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Writers (Why wish they could) Steal (and sometimes do)



“What are Americans still buying?  Big Macs, Campbell’s soup, Hershey’s, chocolate, and Spam – the four food groups of the apocalypse.”

                          From Frank Rich’s Sunday, February 1, New York Times, column entitled “Herbert Hoover Lives”   





I was driving my sister to a doctor’s appointment the other day.  She is seriously disabled and is trying an experimental treatment after years of more conventional therapy (but that is a whole ‘nother story, as they say). My sister has been a master carpenter and electrician for theatre companies, a chef who has owned three restaurants, and an award-winning poet with three chapbooks and a book of poetry to her name, not to mention more than 60 published poems.  She is now working on a memoir about one of her more eccentric restaurants.


“So,” I asked her, “how is the poetry going?”  I realized we hadn’t talked poetry in quite some time.


“I haven’t written a new poem in two years,” she said.


I was shocked. Two years!?!


“I am not like you,” she said with proper gravitas.  “I don’t have to write.  I don’t need to write.”


“But you’re so talented.”


She nodded to allow the truth of that.


“I write when it comes to me.  But it is not necessary.”


Yes, I am like a shark.  Write or die.


I am an addict.  Like those who are hooked on heroin, I have tried to give it up.  I have woken weeping in the middle of the night.  I shall stop, I have said.  I shall never write again, I have vowed, after a particularly bad week or month of collecting rejection after rejection, after feeling like a failure when thirty five passed and an agent had not sold my novel, when another was written and another agent had not managed to sell that one either.


I have tried to wean myself slowly.  An hour, a day without writing a word.  But, still my mind was full.  Still, I heard snatches of words that reminded me of…. Something I needed to write.  Ideas continued to fill my head.  Sentences and phrases stole in like boyfriends into their girlfriends’ bedrooms when parents were wearily asleep.


Notebooks were filled in spite of themselves.


No dice.


Writing couldn’t quit me. Nor I it.








I heard Graham Nash say on the radio the other day that he hears violins and cellos when he looks at an Ansel Adams photograph.  I see words strung together and phrases forming sentences and sentences forming paragraphs when I hear Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young play or catch a Dave Matthews lyric (“lift up your skirt and show the world to me”) or am pulled back to the moment I first heard Cat Stevens or Bruce Springsteen or first hear L’il Wayne’s dirty dirty Pussy, Money, Weed, or see an El Greco or a Stanley Spencer or a Lucien Freud or a hundred other paintings.  Or glimpse the unexpected sunrise or the accidental sunset or gasp at the words of Paul Auster or close my eyes and appreciate the beauty of a sentence of  amazing gorgeousness by Philip Roth.  It goes on and on and …………..





It has always seemed to me that the storyteller’s social assignment, which furnished the origins and directed the development of narrative, was to glorify the past and its daring deeds, protect the family tree, justify male ownership of land, women, and personal property, direct and legitimize the passing of power from father to rightful heir, one generation to the next. Oral histories helped unite communities, extol their chiefs, and define the various rites and ceremonies pertaining. No wonder their tales tended to be about male gods and their heroic human counterparts. Nowadays this history is a weakening string of memories, but at one time the bard’s recital was the main conduit of authority, making sense of the past, fostering acceptance, and focusing pride—whether true or false or fabled mattered only to outsiders. Old anecdotes gave present circumstances heft, scope, interest, and instruction. In so many ways you were your forebearers, and the storyteller taught you whom to hate or emulate, what to aspire to, and, like the Bible, what to believe, how to behave.

Every society, every religion, every nation-state and ethnic enclave, appears eager to employ such historical myths, or first fictions, in their manipulation of the masses. Certainly narratives need not take the novel’s form to be effective; in fact, serious novels now seem more likely to undermine them.

For many Southern writers these romantic sagas were acceptable, and they were eager to protect the honor, habits, and basic creeds of their culture, although a lacquer of criticism contributed to the glow of objectivity. Katherine Anne Porter was sawn in two, and not by a magician. She despised the actual family system and its methods of operation: its smugly narrow, stupid views with which it infected its children; its monarchy of men, their posturing and pomposity; its stifling so-called moral grip; its hypocrisy concerning women—courting them like queens, breeding them like sows. If a man were not the ruler of a kingdom, even not the owner of all he could survey, at least he was the master of his own household, made the main decisions, chastised deviation, doled out the dough, did the deep thinking, got all the mail. Katherine Anne Porter knew this system was based on a lot of poisonous pish tosh: she had seen how weak her father was, how his mother ran the house; yet all the essential perks were still his. Daughters were to be taught householdry and how to be well-married, if possible; if not, as old maids they could sew in a corner and care for the sick.

From William Gass’s  “Go forth and falsify: Katherine Anne Porter and the lies of art,”  Harper’s Magazine, January, 2009. 


WOW.  I mean. Wow.


 Books I would have been happy to have written: 

The Great Gatsby


One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Golden Notebook

The New York Trilogy



The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Post-Birthday World


The Waterfall

Larry’s Party

(I could go on) 



.I wrote my first novel when I was eight years old.  It was three pages long, complete with illustrations.  I based it on the Time magazine cover story “Is God Dead” which talked about Frederich Nietzsche. My mother kept it and when I cleaned out her house I took it with me.  It is unexpectedly funny although it was not meant to be.  



 I am always watching.  I am always listening.  I am obvious.  I am not.  I eavesdrop.  I steal your story. Sometimes I tell you.  Sometimes I do not.