The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: For those of you just joining us, weíve been talking about a couple of fascinating things. One is genius, and the other is the intriguing and impossible-to-categorize author Jian Brichiam, whose powerful imagination has produced a long list of literary masterpieces that have fearlessly broken the chains of form, style, and content. Brichiamís amazing childhood and hard-to-fathom life story have been the subject of many studies, all of which have ended with more questions than answers. Obviously it is one thing to outline a manís life, and to pin it against the backdrop of his times. And often, this seems enough, or is enough to satisfy our mundane curiosity. In Brichiamís case, however, it has become apparent that we are talking about an individual so rare that his life beckons like a shimmering doorway to human possibility. If even a small fraction of the accounts are true, it begs us to re-examine what we believe and hold dear. Indeed, his wide-ranging work makes that demand of us. With this in mind, I think it would be helpful to put together at least a partial list of his titles. Mr. Berbrich? Would you care to begin?
John Berbrich: Of his novels, Iíd say that my favorites are A Passing Jest; Elephants, a Trunkful; Smile in the Night; With His Boots On; and Vengeance. Of his poetry collections I prefer Swing and a Myth; Terminus; and To Hell With Buddha. Of his essay collections I prize the ironic Thank God Iím an Atheist above all others. Take off Your Hat is by far his finest drama, although both Agamemnonís Animals and Neptuneís Jupiter still startle and delight audiences today. I canít think of a modern epic poem superior to Quark and Grendel Mode. His socio-political treatise Traditions of Anarchy is considered a classic. His I Choose Free Will is unsurpassed in the field of Existentialist philosophy. Junkyard Junkie, a guide to eating well on zero income, is hilarious and sustaining. There are many others.
William Michaelian: Excellent. Except for Traditions of Anarchy and I Choose Free Will, I notice your list is composed primarily of work he did in his forties and fifties, which was indeed a highly productive period. Those new to Brichiam would do well to begin here. I, too, love A Passing Jest. I think of it as a prose version of Beethovenís Ninth Symphony. By the way ó Iím sure youíve seen that photgraph of Brichiam sitting at a grand piano, staring at a the pages of one of his manuscripts where the sheets of music would normally be, his fingers hovering above the keys, and the smoke of a cigarette curling slowly around his face in the dim light. Beautiful. To your list of poetry I would like to add his lyric work, The Pharoahís Doll. What a tender portrayal of a powerful man clinging to the last vestiges of his sanity! By contrast, Hunterís Rainbow is merciless in its condemnation of manís relationship with the other animals on earth. I love the way Brichiam responded to the needs of an individual piece, rather than inflicting himself upon it. There is definitely a lesson here for students of writing. Wind is a great book, as is Between the Granite and the Ice. What about some of his earliest writing? What stands out most in your mind?
John Berbrich: I love the collection of fantasy letters called Star Route, written to an imaginary friend from an unknown land. Itís very sophisticated, particularly for a lad in his mid-teens. The way Brichiam describes the strange weather there, I feel the pelting hail on a hot summer day, the turbulent colored wind, the snow that you could walk on without sinking in, like Christ walking on water. I felt sopping wet in my room just reading it. The bizarre animals and politics, the games, the dazzling books. I also enjoyed immensely his inventive autobiography of a pirate, Black-Toothed Bill ó a cutthroat buccaneer who terrified the West Indies in the 17th century. For grog, girls, and swordplay, this is a masterful evocation.
William Michaelian: Adventure at its best. You know, Star Route reminds me of Gulliverís Travels, except that it has no satiric targets and is very earnest and completely innocent. We call it fantasy, but Iím not so sure the young author saw it as such. It seems he was writing from direct experience, first-hand observation. He might never have left his room, but he was there. I know there are a few accounts of servants opening the door to his room, only to find it had undergone a radical transformation, as if nature and climate had run amok. Then, when they returned later, Jian was gone, the door was open, and everything was back to normal. Another early work of his I like is the simple Offering, in which he creates the conversation between Abraham and his son after the boy was nearly sacrificed by his father. Later, on the way home, the two pass a flock of sheep grazing contentedly on a hillside, with a shepherd watching over them. They look at each other. Neither says a word. A wonderful, non-judgmental childrenís story. In it, the author pities everyone, especially God, and blames no one.
John Berbrich: Itís as I said earlier, he can talk from a height without condescension. Jian has pity even for God. Willie, do you think that if maybe you and I could convince ourselves that we are geniuses, we could somehow write like this? Is the only thing holding us back non-belief? Could we hypnotize each other? ó You are a genius and nothing can stop you. Would that work?
William Michaelian: I thought we were already hypnotized. Wait. I feel something. . . . Yes, I think I . . . ahhhhh! . . . Whew. Thanks, pal. I needed that. Anyway. Hereís a hypothetical question for you. Would you be willing to believe in your genius if it meant finding out that writing is not really the work you are meant to do?
John Berbrich: Uh, I guess so.
William Michaelian: A tough question, eh? Or is it just a stupid one? A tough stupid question?
John Berbrich: I donít think itís stupid, necessarily. Tough, yes. So what you are asking me is do I want to hear the horrible TRUTH? Well, I suppose if I do have genius anywhere Iíd like to know about it. I can still write for fun. Okay, Willie, fire away. Tell me, tell me ó Iím dying to know. Where exactly does my genius lie? Or is it lay?
William Michaelian: Okay, Iíve decided. It was a stupid question. I can see that now. But since it was asked, I will dig myself a little deeper by trying to explain what it is I meant ó and please keep in mind, that in asking, I was also asking myself, and wondering what my own answer would be. In general, I think of myself as a human being first, and as a writer second ó a very close second. If I am not a writer, I donít know what else I would be. But I also recognize ó or at least I think itís possible ó that my idea and image of myself as a writer might be a construction that I have built carefully and layer by layer over a long period of time in order to protect myself and give myself the illusion of ó what? worth? purpose? uniqueness? So what Iím wondering is, would I be willing to let go of this notion if it meant realizing my full potential, my genius? As you said, is non-belief the only thing holding us back? As far as hearing the horrible truth, as you put it, why should it be horrible at all? Shouldnít knowing ourselves to that degree be a wonderful thing, no matter where it leads? And yet, even so, I donít know if I can answer my question. Or maybe it has already been answered. Should I even care whether I am a genius or not? What difference does it make, considering all the problems in the world? I can be a genius all day long, but it wonít necessarily feed the hungry or enlighten the masses. Anyway. I've confused matters enough. And I told you when this subject of genius came up that I was ready to make a fool of myself. Now itís your turn.
John Berbrich: Willie, you have a positive genius for first clearing the waters, then muddying them. Okay, first of all ó I donít really consider myself a writer first (after human being, yes). Being a writer for me is mixed up with being an editor so that the two sort of blur together. If I were to relinquish the responsibilities of BoneWorld and its many arcane divisions, I would write with greater frequency and energy. At least that would be the plan. Of course, if I can survive until retirement, at least ten years off, I should then have ample time for both. But ten years is too far off for me to really think much about. So yes, no, I donít know. Is genius necessarily something beneficial? I mean, what do we really mean by genius? Can one possess a genius for evil?
William Michaelian: Man, this is a complicated subject. And weíre only ankle deep in those muddy waters. I donít know if we should associate genius with whatever it is in a person that makes him evil, or makes him commit evil acts. And it seems the word ďgeniusĒ means different things when we say ďhe possesses a geniusĒ for something, and ďhe possesses genius.Ē For instance, weíve been saying that Jian Brichiam possesses genius, as if genius were a sacred well from which he had quenched his thirst, or a spring in which he had bathed. This reminds me of when we were talking about intelligence a long time ago. To pick a corny example, while an evil dictator might be extremely clever or smart, I donít think he is intelligent. To me intelligence understands the far-reaching consequences of destructive, selfish behavior and shuns them. I see a similar distinction between the uses of the word ďgenius.Ē Could it be that intelligence and genius are really the same thing?
John Berbrich: I see them differently. Intelligence I always equate with rationality, the ďthinkingĒ part of our brain. A painter can be a genius in his painting, but have only a rudimentary rational grasp of how he works and what he is doing. I suppose that in this sense, genius can be intuitive. It sounds like a sort of knack. But that sounds too trivial. Genius should be huge and flowing. Giant rivers are geniuses of water. I think of intelligence as brain-smart. For beneficial brain-smart, I use the word Reason. Howís that? In the end, defining any word strikes me as an impossible task. Words are like birds, like eels. They are slippery, with wings. Hard to catch hold of, hard to keep in a cage. Let them sing, soar, slither ó and we try to describe them later on. Remember ó when you define something, you limit it.
William Michaelian: True, and we do need to remind ouselves of that. By the way, ďGiant rivers are geniuses of waterĒ is a line that belongs in a poem, or a line that is a poem. I must say, I think you see things more intelligently than I. What you said is simple, straightforward, accurate, and true. Iím not sure how or why I have come to think of intelligence in the way I do. But Iím grateful that the words we use serve us as well as they do, and that we have this general agreement as to their meaning, or range of meaning. Words to me are endlessly fascinating. And here we are, using other words to describe them, one word leading to the next like invisible bridges or stepping stones. I must confess, I do get carried away by it all, by the sounds of words, by their fluidity, mobility, and rhythm. This is one of the ways I know that I should be writing. But I feel pretty much the same about music, and still hope to pursue that more fully someday.
John Berbrich: Speaking of words, I must tell you something. As Iíve mentioned before, Iím treasurer on the local library board. This past Saturday was our annual used book sale, not really a sale ó used or discarded books are available for donations, whatever you like. We arrived early in the morning, setting up long tables in the parking lot, then filling the tables with long lines of books, spines up. We set out thousands of books. I found one ó you wonít believe this ó I found one called Jian. Thatís right, Jian. It looked like a flashy romance adventure novel set in China, something that could be easily transcribed for a film, or a trashy TV mini-series. Anyway, the blurb on the back explained that while the ninja was the master of martial arts, the jian was the master of ALL the arts. Isnít that just exactly what weíve been saying? I couldnít believe it.
William Michaelian: Iím absolutely flabbergasted. Maybe weíve been drinking from the waters of genius after all. Well, sipping, anyway. Beautiful. Did you take the book home with you? And how is Jian pronounced? Iíve thought about this since the beginning, when you suggested a possible connection with the Orient. Iíve been pronouncing the name casually in my mind as Gee-uhn, while thinking that it might really be something more like Zhahn. Anyway, this is fantastic.
John Berbrich: Yeah, Iíve always heard it as jee-uhn in my head. I did not take the book, as it looked really dumb. Iím thinking that maybe jian is a fabricated word but Iím not sure. We need to research this thoroughly. Iím really rather amazed by this. Tomorrow youíll hear Brichiam on the news.
William Michaelian: Well, for what itís worth, I looked up Jian Brichiam on Google. The only listing for Brichiam is on my website. But there are several Jians. For instance, there is a Dr. Jian Zhang. I did see a listing for the book, by Eric something-or-other. There was also an encyclopedia entry that talked about a jian being some kind of sword. Anyway. I didnít read the article. The upsetting thing is, it looks like there is a conspiracy against Jian Brichiam. His works are being suppressed, and the author himself is being treated like he doesnít exist. What do you think it means?
John Berbrich: First off, his work wouldnít translate well to tv. Second, itís over the head of most readers. But thatís not true ó I find his stories and poems unusually accessible. So I donít know. People are jealous? They are stupid? His subject matter is taboo? Maybe he hasnít written it yet. Perhaps heís only five years old at this point, soaking in the atmosphere of his ghost-ridden home.
William Michaelian: Are you saying that Jian is not always the same age? Or that maybe he did age, but is now drifting backward through time?
John Berbrich: Or maybe he was born in the year 2000 and weíve somehow connected with his work via some bizarre form of temporal displacement. With Jian Brichiam, you never know. Stranger things have happened.
William Michaelian: This conversation, for instance. No, I think I have it. The three of us are alive in another dimension, and the world that you and I think we are observing and participating in is really an illusion ó perhaps created by Brichiam himself.
John Berbrich: Well, that could be. How would you know if you were a character or not? This all feels real enough, but then again Brichiam is such a good writer. Heís even got me convinced. I wonder what would happen if we started writing a story including Brichiam. Would our version of reality trump his version, if you know what I mean. In other words, if our story is more life-like, will we then become the creators and Brichiam the created. Is reality some kind of grand writing competition?
William Michaelian: I donít know. But it seems that if we start a story that includes Brichiam, it might only be because we, as his characters, have been directed to do so. Then again, we can say the same thing if we donít start a story. I find it a little troubling that we think we created him, when in all likelihood he has created us. But he might feel the same way. This is one of the pitfalls of being an author. Once you have created a character, you cannot uncreate him. You are forced to live with the results. Have you ever thought about this?
John Berbrich: Not really, although I have noticed that often characters do seem to develop a mind and personality that you hadnít expected. Itís hard to know if you are acting on your own or if your actions are being directed. Iím sure it would feel the same to you either way. So I suppose you might just as well do what you think you want, rather than resist because you imagine that someone might be pulling the strings. But what you say is true ó you can throw away papers & erase every pencil mark but once the character has been formed he lives in your head. Thatís a grave responsibility. Iím glad that most of my characters are nice.
William Michaelian: Nice, yes, but do they send you money? Continuing a bit further, I think it can be said that in the process of being created, characters also create their authors. As a character develops, its creator is transformed, and his mind expands to understand and accommodate this new person. The less a writer resists and the less he inflicts himself on the process, the more real and memorable are his characters, until they are virtually indistinguishable from so-called real people, many of whom, sadly enough, are less real and more cardboard than characters.
John Berbrich: Itís just this kind of viewpoint that reminds me of the Muse. I can really see how writers would think that the powers of literary creation come from outside of themselves, since if youíre not forcing the story, just letting the characters and the story come, the entire process will seem comparatively effortless. Itís like you are the amanuensis for the Muse. You conduct a proper ceremony, put yourself in the ďwriteĒ frame of mind, and before you know it she is supplying you with an excellent poetic narrative.
William Michaelian: It certainly can seem that way. I rarely pursue the subject, but when I do, I think of creativity as coming from outside and within, or, even better, as flowing through. If indeed the Muse is acting through us, she needs us in order to fulfill her creative mission and desire. Then again, maybe she is simply being kind, and is giving us a taste of immortality, or wants us to recognize and remember our place in the natural order of things.
John Berbrich: All of these theories are pretty to consider. Itís always uplifting to think that something outside of yourself, and very powerful too, cares about you personally. A Muse or The Muse would be a goddess-like spirit possessing quasi-magical powers. To believe that a being so superior would condescend to help you along must be quite an inspiration. Let us think then that She comes to the deserving and let us be receptive.
William Michaelian: Well, that beats thinking sheís doing it to amuse herself, or to have a laugh at our expense. By the way, what was Jian Brichiamís take on all this? Didnít he write something called Amusing the Muse, or For the Museís Amusement, or something along those lines? I seem to recall him treating the subject in a lighthearted way.
John Berbrich: Yeah, it was a lengthy essay called Amuse a Muse. It can be found in Volume IV of his collected works. The essay is rather peculiar, with quotations from ancient literature regarding Muses and the attempt to entice them. Shakespeare writes in Othello, ďIt plucks out brains and all: but my Muse labours.Ē Brichiam constructs a sort of rondo of words around quotations such as this, building and building into a startling series of crescendos. He is speaking of light literature, but also skirts related topics such as the satires of Swift and the fierce jokes of the Latin Martial. Indeed, the Muse labours, but the Muse has a bit of fun too, and Brichiam with his steady, implacable hand sweeps away false solemnity before him, scattering drearily sober poets like last yearís leaves. And he laughs the whole time ó he is having himself a grand time, shattering dull sleepy idols. The essay is not taken as seriously as it should.
William Michaelian: Honestly, I can imagine Brichiam and the Muse running away together, and, within a weekís time, the Muse smoking clove cigarettes and reading decadent poetry in cafťs. Hey, that reminds me ó is the Partridge Cafť open yet?
John Berbrich: Yes, itís been open for nearly two weeks. Business is fairly brisk. It should improve when the college kids return to town. Good coffee and excellent wraps. Plus friendly service, of course. SLAP hasnít gotten underway yet ó I havenít heard back from all the poets.
William Michaelian: Some of them are probably still on their summer walking tours, sleeping in haystacks during the day, counting the stars at night. How are you spreading the word? The usual ways, I suppose ó notices nailed to power poles at lonely rural crossings, garbled announcements on tiny radio stations that have turned down their power for the night, word of mouth in the rail yards. If I were to go, Iíd have to launder my suit. Iíve slept in it for the last month, and itís getting a little itchy around the collar.
John Berbrich: I think youíd fit right in. What does Dollface think about your collar? Actually Iím contacting people I know by mail, although your suggestions are most evocative. I want to start off with a fairly small, manageable group. When we start advertising open-mike readings, I expect the numbers to swell dramatically. Starting off an enterprise of this nature with 20 people would be ridiculous. But with six or eight, quite possible. Thatís six or eight people of my choosing. Very important point.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. Dollface ó my darling bride Denise, for those who might not know ó is concerned about another flea infestation. In the winter itís not so bad, because I spend more time wandering around indoors, running into the walls and sleeping in a heap by the moldy floor vents. I am intrigued by the idea of a manageable group of poets. Are you sure youíre contacting the right people?
John Berbrich: Absolutely. Iím avoiding the college professors cuz Iím afraid theyíll try to take over. If they show up on open-mike night with a group of creative writing students, fine. Actually Iím contacting the only local poets I know who arenít connected to one of the colleges. When is it youíre supposed to show up here, Willie?
William Michaelian: Well, originally I was going to arrive on the day of Nancyís headache, but Iíve had to reconsider. All I can say at this point is that Iíll be there sometime between the first frost and the first snowstorm. Iím very excited about your SLAP organization, and look forward to seeing you and it in action. And yes, I know I have to keep my mouth shut, since I havenít received an official invitation. Just how many colleges are there in the area? You make it sound like thereís one in every town. There must be more to learn in your part of the country.
John Berbrich: Okay, education. Canton, the town where I work and where you can find the Partridge Cafť, has two colleges: St. Lawrence University and Canton College, a state school. Ten miles down the road is Potsdam, which also boasts two colleges: Clarkson University and Potsdam State University. Clarkson is primarily an engineering school, heavy on the sciences. Potsdam specializes in education: they teach future teachers. So the area is dead in the summer but jumps into half-life when school starts. Nancy teaches at SUNY Potsdam.
William Michaelian: No wonder she has to schedule her headaches. Teaching is a time-consuming occupation. Okay. I understand now. Once the school year begins, the streets of these pleasant burgs are overrun with young wild-eyed poets, some of whom have mistakenly signed up for engineering courses. Your mission is to lure them into the Partridge Cafť, make them buy coffee, and get them involved in St. Lawrence Area Poets, otherwise known as SLAP. Once in your grasp, they will be easily corrupted, and from there word will spread among the professors that you are a madman and poetic cult leader. Sounds simple enough. Itís a good plan. Should have thought of it myself.
John Berbrich: Willie, you amaze me! That is not exactly what I had in mind, but after your provocative comments, I searched deeply into my own soul, the depth of my motivation, and I discovered that you are precisely accurate in your summation of the case. Donít tell Nancy, but I hope to develop a stable of nubile poetry groupies. This could be excellent! Donít be late, okay, if you want to get in on the fun!
William Michaelian: Donít worry, Iíll be there. And your secret is safe with me. I donít want to give Nancy another reason for a headache. On the other hand, just my presence will likely bring on a migraine. I promise to de-flea my collar. Heck, Iíll have my whole coat dipped! What will you be wearing? Donít tell me this is clothing optional.
John Berbrich: Actually, as I recall, the original plan was for me to arrive in Oregon as you arrived in New York. What Iím wearing probably wonít matter much, except maybe to Dollface. Say hi to everyone for me, okay? And donít mess up the poetry reading. Maybe I can call the Cafť on your telephone and read some poems over the line.
William Michaelian: Yes, by all means, that would be great. Of course, youíll have to call the Partridge collect, person-to-person. Be sure to ask for Jian Brichiam. Weíll amplify your reading, so itís loud enough for the whole town to hear. Letís see. And then what did we decide? That I am going to drive Nancy back to Salem? No, that wasnít it. Something about swapping identities. Why is this so complicated?
John Berbrich: Are we drunk? I mean, that was a heck of a party with Judy and Anita and the rest of the girls, but it was months ago. At least it seems like months ago. The last thing that I remember was some dude from National Security knocking on your door, the girls telling him to get lost, and then you doing something in a closet with a lampshade or something as the trucker delivered another load of booze. I really canít remember all the plans we made, although I think that you and Judy planned to walk to Australia.
William Michaelian: No, it was Fats Domino, and we were walking to New Orleans. I see you have the same problem I do. You remember, quite clearly, things that never happened, and then you build related memories around them, until you donít know who or where you are or if you are even real. What differs in this case is that we remember the same non-events. Itís like weíre dreaming the same dream, or weíre being dreamed by someone else. Brichiam again?
John Berbrich: Damn it, Willie! Looks like weíre trapped in Brichiamís universe. I hope weíre in a really long novel that ends happily ever after, not some brutish short story with a bloody conclusion. So tell me: if an author is dreaming us up and writing about us, does he/she become our Muse. Do we light incense and pray to Jian for inspiration? Maybe thatís what the SLAP-Happy poetry club will do ó perform sacred and obscene rituals to the tutelary god, Jian Brichiam.
William Michaelian: Understand this: SLAP is one of Brichiamís ideas for you as a character, and my trip to New York is one of his ideas for me. Even Nancyís headache belongs to Brichiam, as does Burnt Elves, as much as I hate to relinquish that brilliant idea. No! I wonít relinquish it! Itís mine! He canít have it! And yes, even those words are Brichiamís. What else? I love this. Iím happy being a character in a Brichiam novel. Few people have it so good. Iím happy, and Iím proud. Iím also off my rocker. Wait. Shh! I think I hear him coming. . . .
John Berbrich: Glad heís on your side of the continent. But that doesnít matter ó he could be everywhere at once ó heís the AUTHOR. What do we do? Hide? Here, behind these boxes ó quick!
William Michaelian: Nope, false alarm. I just heard a toilet flush, then a door slam ó a door that wasnít there before. I wonder where heís going. Wouldnít it be something if he abandoned us, abandoned our novel? What would we do? How long could we survive on our own? Unless this is his way of testing our resilience. Or is it resiliency?
John Berbrich: How about ďcourageĒ? How to live in a godless universe. Iíve been considering something ó do you think that perhaps Brichiam is merely a creation in some higher beingís novel? That would make us 3rd level players, at best. And, tell me, do our characters really come alive when we write them properly, with great care and affection, even love? Shouldnít we be nicer to them? Do all gods want happy endings?
William Michaelian: I think so, but their definition of happiness might differ from ours, as ours often differ from each otherís. And I do think Brichiam might be a creation in a higher beingís novel. But that doesnít necessarily make us third-level players, because we created and are still creating Brichiam, and we created the god who created Brichiam, and Brichiam created us for that express purpose, and so on, ad infinitum. And finally, yes, I do think our characters come alive when we write them. How else could they make so much trouble for us? How else could they make us so happy, proud, angry, and concerned?
John Berbrich: So this creativity racket is some endless loop kind of thing, like some insane Mobius Strip. We stand as the creators and the created. I feel big and small simultaneously. Did you notice how your description of your characters sounds as though you were describing your children ó they make you ďhappy, proud, angry, and concerned.Ē Some sort of creation went on there, too: procreation.
William Michaelian: Or was that amateur creation? It does seem there is an endless loop quality to the whole arrangement, an endless loopness. Like a Mobius Strip, the view is always changing, so that by the time you have made the complete journey you no longer recognize its beginning. Now, let me ask you your own question: Do our characters really come alive when we write them properly?
John Berbrich: Well, I think that the question properly should be asked of your characters themselves; after all, they actually inhabit the worlds that we write about. Now I think that thereís a great idea for a story, Chief. A direct dialogue with your creations. They would pray to YOU. You would be their Muse, their God. During the story their appeals would be directed to YOUR ears. And any misery inflicted, theyíd know precisely where it came from ó and so would you.
William Michaelian: I like your answer. This moves the whole writing procedure to another plane, or at least to a bus on its way out of town, headed across the continent. On the bus are strangers of your own design, oddballs who refuse to leave you alone or let you sleep, weirdos who grind peanuts in your ear and read over your shoulder. You resist them at first, thinking that after all you deserve some privacy, but the more you resist the more they persist and insist and refuse to desist in the mist, even when you show them your fist. This is the beginning of a wonderful, harrowing friendship. And you still have miles and miles to go, and by the time you get wherever it is you are going, you donít want to get off, youíre happy with the insanity, and everyone around you is happy ó and angry and concerned and hungry for more.
John Berbrich: And wherever you get off the bus, itís there that you start your writers colony. Just outside of the city, alongside a vacant lot, your happy new friends from the bus join you. You hire a cook and plant a garden. You purchase a box filled with a thousand pens. You steal paper recycling from the roadside ó God knows youíll put all of it to good use, better than pulping it to blankness. You make sure thereís vines growing on the roof and morning-glories climbing the lath-and-tar-paper walls. One new friend builds an outhouse over a snake-pit. You make sure thereís a swamp nearby, so you can all listen to frog-songs. You plant dozens of black ash trees ó someday youíll have firewood. You rip out the electric wires, buy oil lamps. And you all sit around and write, write, write. All being great little characters in someone elseís story and inventing fabulous characters on your own, denizens of happy worlds and planets beneath glowing clusters of stars. The sea shines strangely under the seventeen moons and the girls start pulling off their clothes ó the Mobius Strip Joint.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. I can see it now. And while this is all happening, the bus, driven by Mobius himself, strikes back across the continent and gathers another load of geniuses ó muses, derelicts, ragged miners of words. Along the way, at strangely familiar crossings, you catch glimpses of yourself as a character in someone elseís story. Dream? Memory? Imagination? You think, ďNo, Iím at the writers colony. This canít be real,Ē and at the same time youíre at the colony, whooping it up beneath the seventeen moons, a ripe pen bleeding joyfully in your hands.
John Berbrich: And we give thanks, Willie, we give thanks to the Muses known and unknown that have helped to provide for us this ecstatic cacophony of sonic splendor, as the colonizers all together burst into ringing song, and the more exuberant burn incense, torches, anything ó they pile up leaves outside in the yard and douse them with gasoline ó before you know it, half the town is in flames and the angry villagers are after you holding aloft flaming torches of their own ó you find yourself on the roof with a handful of gorgeous Mobius Strippers ó ladders swing up to the edge of the roof with a clank as the yokels ascend, pitchforks gripped in their sturdy hands, the smell of sausages wafting on the air ó the hot devilís breath of peasants in your face, powerful hands grip you and hoist you screaming into the air, high over their heads, and you find that you have won ó you have won the local writing award for your crazy story, the story that has driven half of the populace mad, mad I say ó and you are presented with a case of beer and a bouncy cheerleader ó and you give thanks to the Muse and the seventeen moons, as Mobius starts the bus and you all head for another town.
William Michaelian: Truly, itís all in a dayís work. That, my delirious friend, is why I love to write. Now I donít have to explain it anymore, you have explained it to everyone for me. You have described my state of mind when I wake up in the morning, the feeling I have when I stumble like a blind man to my work table and first place my fingers on the typewriter keys, the hot breath of demons breathing down my neck as I lash myself on in ecstasy, the excitement of the cheering throng, the intoxicating smell of burning debris, the funeral pyre consuming dozens of my dead selves, the stone steps beckoning me to undertake a pilgrimage to the stars, the hunger, lust, and mad worship, the nostrils flared, the lungs bellowing, the eyes seeing through and beyond. Itís paradise, I tell you, paradise.
John Berbrich: It certainly can get one worked up. Then comes the return to dull real life: the advertisements, the dummies, the seat belts. Itís a tricky balance to walk. One wonders just what drives one madder ó amazing fantastic imaginary worlds or tedious predictable real life. The world isnít necessarily dull, but it does require some spice. And if the spice cometh from the sacred imagination, then there is no harm. As Jim Morrison said: ďLet the carnival bells ring / Let the serpent sing / Let everything.Ē
William Michaelian: Isnít it sad, though, that the imaginary realm is generally considered less real than so-called real life? And how much of what we consider real today was once a product of someoneís imagination? To me, the Mobius bus ride is as real as taking a ride on a city bus. I donít know. Maybe this indicates a mental problem. Maybe Iím not ďnormal.Ē Tee-hee.
John Berbrich: In a sense, everything is in your mind anyway. Ugly word, ďnormal.Ē In the next town, the writers colony becomes a nudist colony. Only itís in northern Minnesota in January and no one will go out to shovel the sidewalk. The cold is driving poor Mobius loopy. His Strippers donít like it either. They pretend they are living in Florida ó is this a mental problem? They imagine that they are warm. They are nude writers, so have decent imaginations. One girl imagines sheís lying out in the sun and develops second degree burns. Itís so cold that my brain is fragmenting, Willie, and Iím not even there.
William Michaelian: Ah, but you are. Youíre also in BoneWorld, sitting at your computer, and Iím on the West Coast sitting at mine, while a strange-looking bus circles the block, honking for passengers. I must cut my fingernails today, sweep the front step, and pay some overdue bills. Iíve imagined these things happening several days in a row now, but so far, thank goodness, reality has intervened. Did you say nude writers? Thatís an interesting thought. Writing without clothes on, assuming you usually wear clothes, would have to influence your work.
John Berbrich: Reminds me of a Billy Collins poem I once read. Heís writing the poem in the nude. Pretty soon he pops off his penis, then peels his skin off. He steps out of his skin, and he continues writing as a mere skeleton. Itís an alarming image. Unexpected things happen in his poems.
William Michaelian: That is absolutely disgusting. I hereby vote that we rescind his funding. Furthermore, as a form of protest, I refuse to cut my fingernails or sweep the front step. It goes without saying that the bills will remain unpaid. After all, someone has to put his foot down.
John Berbrich: You should write that protest poem, Willie. Call it ďDown with Billy CollinsĒ or something. In your poem he can have trouble getting his penis back on, you see. Oh, what a sad story that would be. Or else he had carelessly placed it on the floor and the family dog had gotten a hold of it. There are plenty of possibilities. Or else he is sitting there typing as a mere skeleton and two grim men from National Security knock on the door. Just a routine check. Or is it? Perhaps a neighborís young daughter has seen something suspicious through the window. Poor Mr. Collins!
William Michaelian: Poor Mr. Collins my eye. Heís getting what he deserves. But since youíre in this sick groove, I think you should write the poem. On second thought, letís just drop it altogether. Where is Mobius now, I wonder?
John Berbrich: We left him in Minnesota where it is now January. But that was two days ago, so perhaps heís sipping exotic drinks on a veranda in Panama. The Strippers are waving palm fronds, keeping away the giant mosquitoes. Heís soaking up those photons, boy, and having a grand time of it. You see, thereís this great punk-orchestra entertaining everyone. Bassoons and oboes played by emaciated losers with spiked hair and pierced faces. Mobius takes another sip, waves the Strippers away, and leaps lazily into the swimming pool. Actually he sort of tumbles in. Heís performing a breast stroke, a butterfly. He rolls on his back and floats. Mobius remembers the great days of the bus and the writers colony, and he wonders where everyoneís gone.
William Michaelian: Sounds like the last of the Beats, a sort of Timothy Leary whoís tuned in and dropped out a few too many times, and is now thinking about a comeback, even though heís already there, and then some. The orchestra is actually made up of dead classical composers, caught up in ó you guessed it ó another time warp. Mozartís tongue is pierced, Beethovenís eyebrows are encrusted with silver, Haydn is the stoned band leader with an excessively nervous foot and a banana for a baton. Dig that crazy beat. The Strippers are really the Ray Charles singers ó what did they go by? the Rayettes? Hit the road, Jack ó the perfect traveling song. Start up that bus, Mobius, break timeís over.
John Berbrich: So whoís writing this ó you, me, you and me together, or Brichiam? Our tale is getting more and more life-like, meaning I canít figure out what is going on. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Iíll bet that Mobius never figured that it would all lead to this when he invented that crazy Strip. Who would have thought? Some folks from the future must be visiting. Hey, depending on how mixed up the chronosphere gets ó you and me will become either obsolete or way ahead of our time. Whatever happens, I just want another of those exotic drinks that Mobius had ó and why does he get all the Strippers?
William Michaelian: I think itís one of those trademark deals. But anyway, hereís how I envision it: Brichiam invented Mobius, then had Mobius invent the Strip, because he knew he would need it later on, before it was too late to be early ó which is where we come in. We invented Brichiam, even though he invented us, or thinks he did, because itís true. Are you with me so far? The chronosphere is an enormous cauldron, and weíre all in it together. The cauldron is so big it occupies a tiny fraction of a droplet of water, much the same as in Twainís The Great Dark. We donít even know what exists beyond armís reach, and yet what exists within armís reach is so vast that it might contain what exists beyond. Or it might be the drink that Mobius so generously dumped on us by the pool ó bless him!
John Berbrich: Yes, whatís out there? But also whatís in there? A journey deep inside your mind, your soul, your inner self ó and beyond. Try to picture a different kind of Mobius Strip, where you start out traveling towards the distant edge of the universe and end up back inside the innermost essence of your being. Or the reverse, of course ó where you delve into the center of your soul and abruptly find yourself hurtling inward from the outer reaches of the cosmos. Is it you or Brichiam making me do this?
William Michaelian: Would you believe me if I said I am Brichiam?
John Berbrich: No. Does Dollface know the truth?
William Michaelian: Yes. But she refuses to tell me what it is. How about Nancy? Does she know?
John Berbrich: She has her suspicions. I think that Dollfaceís secret is safe for now. Iím getting rather lost here with all of this time-traveling stuff. If we donít like our existence, I suppose we could always write a new reality, a world conforming to the way we think things ought to be. But youíd have to write very meticulously, painting your cosmos with precision and vivid colors. I donít think Iíd change much in the world ó maybe invent stranger weather. Purple skies once in a while, green snow. The danger would be messing things up inadvertently.
William Michaelian: Well, we do that anyway. And thereís always the chance that weíd mess things up in a good way ó you know, actually improve things. But whoís to say we wouldnít become bored with this new reality? And whoís to say that Brichiam or some other fidgety deity didnít author our present universe for that very reason?
John Berbrich: Well, thatís just the way life seems to work. People talk about winning a million dollars ó oh, theyíd buy a nice house & a nice car & quit their job & buy all the lottery tickets they want. How tedious would that be? I honestly donít know what Iíd do. Iím pretty happy right now, & Iíd be afraid of messing up things so badly that Iíd lose that bit of paradise I already have. Iíve always thought that if I did win or inherit lots of cash, Iíd stick it in a bank for a long time, maybe a year, and give myself a chance to get used to the idea. Then when I was sure, Iíd make my move. Of course if I didnít have a family Iíd go completely berserk. Iíd climb into the Mobius Strip bus and off weíd go!
William Michaelian: Uh-oh. Heís out there honking again. Good approach, to bank the winnings until you get your bearings. It reminds me of the idea you had a long time ago when we were talking about declaring an international Whitman holiday. Do you remember? You proposed that all technological inventions be declared illegal for at least ten years, so our minds could catch up. We would all benefit from that. And anyone who won a lottery would benefit from putting the money out of reach for awhile. Really, just being here means weíve already won the lottery. Thatís the paradise youíre afraid to gamble away. Speaking of gambling, Iíve read several times that William Saroyan was very uncomfortable when he had money, and that he always felt he had to get rid of it in order to be completely free to do his writing. Dostoevsky, too, had this compulsion to clear the mental slate, so to speak. Of course, it would be nice to have the money to get rid of. Iím still working on that. Then again, maybe Iíve streamlined the procedure by eliminating an unnecessary step.
John Berbrich: Cut straight to the poverty, eh? Well, that does save time. I do recall the Whitman technology moratorium. I still think itís a good idea. I try not to base my decisions on financial considerations. In other words, I donít buy something simply because itís 50% off, but if I really want something else, I get it (if I can afford it). Simply having this option indicates that Iím doing okay. How did I get started talking about a topic as mundane as money? Oh, yes ó improving our lot in life, or messing it up. Nietzsche advocated a moderate poverty, and Iím inclined to agree. The entire subject resembles every other subject ó all swords have a double-edge. You can always cut yourself badly if youíre careless or unskilled.
William Michaelian: I guess that explains these blood stains. Iím curious about Nietzscheís idea. Was he suggesting that we embrace moderate poverty voluntarily, or that it should be imposed, or what?
John Berbrich: I think he felt that money was a dumb thing to worry about, and you will definitely worry about it if you have way too little or way too much. In the former case, youíre always scratching for your next nickel, in the latter youíre either trying not to lose what you already have or youíre trying hard to get even more than you need. A moderate poverty suggests that you arenít starving or homeless; therefore you can focus your energies on more important subjects like creativity and art. These are not Nietzscheís words at all. Iím merely speculating on what he was thinking based on what Iíve read of his philosophy.
William Michaelian: It makes sense. Do you happen to know what his own financial circumstances were?
John Berbrich: A moderate poverty. He retired early from his professorship due to health reasons, and thereafter lived on his small pension in various rooming houses in northern Italy and Switzerland. He made nothing on the sale of his books, mostly because they didnít sell. So in part he was justifying his own situation.
William Michaelian: I remember little about his life. In general, were his ideas considered offensive or outlandish at the time? That seems a fairly typical pattern.
John Berbrich: Oh, yes ó many people called him the Anti-Christ. Of course he wrote a book entitled The Anti-Christ, so perhaps his detractors were justified. He simply wanted to re-think everything, examine and scrutinize everything, and of course others werenít quite so willing to do so. Still, by all contemporary accounts, he was a kind and generous man. Certainly he could rant at great length in his books. His writings greatly influenced Freud. For some he was a genius and a prophet ó for others, the Devil himself.
William Michaelian: This is sounding more and more familiar. As I mentioned way back when, I had read some of Nietzsche around twenty-five years ago, including The Anti-Christ. I canít seem to find my Nietzsche volumes. They were Penguin editions. I know I enjoyed reading him. There was another one ó Twilight something. What are his main titles again?
John Berbrich: Yes, Twilight of the Idols. Also Thus Spoke Zarathustra, The Birth of Tragedy, and Beyond Good and Evil, among others. His weird autobiography, Ecce Homo, contains chapters with provocative titles such as ďWhy I am So Wise,Ē ďWhy I Write Such Good Books,Ē and ďWhy I am a Destiny.Ē Some people think that he was losing his mind at this point, but Iím not so sure. Itís possible that he was making fun of other authors who write such serious autobiographies, being full of themselves, telling the stories of their own lives as though they were so important to the world. Itís also possible that his brain was boiling at this point, I donít know the truth of it.
William Michaelian: Did he end up losing his mind? Somewhere, I have Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil, and I think Ecce Homo. Odd that I remember so little of them. Too much water under the mental bridge, I guess. But I do remember those chapter titles you mentioned. I wonder if thereís a way to stir up that bit of gray matter where Nietzsche is stored, or if his words and ideas are permanently lost. But of course I read him when I was a young simpleton. Now Iím a much older simpleton.
John Berbrich: Iíd rather be a young simpleton. Yes, Nietzsche eventually lost it. He was bed-ridden for the final ten or eleven years of his life, helpless and incoherent. Itís a sad story.
William Michaelian: If you donít mind indulging a simpleton, please, tell me more. What was the cause? How old was he when he began his sad spiral downward? And do you see any similarities between his case and mine?
John Berbrich: Okay. From what I remember, he was in a city in northern Italy, Turin I think, and he came across a man flogging a horse. Supposedly Nietzsche came to the horseís rescue, throwing his arms around it. And then he snapped. Some people led him back to his room where he wrote letters to friends ó bizarre letters. He signed one ďDionysusĒ and another ďThe Crucified.Ē One of the friends went to see Nietzsche and brought him back to Germany for treatment. Apparently Nietzsche was singing on the train to Germany. Anyway, some people wanted to place him in an asylum, but his mother ended up taking care of him. This occurred at the end of 1888 or the beginning of 1889, when he was around 45 years old. He lingered until 1900. Syphilis has been proposed as a possible cause, contracted back in his school days. I donít know, Willie ó are you feeling okay?
William Michaelian: Other than these nail holes in my hands, I feel pretty good. Poor Nietzsche. Did he do any more writing during those last ten years, or was he pretty much out of it from the horse incident on? The great French short story writer, Guy de Maupassant, also went mad, syphilis being the cause. He did the bulk of his work in a frenzied ten-year period of writing and high living, and went from a robust and hearty-looking man to thin and worn and drawn. The pictures are very sad. Certain stories have been pointed to as evidence of his advancing madness, but, wouldnít you know it, they seem fairly normal to me. A little strange, yes, but the guy was a writer.
John Berbrich: Nietzsche had coherent periods in his final decade but evidently he would not or could not discuss anything related to his philosophy. He could no longer write. Maupassant is another one of those writers Iíve missed. I think I read one of his stories, years ago. Tell me more of his work.
William Michaelian: It will be my pleasure. Before he began publishing, he was guided for a time by Gustave Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary. Flaubert insisted that Maupassant learn to see with his own eyes, and to use words that described exactly what he saw, so that there could be no mistaking it for others of its kind, whether it was a person, a flower, or a landscape. Maupassant was a genius at discovering the most telling and revealing details, and rendering them in just a few words. His short stories are like concise, poetic gems. They begin immediately, from the very first word, to draw you in. Often they will surprise you at the end, with a little ironic twist that has caused some people to compare him with O. Henry. But this is just one device he employed, and he was a far more sophisticated artist than O. Henry. He rarely imposed himself on the story or the reader; he let the characters tell their own stories. With an equal and astonishing intimacy, he wrote about all sorts of people ó the rich and powerful, the poor and downtrodden, the foolish and carefree. He wrote about sex and intrigue, crime, desire, and infidelity without judgment, shocking some of his readers. These are things that wouldnít raise an eyebrow today, but the stories themselves are still pertinent, and never grow old. Maupassant should be read at a leisurely pace, preferably near a crackling fire. That said, some of his stories will send a chill through your bones on a hot summerís day. He also wrote several fine novels, most of them on the shorter side. He died at the age of forty-three.
John Berbrich: Wow! Fascinating introduction. Sounds like an author Iíd enjoy, being concise, sharp-eyed, and dealing with the sordid side of life. Sounds also as though the stories would present a real challenge to his translators. Have you read his novels?
William Michaelian: Iíve read Bel-Ami and Pierre and Jean. The first is about a young provincial determined to make good in Paris, and who uses people in any way he can to climb to the top. But the novel is anything but cold. I think Bel-Ami is Maupassantís best, though some say itís his second best, next to Pierre and Jean. The copy I have, a Penguin edition, was translated by Douglas Parmťe. Pierre and Jean was translated by Leonard Tancock. Whereas Bel-Ami presents more of a panoramic view of society, Pierre and Jean is a study of jealousy and love in a small family circle. I have a collection of 223 stories, all in one massive volume. Those were translated by M. Walter Dunne, and were executed closest in time to the originals. They are masterful, and preserve the flowing, poetic nature of Maupassantís writing.
John Berbrich: Honestly, sounds excellent. One more famous author on my must read list. His stories must be mighty short, for 223 of them to fit in one volume. You did say that he was concise. Brevity is the soul of wit, eh? If Maupassant was a younger contemporary of Flaubertís his dates must match pretty closely to Nietzscheís, 1844-1900.
William Michaelian: He was born in Normandy in 1850. He died in Passy, France, in 1893. Actually, some of his stories run several thousand words. But most are less than 2,000. The book I have has 1,003 pages. The stories are presented in a neat, old-fashioned double-column format in type that is fairly small, maybe about nine-point. Also, I forgot to mention that he wrote many essays, poems, travel pieces, and critical articles ó all this while he was busy chasing girls and engaged in various athletic pursuits, such as rowing. Have you read Zola?
John Berbrich: I havenít.
William Michaelian: He wrote a ton of novels. Of the three Iíve read, I most recommend The Earth. Itís part of a big series, but it stands completely on its own, and it was Zolaís favorite. Itís about the rugged hardships faced by peasants in a country village. Zola was born in 1840 in Paris, but he grew up in rural poverty after his father died. He was twenty-five when he decided to make his living writing. He had a more scientific turn of mind. He viewed and presented detail in a more clinical sense. In his novels, facts have a slowly building, but powerful cumulative effect. Zola himself was methodical about his work. He turned out something like three pages a day for years, while sitting at a massive desk smoking cigars. LíAssommoir is another classic ó a tragedy of working class people in the city, full of realistic coarse speech, drunkenness, and starvation, and yet he balances it with humor and hope. As you read it, you can feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and you begin to feel the despair his characters feel as the rules of your life are rewritten. Zola died in 1902. Coincidentally, it was Zola who published Maupassantís first story, the critically acclaimed and rather long ďBall of Fat.Ē The story was published alongside the work of several well known writers, and it basically stole the show in that collection.
John Berbrich: Interesting. I love reading about when the paths of two famous authors cross. I generally like the French anyway, so Iíll give Zola a shot. Iím quite sure that Nietzsche said something like: ďZola, a delight in stinking.Ē It makes sense, after reading your summary.
William Michaelian: Yes, that would be apt indeed. In The Earth, I remember there was a character nicknamed Jesus Christ, with a chronic gas problem he was quite proud of. Do you know if Nietzsche and Zola ever met?
John Berbrich: I rather doubt it. I donít think he ever traveled to France, although he did read French literature in the original French. Now that I think of it, I canít recall ever hearing of him meeting anyone big like Zola or Maupassant. He was basically a hermit, living in rooming houses. Of course he had a sweetheart in Lou Andreas-Salome. Well, sort of a sweetheart. He proposed to her but was spurned. She went on to become Rilkeís lover and an intimate of Freud. One large and important relationship that turned sour was Nietzscheís friendship with the composer Richard Wagner. But Zola, no.
William Michaelian: Such a meeting does seem like something we would have heard about somewhere along the line. You know a lot about Nietzsche. Have you gleaned this information from his writings, or from biographies?
John Berbrich: Both. His work has fascinated me for years. I have an entire shelf of books by Nietzsche and about Nietzsche. As far as I know, he didnít keep a journal of any kind, nor any travel books. So details are hard to come by. Despite the taint of power-philosophy to his work, and the Nazi twist given to it by others, I find it permeated by love and honesty. He was sick, no doubt about it. But his insights flashed like lightning. And he wished to share what he had seen in the eerie glow of that illumination, although few wanted to hear it.
William Michaelian: When you say he was sick, do you mean all along? When did he begin his main writing? How long did he work at setting forth his ideas? And did his ideas change much during that time?
John Berbrich: When I say that Nietzsche was sick, I mean that in at least three different ways. First off, I think he suffered from emotional anguish due at least in part to loneliness. Second, one can hear psychosis shrieking from the pages of his later books. So, thatís mental instability or sickness. Third, he did endure lots of physical ailments during most of his adult life, including migraines that apparently lasted for days. He was plagued by a touchy digestive system, could hardly drink anything but water, and had poor eyesight. His writing career began at the age of 27 with the publication of The Birth of Tragedy. It lasted until age 44 or 17 years. His ideas didnít change an awful lot, but they certainly developed. Think of his contributions to modern philosophy. Eternal recurrence, the Superman or Overman, Master Morality and Slave Morality, penetrating insights into depth psychology. In fact Nietzsche greatly influenced Freud, who evidently stopped reading Nietzsche because it was affecting his own ideas too much. Thereís hardly an area of modern philosophy that is not continuing a line of thought originated by or developed by Nietzsche. And in some ways he was little more than a sad, lonely man.
Anita: Geez, William, you ask questions like your old man was a copper or something. I think I should caution John, at this time, and inform him that heís not obliged to say or do anything, but anything he says or does may be recorded and used as evidence in court. Do you understand this information, John?
William Michaelian: Anita, I think your heartfelt warning has come a little late. Weíre in this so deep, we all gave up hope long ago. This subject of Nietzsche is getting more and more interesting. Iím going to make a point of re-reading his work. J.B., what books about him do you recommend?
John Berbrich: Anita, where ya been? Youíre looking great! Is this where you slap the cuffs on me? Willie ó my favorites by him include Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, and Beyond Good and Evil. As far as books about him, try Walter Kaufmannís Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. Donít read Heideggerís Nietzsche. Itís too long and abstract, and concerns primarily Heideggerís own philosophy, from what I can get out of it. There are others, but Kaufmannís is supreme.
William Michaelian: Okay, sounds good. First Iíll see if I can dredge up some good used copies. The other day I was lucky enough to find a solid old copy of James Joyceís Ulysses, and on my way out of the store I saw a big thick book that looked interesting. It turned out to be The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay ó about 700 pages of her stuff in nice large type, very appealing to the eye. But this whole Nietzsche business has left me feeling a little sad. I always felt there was tragedy hidden behind that mustache. In contrast, I read a couple of days ago about the French writer Georges Simenon, the author of the Inspector Maigret novels and stories. He died in 1989 at the age of eighty-six. Talk about prolific. He used to crank out eighty pages a day. There was a little story about how Hitchcock called him once on business. The person who answered the phone said Simenon couldnít come to the phone, because he had just started a new novel. Hitchcockís classic answer: ďIíll hold.Ē
John Berbrich: Beautiful. I hate people who write more in one day than I can read. It simply isnít right at all. If Iím on a roll I can write a page or two in the morning before my brain gets all droopy. Although if I didnít have to go to a job I suppose I could sit down for two or three writing sessions daily and then Iíd be cranking out maybe 3-5 pages a day. Thatís production!
William Michaelian: Well, thereís sure nothing wrong with cranking out three to five pages a day. If a guy keeps it up, as Zola did, he can do a lot of damage. Of course, that amount would be laughed at by many of the old pulp writers, who cranked out thousands and thousands of words. But then thereís also such a thing as content. Thomas Wolfe, a writer I seem to bring up every few weeks, accomplished both. In the long run, though, I think what counts is that you make the best use of your time. Everyoneís situation is different. There are jobs to consider, family responsibilites, and of course shopping. Because he has so much money, a writer must leave time for lots and lots of shopping.
John Berbrich: Lucky for you theyíre building that gigantic mall right down the street. Hey, Anita ó I was only kidding about the hand-cuffs. I hope you have the key to these things!
William Michaelian: One thing thatís going up is a big building supply store. When it opens in a few months, Iíll get you a hacksaw. Hey ó hacksaw. I like that. A hacksaw could be used to saw up lousy writers.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but a hacksaw works best on metal, limiting us to sawing up writers like Danielle Steele.
William Michaelian: Brilliant! On that squeaky note, letís set sail for a new page, shall we?