I’m thinking about getting into some trouble tonight. The fate of all authors might hang in the balance. I’m reading “Revenge of the Nerds” a funny and bittersweet article in the March/April Issue of Poets and Writers; about how today’s (meaning my) generation of writers can be such wusses sometimes. How we lack the sturm und drang of the mighty men and women of the past; writers that doth bestride the world like colossuses or Colossi, if we want to get technical. Or at least get trashed and laid an awful lot. Writers seemed even more fascinating since they were rarely as Dorian grey hot as rock stars but were even more drunken and disorderly.
But Amy Shearn, who wrote the article, has a point. I think. Most of the writers interviewed said that they were simply too busy writing to get on with any debauchery. Others said that unlike their forebears, they couldn’t depend on writing alone for a living so had to teach in places where scandals weren’t looked upon with “you remember when” nostalgia (No this doesn’t mean you, Bennington). Are we just wimpier? When Norman Mailer traded barbs with Gore Vidal, you knew that sooner or later somebody was going to punch somebody. Compare that to our own recent feuds, like Dale Peck Vs Rick Moody, which came across like two nerds trying to pull out their battered copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide to slap each other with it.
Maybe Byron wasn’t so Byroneqsue, but you’ve got to wonder if on seeing what my generation of writers looked like, that he wouldn’t have become a rock star or wrestler instead. When did we get so nerdy? I have an excuse I think, me being a nerd of some sort since childhood, but so was James Joyce, whose glasses were far thicker than mine. Is it just that we are dweebs or that we write dweeby books as well? I'd be the first to say that we’re pretty awful navel gazers, with the added problem of not having a life to gaze at. I’d like to agree that we may be too busy writing, but here I am writing this blog so clearly I have some spare time. But I’m saddened when Charles Baxter says “writer are no longer gods; everybody knows that.”
Sometimes I think I was born two generations too late. Granted had I been born then I would not have been a writer. I’m also not convinced that the lionizing of writers is such a good thing since it created the culture where we know the writer but not the book, sort of like George Clooney being famous, but nobody being able to name five of his works. I wonder if other writers do what I do: look at how the literary badasses of the media age sacrificed their own work in the bargain. I wonder if they take that as a lesson. But there are times that I wonder if I should go have some illicit sex, say something outrageous or just reach for something a little more banal, like a raging coke habit. Or maybe I should get a wife just to shoot or stab her. Or drink myself to death. I try to say that all this would mean I write less, but I write lees than I want to now, and these reprobates of literary past also got an enormous amount of great work done.
Granted the media eventually chewed up Mailer and spat him out, no matter how much he refused to be a tasty dish. And I’m not sure writers ever wanted to be celebrities, certainly not Updike or Roth. As for the badasses of yore, I’m not sure they were being bad for the camera or the newspaper column, even back in their heyday. But something about me misses that era as if I lived through it. Maybe it’s because that when the writers seemed bigger than life the books seemed bigger than life as well.