A Fond Farewell, & Musings on Friendship

Pyramids of cardboard are rising, bubble-wrap roles are unfurling, and contract ink is drying. The ritual of moving has commenced once more, but this time I’m headed back to a familiar place–indeed, the only place I consider truly familiar. I’ve always had a superstition that it is preferable to leave this world in roughly the same vicinity where one entered it, and now that unspoken wish is coming true. I’m headed back to Georgia, and I fully intend never to leave her again.

Moving tests all the pressure points of one’s life, but primarily the one which concerns whether you’re still clinging to too much stuff. In needing to render all my possessions transportable, I’ve found a great incongruity. My ‘personal effects,’ meaning basically everything except my library and PC, are looking desirably lean.

personal effects

The same cannot be said of my books. Unbelievably, this is what my library look like after many stops at Tyler’s Half Price Books to offload the excess. A final immoderate habit to be brought into balance, perhaps:

book boxes

And while I cannot confess any general reticence to leave East Texas for my motherland, the most difficult part of the move by far has been saying goodbye to the Jacksonville Library poetry group. I owe them, and particularly the group’s founder Peter, a great debt of gratitude. While I did not and still do not consider myself to be a talented poet, I found just being immersed among similarly bookish souls not only therapeutic, but evolutionary.

When a writer finds other writers, one experiences a great relief to find that they are not necessarily the eternal Stranger in a Strange Land that they had imagined. Particular friendships may then mature into Iron Sharping Iron–the blessed ability to be told not just what is wrong with one’s work but how to fix it. People today are generally scared to help one another, for one never knows just what they are getting into when they write a blank check of kindness without the safeguard of mutual traditions and proprieties. But writers, it seems to me, have maintained their generosity, by virtue of the fact that each and every one of us is bound by an ambition that is not inherently competitive, and a loathing for linguistic mediocrity. If you do not yet feel comfortable helping the person, you may yet be willing to come to the aid of that person’s writings. Such is the loophole we scribblers have discovered to escape the burgeoning social isolationism of modernity.

Hoheisel Library Farewell

Thus, any ego that is not too delicate for a little bruising–or any ego that is at least willing to concede it is an ego–can still find mentors to sit at the feet of, or masters to apprentice beside. Similar to the meritocracy of late Japanese bushido, wherein even the masterless (ronin) Musashi could become the national sword-saint due to his self-evident superiority over those of greater rank, the meritocracy of writers remains organic and pure.

Some might find that latter paragraph incongruous with the fact that my Sage of Jacksonville was a retired professor of literature and philosophy. But I would counter that there was nothing more culturally unlikely, than for our generational divide to prove absolutely inconsequential compared to the mutual respect we immediately felt for one another as writers. Old souls are dated outside of time.

Thus, due to what began as the simple trading of self-published booklets at a library event that I debated even attending, I am leaving East Texas a far more defined (and refined) intellect than I entered it. And Peter has two officially published books of poetry to show for our collaboration. Perhaps this is miraculous. But I think Peter might agree with me that this is more a case of ‘normal’ life taking on miraculous aspects when we choose to let it.

I will confess, it would have been quite easy for me to conclude five years ago that East Texas held nothing for me–that I was on my own, excepting relatives. Indeed, I tried and failed to make friends several times, and even quit a job, due to a total cultural disconnect. But had I not–through inner stubbornness or divine intervention–continued to seek a friend, I would have missed out on the most important friendship of my life to date, and perhaps the most important I will ever have. Defeats that do not involve death are always optional. I suspect that realization is a cornerstone of many blessings this life has to offer.

A Real Writer?

I just received my first manuscript rejection from a New York literary agent.

I’m relieved to have this mandatory hazing ritual out of the way. Strangely, I feel more like “a real writer” now than any minor successes have ever caused. Perhaps I am consoled by a small sense of pride that this didn’t emotionally phase me. The juvenile phase of self-righteous indignation whenever someone calls “my baby” ugly has come and gone, thank God. (If fact, for a rejection it was quite civil).

I know that I’m happy with what I wrote; I know it can make some money for myself and some press; and I know there isn’t an agent or press on Earth who’s going to tell me “it’s perfect as it is; we’ll print it at once!”

There is an eerie peace to be had in knowing that it is now beyond my strength to alter without the aid of a professional editor. In some metaphysical sense, the process is already over. I just have to keep submitting.

An Affordable Liberal Education

A dear friend recently asked me to put together a “curricula” of essential books to read–preferably ones that would kick-start the imagination of a creative writer and inform their craft. To his and my surprise, the list that resulted only contains 60 titles, and could reasonably be read in a couple of years. Nonetheless, I believe this list could replace most Bachelor of Arts programs today (in information imparted, if not credentials).

So, if you would like to glean the equivalent of a liberal education for free from your local library, I hope this list helps narrow down your search.

Essential Books

P.S. I’d also enjoy hearing critiques from any fellow bibliophiles on what should or shouldn’t have been included.