I took a photo with my iPhone of a lane near where I live. Computer software, an app, did this to it. I wish I had this talent, among other talents I wish I had (music, painting, come to mind), but don’t, and won’t. This is the new world. Now some sort of electronic thing can do this. I read, or heard, that there is an app that will write a story, maybe even a novel. No human necessary. Some sort of electronic thing (I do not understand any of this, so must resort to ambiguities), makes music, no human necessary. In the near piazza (Santa Maria in Trastevere) there is a woman with a cello, which she plays very well, but all the music she plays along with comes from a small box, and sounds like an orchestra.
The new world.
I guess the world is always new. Tomorrow it will be newer. And so forth. Yesterday was older, and so forth. It is a tad insane to wish it not so. I suppose I am inclined toward the tad, and I am sure that is because I am, astonishingly, old these days, and will be older tomorrow. Maybe I would like to have hit the pause button around age 30, most especially when I am sitting in a cafe watching the girls in their summer dresses stroll by. Now I am in fast-forward toward the running out of the tape, except nothing uses tape anymore. Maybe I am about to use up all my gigabytes.
When I was born, television did not exist, big fat radios had glowing tubes and a station in Del Rio Texas would sell you an autographed picture of Jesus Chris, for a buck-fifty, there was no rotary dial on the big black telephone (into which one only had to say a number, or in the case of our small town, I could just tell the operator who I wanted — “Hi, this is Donny, can you call Mike across the street?”, airplanes had propellers, bicycles had fat tires, terrorism consisted of the big boy who wanted to beat you up after school … there were plenty of bad things, there always are, throughout time, but mostly they were localized, now they are global — the global village.
In one way or another, I always wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure I actually wanted to write, but I definitely wanted to live like one. Writers were adventurous in those days. Think Hemingway, but many others, nearly every one you would hear about. The writer’s life was unique. I also, about age ten, wanted to be a surfing beach bum whom girls would call Kahuna, although I lived at the bottom southwest corner of Arkansas; I covered a wall in my bedroom with taped-up pages from magazines with tropical places and beaches with surf. That passed.
The notion of writing persisted. I wrote all the time, practicing, I suppose, though I didn’t think of it that way. Early on, I wrote poetry, because I made the startling discovery in mid-teens that poetry could get you laid … not being a jock type, that was my best shot. Then there was a stint of journalism, which I was not good at because I knew I could make up a better story — an editor for a newspaper in Michigan I worked for said to me, in the process of letting me go, that I was a very good fiction writer, but sucked as a journalist. I did not disagree.
I went to school for a long time, far beyond my intellectual means. I just kept going because it was better than working. So I ended up with three university degrees, two in philosophy (because it was better than studying) and one in creative writing, which gave me enormous artistic pretensions. It took many years to outgrow that fucking MFA degree.
Then, at the age of 36, my first novel was published. Well, not my first, as every writer knows, but the first to get published. Then another and another and another, until over the next 30 or so years, ten of my novels were published. Look at me, Mom! I is a author. I did my best to walk the walk, too. Besides the years spent stretching my thin intellectual rubber band, I flirted with alcoholism, drug addiction, worked on newspapers, spent a few years as a big game fisherman in Hawaii, drifted around on sailboats, vagabonded, went through women like Pringles … and somehow survived to this advanced, high-mileage age.
Having lived long enough to find myself in a time where I am embarrassed to say I’m a writer. Everybody is a writer, anybody is a writer; it is a meaningless notion. Anything everybody can do is trivial. I have lived long enough to see the way I spent my life, the thing I could do, the skill I possessed, the one talent I do have, become as commonplace as dirt. Anybody with a computer can “create” a beautiful watercolor painting, or oil for that matter, without ever touching a brush. Anybody who can sort of type can write a book, and publish it, and maybe even sell a few copies. The computer printers (Create Space, for example), will happily print up decently bound copies of a “book” with nothing on the pages but one’s name typed over and over and over.
I am happy to have had my time, although at the time I didn’t realize that it was my time and there would be an end to it. I just made it under the wire to be an author when it still had a shred of meaning left. Born too late, although if born at the best of times, I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be long dead. Sic transit.
It has come to this. I am embarrassed to tell people how I spend my time, that I am a writer. So I don’t. I am of an age to get away with saying, simply, I am retired. From what? From being unemployed.
But still I write. I can’t stop. I just do it in the closet now.