Saturday, December 3, 2011
Writing Down the Bones
Like Michael I’ve been to strip clubs but not with the wife and kids in tow. Come to think on it, I might not have had a notepad with me as I assembled my single bills for, er, those ginger ales, yeah, that’s it, it was for research and the onion rings why I was at the Spearmint Rhino, the Hauf Brau…hmmmm, well as Herman Cain might say, “Nein, nein, nein.” Indeed the less said on this tainted past the better.
So winding my way to the question of the week, recently I had the pleasure to be on a panel with friend, the prolific writer and departing president of the Private Eye Writers of America Dick Lochte, and Judith Freeman. Judith wrote a book about Raymond Chandler and his relationship with his wife Cissy Pascal, The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved. Chandler and his creation, Don Quixote in a fedora, private eye Philip Marlowe, was on my mind the other night as the fiercest winds I can ever recall blew down from the canyons this past Wednesday night.
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Fed Ex trucks were knocked over, trees toppled and smashed onto the roofs of houses and cars, power lines snapped like rubber bands clean off their poles and sparking fires. Chandler’s “Red Wind” blew like the tormented breath of the damned through the Gates of Hell -- clocking at 80 mph at times as those winds rent and tore. A friend told me his low-storied apartment building was shaking. Thankfully it seems there were no deaths but plenty of property destruction.
My biggest risk as a writer was not teaching incarcerated youth, some of whom committed homicides or were in for sex crimes; being with bangers hammering out a gang truce post the ’92 riots in a housing project in Watts; or being on the picket line with cops and their batons opposite,, all of which I’ve experienced. My biggest risk is obscurity. Every time I put the words down I’m hoping that somehow this will keep me from being left in the unmarked grave of the nebulous. Yeah, I guess it’s ego. But I don’t so much want fame or the money…not there’s anything wrong with either of these things as my role model Kim Kardasian reminds us…heh.
Did this fear of being forgotten haunt Chandler? After all, when you think about it, his output wasn’t all that much: seven novels, some short stories – some of which he cribbed from to compose his books -- and a couple of screenplays. But his work endures, as it should. He blazed a path in this crazy business of mystery writing, a funny guy born American with British upper class ways, with his white glove wearing self and what not.
And yet his work endures. Can there be anything sweeter than writing down the bones, to riff on Natalie Goldberg’s title? I don’t think so.