cool. I was nine.
Though I do not have a conventional nine-to-five job these days, I am hardly unusual. Millions more workers than ever are doing what I do, which is working from home by computer. Still, after years of conditioning and what can largely be described as shit jobs, I find that weekends mean pretty much the same thing to me as they did when I was working in a foundry in Illinois melting down 45-pound flywheels over a vat of molten zinc. Leisure. Writing is still considered a leisure activity in this puritanically informed and still Calvinist-influenced-work-ethic zeitgeist. Since the days of Thomas Hardy and further back, novel writing, for example, was denounced from the English pulpit as a frivolity and worse, certainly worse than novel reading, which was, at best, frowned upon. Something of this still lingers, and it is hard to correct for it by visiting the new-release tables at Borders.
At the moment, I am in the process of writing a novel. I often am, but it is rare for me to get past the point I’ve reached on the present one, where it announces itself as something other than a nice try with no cigar on the horizon. With nothing to dictate otherwise, I find myself reserving hours during weekends for this. I do work on the thing during the week, but there is some voice in the super-ego that only truly signals the green light somewhere around Friday afternoon. I think I have written here before that an early concept I had for a memoir title (I was in my 20s and had few experiences to document, but some of note) was Lust for Leisure. I even drew the jacket cover, which was pretty much the image I described earlier, except my rendering featured an eye patch and a monocle. It is only after business hours that my subconscious seems to allow any real work.
Real work, for me, seems to involve committing passages like this to the laptop screen:
“Lord Firemount straddled the beast he had named Mudgloom and patted the sentient animal’s scaled, muscular neck. The triple moons had aligned over the featureless plain and stained the granite, sand, and occasional outcroppings of ancient, rune-carved stone a kind of pink and jet and amber. The few clouds above the swordsman and his winged reptile-bird companion were tattered streamers of gaseous violet.”
No, it is not some sword-and-sorcery epic. This is a depiction of a fantasy in the mind of a schizophrenic drug addict named Alonzo Montefiore while undergoing a psychotic break in rehab. Alonzo’s fantasy self is the heroic swordsman Lord Firemount and provides both myself and Alonzo with therapeutic escape.
As for the reader? Who cares? Theoretically, I do, if I hope to sell the thing; but I have eminent faith in the principle that the flimsiest excuse for a means of escape will do when it is needed. This is possibly not the best attitude, but I’ve found it to be true. The scene and its style also serve to point up the utility of schizophrenia (drug and alcohol use, as well) while holding up a mirror to our own undeniable need to improvise reality when the one presented to us is untenable.
The working title on this thing is Crossroads, after the name of the fictional facility. Eric Clapton actually opened a rehab/resort in, I think, the Bahamas, with the same name, and that’s acknowledged. It is far from the first thing I’ve lifted from him. The title also neatly describes the book, I think: a point where a large cast of characters’ lives and realities converge.
Nothing like a little shameless self-promotion, though I really have nothing to promote at this point. It all has to do with Leisure, its utility and paradoxes and why I love it. Hardly any different from discussing your weekend landscaping project or your ongoing rebuilding of a ’57 Chevy in your garage, while standing around the water cooler at the office on Monday morning when you’re supposedly working.