Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances
Saturday, December 07, 2002
Duh . . .
My sister-in-law points out that poet William Stafford's son who committed suicide was not named Kit, as I said in my recent Writeright screed on a book about the elder Stafford. The son who died was named Bret. Kit is Stafford's daughter, who remains very much alive. Thank you, Janet. Writeright regrets the error.
Well, I never pumped gas. I can say that about the trajectory of my working life.
There has been much thought and some talk around my house in recent days about the subject of success. It was triggered, in part, by nine rejection slips I received in five days from magazines I had invited to publish poems or stories I wrote. In the midst of this barrage, my 19-year-old son, Mickey, dropped by the house. He is a student at Portland State University and lives in an apartment across town. Restless, he was out driving at 9:30 p.m. and stopped to talk. He’s bored with Portland, he said. Maybe he will move to Corvallis and enroll at Oregon State U. Maybe he will move to Brazil and get a job. He is, as one might say, at loose ends.
I was struck by the difference between his life and mine at his age. I came from a blue-collar family. My stepfather was an Air Force mechanic who rose to the rank of master sergeant. Most of my uncles were loggers, farmers, lumber mill workers, gas pump jockeys. Of thirty-seven cousins, I was the first to attend college. I saw college as my way out of a life of manual labor. I wanted to wear a tie to an office, not bust my butt cutting down trees in freezing Oregon rain or squirting unleaded into a pickup truck coated with Nebraska mud. The summer after seventh grade, I haunted the local library in Panama City, Florida, where my family was stationed at the time, tracking down career guidance books. I read about what it took to be a lawyer, an architect, a salesman. I reviewed my talents and decided I could become a journalist or an English teacher. I had a 13-year-old boy’s disdain for teachers, so I decided I would be a journalist.
I took classes, such as typing, that aimed me toward my chosen profession. I worked on the school newspaper. I wrote part-time for the local weekly, covering high school sports. I enrolled in the University of Oregon School of Journalism. I didn’t have much money, but I got part-time jobs and I worked at the student newspaper, building a resume. On grim nights when I was behind in my studies and Eugene was cold and rainy and I was broke and I felt as if I was pushing a boulder up Skinner’s Butte, I reminded myself that I didn’t want to pump gas. A college degree would be my white-collar union card, my escape hatch out of the laboring stiff’s life. I persevered.
I graduated from the U of O and went to work as a newspaperman. I pursued a newspaper career for years, with side trips into graduate school and journalism teaching (I overcame my early bias). Then I experienced your basic mid-life crisis, which redirected me into freelancing fiction and poetry full time. Most days I am happy with that work, because the basic interest that propelled my thinking during that long-ago Florida summer was writing. I like to write. I like it far more than I like sweeping sawdust off a mill floor or driving a tractor, or -- for that matter -- editing newspaper copy or conducting employee performance reviews. It’s just that I envisioned winning Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards at this stage of my career, not fielding nine rejection slips in five days.
I went over some of this stuff as I talked with Mickey, thinking in a vague sense my example might prove useful to him. Maybe he should become as driven as I was at his age, as ambitious as I remain today.
He offered a different perspective, though.
“Well, Dad,” he said, “by the way you chased success, maybe you earned me the chance to define for myself what success IS. Right now success might be getting out of Portland and spending a year in Brazil.”
Maybe he’s right. I hope so. But even when work setbacks greatly outnumber what I define as successes in my own life, as they have lately, I do have the satisfaction of knowing one thing: I never pumped gas.
Friday, December 06, 2002
T-Model Tommy Goodloe left this note under the windshield wiper of my 1914 Jaguar pick-up:
Yo, Peoria Dave!
I see in today’s Oregonian that Nick Aliotti is in the running to be head football coach at Sacramento State. Get me the address of the athletic director down there so I can write the man a recommendation!
If ANYBODY can get Aliotti away from running the U of Oregon’s defense, it will be a triumph for Quacker backers. Aliotti has cost two football programs, Oregon and UCLA, shots at national championships in the last six years with his lousy defenses. Maybe as head honcho at Sacramento State he could climb up in a wooden practice-field tower and oversee The Big Picture like Bear Bryant, while some kid assistant who knows a linebacker from a limburger creates a defense that doesn’t turn every game into a trackmeet. That would amount to an aesthetic improvement in West Coast football, at least.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Department of Odd Behavior:
Sometimes these things pile up, and I just have to make note of them.
Yesterday, I drove my son Andy to school and then stopped at Safeway to score some groceries. I’m cruising down the snacks aisle when I encounter a 35-ish guy wearing pajamas, a flannel bathrobe and black, high-top basketball shoes. His hair sticks out in sixteen directions and he has a two-day growth of whiskers. He’s checking the prices on bags of potato chips. Jeez, I think as I step around him, this guy’s wife lets him out of the house like that? Then I spot the wife. She’s a few steps down the aisle, studying the pretzels. She’s wearing pajamas, a pink terrycloth robe and fuzzy blue flipflops. She’s got the same hairstyle, but no beard (as far as I can see, anyway). She has a little girl about 4 years old in the basket of her cart. The girl wears red footie pajamas. Perhaps, I think, looking down at my sweatshirt and jeans, I am over-dressed for shopping in this casual era.
Today, Andy comes home from school exhausted. A high school freshman, he's started serious sports training for the first time, running and lifting weights. He staggers downstairs to his bedroom and falls asleep. An hour later, he stumbles back up the stairs, walks into my office and closes the door. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he says, his eyes half closed. “Uh -- okay,” I say, glancing around the office, which is about the size of a large closet and does not offer anything resembling sanitary facilities. “I have to go to the bathroom,” he says again. “Okay,” I say again, adding: “But this isn’t a bathroom.” He points to my couch and says: “It has that thing.” “Yes,” I agree, “but I don’t think that’s what you want.” I rise, take him by the elbow, open the door and steer him into the hall. I release him in front of the bathroom door. He looks at me. He looks into the bathroom. “Oh,” he says. He goes into the bathroom and closes the door. I walk to the dining room and talk to my wife for a moment about Christmas lights. When I return, Andy is snoring on my couch.
We’re eating dinner and my wife, Cookie Jean, says, “Poor Rachelle, I felt so sorry for her today, she was in pain. Her feet were burned.” My wife works in a bakery. Rachelle, who is 19 years old, is one of the other bakers. “Her feet?” I say. “Yes,” Cookie Jean tells me, “she always has cold feet, and she saw this show on television, one of those self-improvement shows, where the guy said the thing to do if you have cold feet is put chili peppers in your shoes. So she took some dried chili peppers and ground them up and sprinkled them all through a pair of socks and wore them to work under her shoes yesterday. At first her feet were just toasty warm, but they got hotter and hotter until they were burning up. She took the socks off, but her feet wouldn’t stop burning. Finally, last night, after she got home, she had to wash them with milk.” “With milk?” I ask. “That’s supposed to help?” “I guess so,” Cookie Jean says. “She said this morning her feet felt better. But they were still really hot, and sore. I guess the chili peppers wrecked up her skin.”
Yes. Well. This all seems a bit odd to me. But then, maybe I’m over-reacting.
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
More life lessons from Holden Caulfield:
"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
"Yes, sir. I know it is. I know it." Game, my ass. Some game. If you get on the side where all the hot-shots are, then it's a game, all right—I'll admit that. But if you get on the other side, where there aren't any hot-shots, then what's a game about it? Nothing. No game.
-- J.D. Salinger, “The Catcher in the Rye”
Monday, December 02, 2002
Surfing weblogs, I have found that some people -- most prominently, teen-age girls -- post little personality inventories to offer readers hints about who is writing the words they read. I decided Wrightright fans might benefit from similar input, so I lifted the form below off the website of a 15-year-old Philadelphia girl, who had posted it in lavender ink. The topics are hers, but the answers (and the non-lavender ink) are mine. I am not 15, either, in case you wondered.
name| David D. (I’ll never admit what the D. stands for) Jordan
home| Portland, Oregon
birthday| April 25th
sex| yes, please
education| B.S., journalism, U of Oregon; M.S., journalism and mass communications, Kansas State U
i am| a lone traveler on the road to nowhere
i want| fame, fortune, a nice nap
music as an object| a cornucopia
memory as an object| a two-edged sword
dependent on| myself
favorite books| Catcher in the Rye; The Sun Also Rises; Slaughterhouse Five; The Great Santini; Sailing Alone Around the Room; A New Path to the Waterfall
favorite stranger| Ted Bundy
favorite professor| John Hulteng
motto: Do unto others before they do unto you.
hobby: stat-league baseball
Sunday, December 01, 2002
Speaking of William Stafford, as I was yesterday (come on, guys, you need to keep up), here is one of his poems I like a lot:
West of Here
The road goes down. It stops at the sea.
The sea goes on. It stops at the sky.
The sky goes on.
At the end of the road-picknickers,
rocks. We stand and look out:
Another sky where this one ends?
And another sea?
And a world, and a road?
And what about you?
And what about me?