You write. Your friends say, “I liked it.” They say, “You’re really a good writer,” like it still comes as a surprise. You don’t blame them. If everyone could say something memorable, everyone would be Oscar Wilde.
When Black Eye (“The Journal of Humor and Despair”) published a chapter of my black comedy The Schiz, it was an affirmation of sorts. The Schiz, it is fair to say, had been my most widely reviled work. My (ex) agent detested it; my (former) editor was appalled; the one writers’ group to which I had ever belonged expelled me.
I knew five people who ordered Black Eye. I have not a word from any. I loaned my copy to a close friend. “Liked it,” he said—and switched the conversation to Obama and Syria.
Then I thought of Renee Blitz.
I struck up an acquaintance with Renee in the hot tub at the health club, where she discussed Kafka while others spoke of Tuscany and Squaw. Renee is a multiply divorced mother of three, five decades in Berkeley from New York. Every day, in baggy sweats, hair uncombed, she walks laps around the pool while her adult schizophrenic daughter bobs in the deep end. The club has ticketed Renee thirty-four times for illegal parking. “What’re they gonna do,” she asks, “the motherfuckers?”
Renee writes. Her self-published collection, Sitting Shiva for Myself, received rave reviews—by me on-line at “Trouble With Comics” and by a stranger in The Daily Forward. Renee’s style is unique. (So is her punctuation.) So are her cackling humor and scathing intelligence. Structure, plot points and epiphanies are secondary to the expression of her vision. Familiarities re-occur—failed women; their failed men and failed children in a world (and a Berkeley) that has passed them by. Snatches of characters and themes and phrases roll over one, like riffs from great jazz musicians’ solos in different numbers, recorded over different decades in different smoky rooms. Renee is dark and funny, sensual and profane, contemptuous and somehow hopeful.
Each time Renee finishes a story now, she gives it to me. (Sometime she finishes it multiple times and tells me to forget the one before.) Sometimes I want to fling them across the room. Always I pick them up.
The day after she received Black Eye, Renee handed me a note, hand-written in pencil on the blank side of a tennis camp flyer. (Somehow she also handed me the pencil.)
“(I)t’s not pornography,” she wrote, “it’s not Nathaneal West it’s not exactly surrealism, it’s sort of grief-stricken surrealism… it is the sorrow implicit in why we seek the ‘strange’ that our whole being is soaked thru w. poison…. (I)t is GREAT, POWERFUL Spiritual pornography.”
So… WOW! It is not like I feel appreciated for having finally been recognized, after all these years, as a grief-stricken, surrealistic, spiritual pornographer. (It is not like I even know what this means. I did have West in mind, though.) But there is a gratification in having rung such a bell. There is a thrill in having played a part in having words arranged in such a way and captured, as far as I know, for a first time. An audience of one is not necessarily bad. In this business you are not always looking for business. Rubbing nerves and firing impulses is fine. Being expelled from a writers’ group may even make you feel you’ve made your nut.
From October, 2013