February 14th 2014
I wish I could be like Nora Ephron, with wise and witty things to hide my face behind. As she says, if you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you, but if you tell someone you slipped on a banana peel, the laugh is yours. It's one way to stay in the game, to stay on the rolling log and not belly flop into the water. Robert Lupone (Broadway star and producer and brother to Patti Lupone) was here in Aspen last week, and he was talking about surviving in NYC as an up-and-coming performer. He said you have to do what it takes to protect the vital you, the creative centre, so that when you get rejected for the thousandth time, you can pick yourself up and go on to the next one. As the Chinese proverb goes: Fall down seven times, get up eight.
Still, I don't want to fall down anymore. I gave up skiing recently for that reason - after thirty years of skiing and finally running into a tree and finally breaking my shoulder, I said enough. And I have paid my literary dues - by writing unpublished for twenty years, by writing in the goddamn cupboard under the stairs; by getting enough rejections to paper a good sized bathroom. I don't want to have to lay myself out before the reviewers. I might just not be tough enough.
I think I might have to become an American citizen just long enough to make like Woody Allen and just not listen; I will take the fifth amendment rights and remain silent. I have always known that reviewers were harsh and how a writer needs to grow an extra layer of skin to cope. But I didn't take it seriously. After all, my work has been criticised before: I attended a local writer's group for ten years, where we were brutally honest. But this is something else. This is people commenting who don't have to look you in the eye, who, if they like, can rub you into the dirt and never look back. And the good reviews don't really make up for the bad. The wounds inflicted by a callous comment or two or three or, geez, a whole paragraph, are never outweighed by the same number of soothing whispers. They go right to the heart, and there's nothing you can do about them.
During the storm whipped up in Woody Allen's life by a vindictive ex-partner, he received a valentine's card from her with a knife and long pins stuck into a picture of their family. (Shades of Fatal Attraction!) But that's how it feels, dear readers, who are in the blissful era of churning out art behind closed doors. You will eventually have to walk around with daggers sticking out of your chest, and that isn't something you can easily hide.
When the arrows started flying at Steinbeck from reviewers in this country under the consensus that he should never have been awarded the Nobel Prize, he never wrote another word. (How wrong they turned out to be!) Steinbeck had Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat and any number of masterpieces under his belt, but it hurts, by god. It wounds, and you bleed out.
So I think I am just not going to read reviews, good or bad. I am going to close the envelope and turn down the flap on the arrows. I have failed the humour test and the tough skin test. Whether my book sinks or swims will depend on how many copies it sells over about a year. That's all. That will have to be all. A published friend of mine has figured out that the publisher only needs to sell about five thousand copies to recoup a small advance and their costs. To me that sounds like a lot of copies, but he tells me it's not. I have another published friend who has just passed the hundred thousand mark.
So, anyway, enough of that. There's a rabbit that sits on a bank of snow outside my window for about two hours every morning. Due to a large coyote population, rabbits don't last very long around here. But there she sits (let's say it's a she and let's hope she's a muse.) It snows, but she sits on until the two hours are up and then she is suddenly gone the next time I look up. The next morning she is back. Today I bought a bag of Timothy hay to keep her going over this endless Narnia of a winter. You need your muses and you should do everything it takes to nurture and protect them.
Coyotes be damned.