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Tag: william faulkner

Fail Better

Over at Grantland, Jonathan Abrams has a piece about two veteran ball players,  Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace:

“You’re not going to beat Father Time,” Stackhouse said. “He’s going to catch up with us all. But I think we can manage him. I think that’s what I learned to do. Playing less minutes, absorbing a little less of a role than I would customarily want … taking my wants out of the equation and putting other people’s at the forefront.”

What Stackhouse said next grabbed my attention:

“When I was pushing, pushing, pushing for what I really wanted, it seemed like I never really got it.”

I think that’s right. We all feel that to some degree. When I’ve made a drawing or a painting or when I’ve written something, it’s never as good as I think it could be. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better–that’s what keeps us going.

I often come back to these words from William Faulkner:

As regards any specific book, I’m trying primarily to tell a story, in the most effective way I can think of, the most moving, the most exhaustive. But I think even that is incidental to what I am trying to do, taking my output (the course of it) as a whole. I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world…I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. I don’t know how to do it. All I know to do is to keep trying in a new way. I’m inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don’t have time in one life to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.

[Picture by Joel Robison]

A Dream is Not a Safe Thing to be Near

Head on over to Flavorwire for these pearls of wisdom from William Faulkner

“Read, read, read. Read everything —trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” – Statement at the University of Mississippi, 1947

“All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy.” – Interview with The Paris Review, 1956

[Image Via: The Economist]

Don’t Look Back


Adapted from his foreword to a new Modern Library Edition, here’s John Jeremiah Sullivan on William Faulkner’s masterpiece, “Absalom, Absalom!”:

A poll of well over a hundred writers and critics, taken a few years back by Oxford American magazine, named William Faulkner’s “Absalom, Absalom!” the “greatest Southern novel ever written,” by a decisive margin — and the poll was conducted while looking back on a century in which a disproportionate number of the best American books were Southern — so to say that this novel requires no introduction is just to speak plainly.

Of course, it’s the kind of book a person would put first in a poll like that. You can feel reasonably confident, in voting for it, that nobody quite fathoms it enough to question its achievement. Self-consciously ambitious and structurally complex (unintelligible, a subset of not unsophisticated readers has always maintained), “Absalom, Absalom!” partakes of what the critic Irving Howe called “a fearful impressiveness,” the sort that “comes when a writer has driven his vision to an extreme.” It may represent the closest American literature came to producing an analog for “Ulysses,” which influenced it deeply — each in its way is a provincial Modernist novel about a young man trying to awaken from history — and like “Ulysses,” it lives as a book more praised than read, or more esteemed than enjoyed.

But good writers don’t look for impressedness in their readers — it’s at best another layer of distortion — and “greatness” can leave a book isolated in much the way it can a human being. (Surely a reason so many have turned away from “Ulysses” over the last near-hundred years is that they can’t read it without a suffocating sense of each word’s cultural importance and their duty to respond, a shame in that case, given how often Joyce was trying to be amusing.) A good writer wants from us — or has no right to ask more than — intelligence, good faith and time. A legitimate question to ask is, What happens with “Absalom, Absalom!” if we set aside its laurels and apply those things instead? What has Faulkner left us?

I have never read the book, though I’ve started it a few times and have read four other novels by Faulkner. This article has me curious to try again.

[Painting by Steven Sullivan]

From Ali to Xena: 31

Hello, I Must Be Going

By John Schulian

My life began to change for the better as soon as I caught a glimpse of Hollywood in my future. I believe that’s known as the magic of show business. Of course, the Philadelphia 76ers, being mostly very tall, as professional basketball teams inevitably are, did what they could to obscure my view by playing a game they appeared to be as uninterested in as I was. But we all had to be someplace that January night in 1985, so there we were. Afterward, out of desperation more than anything else, I tried, unsuccessfully, to coax a sentence or two out of Moses Malone. All Moses seemed to have in him was a few grunts, and a few grunts do not a column make.

It was snowing when I headed back to the Daily News wondering how I was going to tap dance my way through this one. Sometime between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., I remembered the “Red on Roundball” feature that Red Auerbach used to do on the NBA’s TV games. One of his guests had been Moses, and when Auerbach asked him what the secret of rebounding was, Moses said, “I take it to the rack.” Though hardly as memorable as “Give me liberty or give me death” or “I can’t get no satisfaction,” those words became my inspiration for an ode to Moses, who, after all, would end up in the hall of fame as a player, not an orator.

Afterward, while driving home through the snow, I realized that (1) I had turned 40 while I was in the process of immortalizing that big sphinx, and (2) I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life doing this. In truth, I didn’t want to spend another day doing it. But I needed the dough, and besides, in just a few hours, I had an appointment to see Steve Sabol at NFL Films about his search for someone to replace the late John Facenda as the voice that would stir the soul as the game’s behemoths shook the earth. For what it’s worth, I wrote a column nominating Tina Turner. She didn’t get the job.

Not that I cared. I was too busy thinking about Hollywood. At first it was an abstraction, the way it had been when I was a kid so fascinated by movies–-never TV, always movies–that I drew crude versions of them on sheets of paper. If you want to be generous, I guess you could call what I did storyboards. The movies I chose to give my special touch were primarily Westerns, and not great ones, either. We’re talking about the bottom half of a double bill. I didn’t start thinking bigger until I picked up “The Craft of Screenwriting,” a book of interviews with heavy hitters like William Goldman and Robert Towne that my wife had given me for Christmas in 1981. In her inscription, she had said she expected me to be writing in Hollywood in five years. She was my ex-wife by this point, of course, but I realized that if I hustled, I still had a chance to make her deadline.

I’d been in Philly for less than three months, and I already knew it wasn’t for me. The only time I liked the city was when I was looking down at it from a plane bound for Los Angeles. Mike Rathet, the Daily News sports editor, was incredibly generous about giving me assignments on the West Coast. I must have made eight or 10 trips there in 18 months. In each of the two holiday seasons that I worked for the News, I spent three weeks in L.A., ensconced in an out-of-the-way hotel where somebody interesting was always in the lobby–Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, James Earl Jones. I heard that Elvis Costello stayed there, too. Lots of rock-and-rollers did. God bless them, because the women they attracted made the rooftop swimming pool the eighth wonder of the world. But I was equally fond of the clerk who greeted me on one of my visits by saying, “Oh, Mr. Schulian, welcome back. Are you filming?” Only in my dreams.

The spoiler was always my return trip to Philadelphia and the low-grade depression that set in the moment my flight touched down. Once again, I would be trapped in a world where the good guys were becoming harder to find. They were still there, of course–the ones with the stories and the one-liners and the moments of insight and reflection–but there were more and more athletes, coaches and executives who were the writers’ enemy and reveled in it.

And so there came a night when John Thompson, the Georgetown basketball coach, decreed that there would be no speaking to his two star players after they had mumbled a couple of forgettable clichés in a post-game press conference. This was in Madison Square Garden after the Hoyas had just beaten Chris Mullin and St. John’s. I marched down the hallway to Georgetown’s locker room, determined to either talk to the kids or get thrown out trying. And then I hit the brakes. Screw it, I told myself. There would be no confrontation with Thompson or that horrible crone he had watching over the team. There would be no more groveling.

I’d spent enough time choking on the cynicism in the press box at wretched Veterans Stadium, too. There wasn’t any place in the country that was its equal for toxicity. While the artificial turf curled like discount-store shag and the paying customers howled for blood, some immensely talented knights of the keyboard entertained themselves by, among other things, mocking a ballplayer with a speech impediment.

What I was sickest of, however, was my own writing. I’d read years before that someone–-I think it was Russell Baker, the New York Times’ op-ed page wit–said you spend your first year as a columnist discovering your voice and the rest of your career trying to get over it. In Philadelphia, where I was new to readers, everything felt old to me -– the anecdotes, the turns of phrase, the choices of column subjects, the striving to establish myself. I’d done it all in Chicago, and the prospect of doing it again felt like a death sentence.

Faulkner in Hollywood

Writing in Hollywood promised to be as different as fiction is from fact. There was a chance it might even be my salvation. That may seem a curious choice of words when you consider the fate of writers far better than I who have washed up on the rocky shoals of the movie and TV business. F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote the most beautiful prose America has ever seen, was baffled by screenwriting no matter how hard he worked at it. William Faulkner, weary of executives who thought he was loafing if his typewriter wasn’t clickety-clacking, simply went home to Mississippi and soothed his soul with bourbon. But I couldn’t be scared off by Fitzgerald’s fate, nor could I drink as much as Faulkner. This was about me and no one else. I had to close my eyes and jump.

Click here for the full “From Ali to Xena” archives.

Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.

Chris Jones has another terrific post up at Son of Bold Venture:

I agonize over blog posts. I’ve sweat over single words in 5,000-word stories. Tonight, I spent ten minutes with an editor trying to wrestle an eight-word clause into place. I’m still not sure it’s right.

Before my best stories—even when I’m nearly sure they will be good, or at least should be good, because the material is there—my overwhelming feeling is, You’d better not f*** this up, stupid. My feeling is that if I somehow blow it, if I somehow fail these astronauts or dead soldiers, then I need to quit the business, never to write again. Because only a failure could fail people like that. Only someone like me could betray them.

And yet I keep writing. I’ve written something every day this year.

Reminds me of something William Faulkner once wrote:

As regards any specific book, I’m trying primarily to tell a story, in the most effective way I can think of, the most moving, the most exhaustive. But I think even that is incidental to what I am trying to do, taking my output (the course of it) as a whole. I am telling the same story over and over, which is myself and the world…I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead. I don’t know how to do it. All I know to do is to keep trying in a new way. I’m inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don’t have time in one life to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.

None of this is easy. It’s not supposed to be easy, even for the great ones. The pernt is to show up and keep working.

Bronx Banter Interview: Josh Wilker

Every so often, you run into a kindred spirit, a guy you aren’t envious of, just proud to know. Todd Drew was like that, and so is Josh Wilker (pictured above on the left with his brother Ian). When I first read Josh’s work at Cardboard Gods, I was thrilled. He had a strong voice, wonderful sensitivity, an unassuming sense of humor, and the courage to dig deep, way below the surface. I’d want to belong to the kind of club that would have a misfit like that as a member. And I’m not alone. Josh’s long-awaited memoir, The Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told Through Baseball Cards, has generated some great buzz and strong reviews. Josh hits the Big Apple tonight–he’ll be at the Nike Store in Soho from 7:30 to 9:30. He’s here through early next week and we’re happy to have him.

I got a chance to chat with Josh recently and here is our conversation. Enjoy.

Bronx Banter: Dude, first thing, what were your favorite kinds of packs to get when you were a kid? The single pack? Remember those triple packs that would be clear packaging with three little sets side-by-side?

Josh Wilker: I’m a single wax pack guy. The clear packaging ruined some essential part of the fun for me, since you could see the top and the bottom card in the stack. It was better that it was a total mystery.

BB: Bro, how deep does your nerdiness run? Do you carry a card around with you in your wallet?

JW: I don’t, but I usually have a card that I’m working up an essay on in the pocket of the nap sack that I lug to and from work. And a couple summers ago when I came to New York to–among other things–go to Shea Stadium for the last time, I made a point of carrying an Ed Kranepool in my pocket every day of the trip.

BB: Nice. Do you ever feel any attraction to modern baseball cards?

JW: I just wrote a piece for GQ.com, of all places, considering my unstudliness, on the 2010 Topps cards. I bought a couple packs for the piece, and got a charge out of it, and though the cards mostly left me cold for being too slick, I admired the high quality of them. The photos and the back of the card text is light years advanced beyond the rudimentary nature of the 1970s cards, which may be why the new cards leave me cold. There’s no homely humanity in them.

BB: Can you at all relate to the generation of kids who bought cards for what they might be worth one day, instead of being important for more personal reasons, or just cause they were the things to have, trade and flip?

JW: I can relate, I guess. I mean, when I was a kid, I fantasized that one day my Butch Hobson and Frank Tanana cards would be worth millions, so it’s not like the idea of the cards being “investments” was completely foreign to me. I was just too lazy to actually pursue that angle. I did feel like things were taking a wrong turn when I noticed, in the late 1980s, that the cards my younger cousin was collecting were going immediately into protective plastic. You have to be able to touch the cards, otherwise what’s the point?

BB: When you started the Cardboard Gods blog did you have it in your mind to write a book? Or did that develop later?

JW: My first intention was to play around and to keep writing and to maybe connect with some readers. I’d been working on a novel for several years previous to starting the blog, and I wasn’t able to sell it, and I was wary of signing on for another several years of solitary toil only to have the end product of the work end up at the bottom of a drawer. But I also thought it could be a book, too, from very early on. It was not unlike the first time I saw my future wife: a feeling like, “Hm, I think there might be something here.” I held off for quite awhile on trying to start shaping the material into a book, a tendency that has in the past had a way of crushing the life out things before they have a chance to grow. Instead I just tried to keep having fun and churning out material. After a while, I knew I had enough stuff for a book, if I could ever pull it all together into something coherent.


Bronx Banter Interview: Dayn Perry

I don’t remember the first time I met Dayn Perry but it must have been about five years ago now. This was back when he was writing for Baseball Prospectus in addition to Fox Sports. We hit it off immediately and have remained pals ever since. Dayn’s got that easy Southern charm that makes for wonderful company. When he told me that he was writing a book about my boyhood hero Reggie Jackson I was more than somewhat eager to see what he’d come up with. We spoke about Reggie and the writing process often while he was working on the book and Dayn went so far as to mention me in the acknowledgements.

The book, Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball’s Mr. October, drops today. Dayn and I caught up recently to chat about all things Reggie and what it was like writing a biography.


Bronx Banter: There are two big biographies out this spring, one of Willie Mays and the other on Hank Aaron. Both books are well over 500 pages and aim to be the definitive work on their subjects. Your book is leaner at 300 pages. What was behind your thinking in making this a trimmer rather than an exhaustive narrative?

Dayn Perry: Part of it was that the publisher wanted me to stay as close as possible to 100,000 words. The initial manuscript I submitted was about 20,000 words longer than the final product, so I undertook some heavy editing toward the end of the process. On another level, though, I wanted a brisk, readable book that included all the important events in Reggie’s life and aspects of his character. My hope is that we’ve achieved that.

BB: You wrote this book without Reggie’s participation. Was that because he didn’t want to talk with you?

DP: On a couple of occasions, I spoke with Reggie’s business manager and requested an interview, but I never received a response. My understanding is that he didn’t want his cooperation to detract from the book he was working on at the time with Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler. That’s understandable, of course.

BB: What, if any, obstacles did it present?

DP: It made it easier because I much enjoy the solitary aspect of writing, and the more of that I’m allowed the better my work is going to be. I still conducted 50 or so interviews for the book, and they made it a better work, I think. But I think of myself more as a writer than a reporter, so the nuts-and-bolts writing–the craft aspect–is the most fulfilling part of the job. Also, I think cooperation with the subject can sometimes lead to a varnishing or leavening of the work, even if it happens unconsciously. Obviously, I had no such concerns. It’s an honest, fact-based account, but I didn’t have to worry about satisfying him at every turn.

BB: Did Reggie prevent anyone from speaking to you?

DP: Not to my knowledge. A number of former teammates of his declined to speak with me once they learned Reggie wasn’t cooperating with the project, but so far as I know he didn’t actively work to undermine my efforts.

BB: There has been so much written about Reggie, particularly during his years in New York. What does your book offer that is new?

DP: My book sheds new light on the Mets’ decision not to draft him and covers his Angels years and retirement for the first time. Some people are going to be familiar with his Oakland years, and even more people are going to be familiar with his New York years. But so much of that time is forgotten or neglected by history. I think the totality of his life–the scope of his life–is something most people haven’t grasped yet.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver