One of the drawbacks of writing with a pen name is the restriction it places on topics. I can’t tell you about interesting lectures or readings I attended, or offer my take on a newsworthy event here, or even praise the best things about Hinterland University, because they’d be sure tip-offs to both place and identity.
It also keeps me from telling you the name of the famous scholar in my department who, when I greeted him cheerily, only farted on me in passing. It prevents making adequate claims about the big state university climate, which I often find cold and blowing in the same direction as much of the rest of America, with its outsourcing and other corporate tricks that have helped sink the middle class. I can’t tell specifics of my employer’s disregard for adequate and affordable childcare for university workers, or ask for evidence from my TA who says his health insurance has begun to deny diabetes treatments.
Like an iceberg, my life and attitudes lie mostly hidden below the surface; only my Churm juts up, hard and magnificent, as a marker of where some run afoul.
On Friday I showed you one sure sign of the apocalypse. Today I want to warn of another but unfortunately can’t provide all the details. Friend Rory, the self-described cowboy poet, has had an essay chosen (by guest editor David Foster Wallace, I believe) as “notable” for the Best American Essays anthology , 2007.
“Stick that in your blog and smoke it, Churm,” he told me.
When he first scribbled the essay, he begged me to read it. It was too long by half, imprecise, sentimental, and self-indulgent in its odd point of view. But I saw some little good thing in it and did everything I could to encourage him with my suggestions. In gratitude he ignored me and ran to another writer known for her loving, even maternal praise, and she told him he was a good boy. I’m sure the fact that he’s one of the editors of a literary journal and an expert at trading favors has nothing to do with the essay eventually being accepted by an excellent journal, known as a conduit for the Best Of series.
I don’t hold it against friends that the end of high culture has come and gone, along with discernment and ambition, so I took Rory to lunch to celebrate. He seemed to assume that meant I was paying and began swilling beer after beer. For the next half hour he bragged about his being chosen for the honor and how I’d had it all wrong.
“Remember Robert Lowell’s ‘Words for Hart Crane’?” I asked him.
“Who?” he asked, ten fingers deep in his lunch.
I quoted a little, “’When the Pulitzers showered on some dope / or screw who flushed our dry mouths out with soap…’” but gave up when he got coleslaw on me.
Then, flush with success and flushed with Bass Ale, he began instructing me on writing humor. “It’s the art of leaving things out, not rising to the obvious joke,” he said.
“Like how if you’d paid attention to my suggestions, your essay would be printed in its entirety in the front of the anthology, instead of just mentioned at the back?” I said.
He said he’d told another friend a good joke about how if he was still drunk the next time he saw Foster Wallace he might take a swing at him for not putting him up front. I, being obvious, said he might want to wipe the Oreo Cream Pie off his mouth first.
The only thing that saved lunch for me was that I realized, as we were leaving, that Rory couldn’t retaliate for anything I might say about him here, because his blog is under his own name, and he would never give me up for inventing a detail like Oreo Cream Pie.