This is blog post # 3970. It is hard to believe, but Q the Blog, started very tentatively in June of 2006 with the help of Matt Mullenix, has now contained more words, and had more readers, than any of my books. Several times I almost gave it up, but somehow, the appreciation of friends old and new, and the freedom of having, so to speak, one’s own press, has always lured me back.
My life has been full of coincidence, but without the linkups that
this blog has provided, I never would have known about some of them. So I
will give you a few that we used to see regularly, and
encourage anyone to get in touch. Whatever happened to Two Blowhards? Prairie Mary? What about Heidi the Hick?
When we started the blog, there was only me and occasionally Matt.
Reid soon wrote in, became a fixture, and now is one of my closest
friends. Cat Urbigkit came later, and provided a real rancher’s
viewpoint that I could not authentically present, even though I was
sympathetic. Other occasional posters have been Phil Grayson, son of my
late friend Steve Grayson, the former owner of the Golden Spur, which
started when he was teaching English overseas. He is now going for his
PhD at a different St. John’s, the one in New York.
When I began had just published Eagle Dreams, and had not even started Eternity of Eagles, which I wanted to call The Eagle’s Shadow, or Sportsman’s Library, which I had called Bodio’s Choice, a much more accurate title; they wanted it to be a simple “100 best hunting and fishing books”, both a dull concept AND hard to do: besides, would any concept of Best account for our favorite meal-time reader, George Leonard Herter’s madly sublime “Bullcook”, or the comic book version of Sheridan Anderson’s fly-fishing manual, or the Collected Poems of Ted Hughes, or the novels of Geoffrey Household…
Helen Macdonald has not published Fretmarks since June, 2014; Arthur has not made an entry in Neutrino Cannon since 2015. The Alpha Environmentalist and Three Martini Lunch, the blogs of Jonathan and Roseann Hanson, no longer even exist, though their writers are alive and well. Of the old gang only Chas Clifton hangs on, though Gerry’s Hits and Misses and Jim’s Old Gunkie in Wyoming are relatively new, and strong.
When I started Q, blogs were trendy, and everyone seemed to have one for a while. A lot of goodl ones have come and gone since then; some have morphed into others: some have just quit, most recently Chad Love’s prickly but always readable Mallard of Discontent. I will miss it; somebody else may take up the pleasant task of writing about Oklahoma hunting and fishing. But who else but Chad would remind me of wonderful historical books by Oklahoma native and superb Catholic science fiction writer Raphael Aloysius Lafferty, the old jester, who after he gave up drinking, began to write some of the most surreal and Joycean science fiction ever; he was a Celtic yarn- spinner, starting with Past Master. a book about a Thomas More who was abducted into the future to lose his head again, and then many other tales.
But his significance wass most important to me and my first wife Bronwen; his presence at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1970, where he hung around for a week with Bronwen and me, and Poul and Karen Anderson. Bronwen reminds me that Poul (and of course the other science fiction writers, many of whom hit on Bronwen) was really the first working writer I knew. But Lafferty was completely surreal in his speech, like a creative Irish drunk but sober, far more so than some of the pretentious and trendy writers of the time. We thought of him as an old man — he was 57 I believe at the time. He spent a lot of time sitting in Bronwen’s lap as he was a small guy, saying “You and Poul go off and drink. I’m sticking around with Bronwen and Karen. The women have more sense than you two ever will.”
And of course, Poul was from Berkeley, a small “l” libertarian, a Republican who was also “green”, and a member of the Sierra Club, so of course he knew Libby’s parents, and was part of their hiking group. When she asked if he had tight, curly hair, I knew that she had seen him and she recognized him when I showed her a picture …
Many times, the most recent just last week, Bronwen and I marvel that we had found in the first hours of the first science fiction event we ever went to, the one person who could teach us how to be writers. It turns out that Poul is one of the very few people in the golden age of science fiction who actually made a living writing stories and books; despite appearances, this was incredibly rare. Many science fiction writers were one form or the other of geeks, geniuses but perhaps a bit distorted in their interest and obsessions. Poul was a midwestern kid who studied both engineering and anthropology after going into the Army, and then moved to Berkeley for the intellectual stimulation, not a job. The Sierras didn’t hurt either. Poul and his wife knew every kind of bardic poetry and recitation of several cultures, all the mythologies of Europe, martial folk songs in several languages, and also how things worked physically. They had no patience with people who knew only one thing. Robert Heinlien may have said “specialization is for insects” a quote that Ed Gray had up on his wall for years, but the Andersons lived it. His perfect fusion of the spiritual, esthetic, and scientific is apparent in such works as the story “Goat Song”, or “The Problem of Pain”, in which he takes on Theodicy, the existence of evil, presenting a priest who lost his faith because a alien being he had been communicating with fell into a Black Hole and died in agony forever.
He also had enjoyed himself — his space operas, like the van Rijn trading series and the war stories of Dominic Flandry were great fun, but the Flandry stories were also about the inevitable decline of every empire, and left ashes in your mouth in the end. As Kipling would have said “He knew the fire on the ice.” I really don’t know of any contemporary “serious” writer who knew as much about the world and communicated it as Poul did. You have to look at such old-fashioned, enormous works as Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet, or Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy to see this kind of wisdom and rue, and Poul tended to say it more economically.
He was also possessed with remarkable physical skills. He was a serious swordsman and fencer, and in this capacity, was one of the founders of the Society of Creative Anachronism. Nowadays, they just tend to be a bunch of chestless geeks in fake medieval clothes who hang around technical schools. But if you want to see a glimpse of what they were in Berkeley, try Peter Beagle’s incredible Folk of the Air, perhaps the most remarkable college novel I’ve ever read, plus old gods and powers well-imagined. In it, there is a swordmaster and a falconer and other true master craftsmen that are literally living in other times simultaneously with our own. They are dealing with a monstrous 17th century sorcerer who comes back in the body of a youth, conjured there by something like a Valley girl, by accident.
It’s a frightening novel, and brilliant. I can’t think it would have existed without Poul Anderson.
Being young, we took all this for granted. I was writing, but I wasn’t in a particularly literary crowd, they being all at Harvard and Yale and such. Soon after this I began working for the weekly papers and met real writers like George Kimball, George V. Higgins (actually, I owe my entire career to these two Georges: the one-eyed Kimball, the huge man who had come from Kansas after running for sherriff on a pro-hemp ticket with the help of Hunter Thompson, and now hung around the bars with members of the Celtics, taking his eye out, putting it in his drink and saying “I’m, keeping an eye out for you.”)
In 1971, he told me to get an album by Jimmy Buffet, “A White Sportcoat and a Pink Crustacean”, go to the show at the Club 47, where I handed Buffet my silver flask of Tequila, it it being a dry coffee house then, and picked up the album. The album notes are about something called the Club Mandible Key West, and sleeping on the yellow line. It also contained a sweet musical observation, that Jimmy Buffett’s music existed in a space where Hank Williams and Xavier Cugat met with no animosity at all. It intrigued me enough that I picked up the book, ’92 in the Shade, when it came out. And I still have that exact copy, with all its original dogears and memorized soliloquies. I had found my lodestar, someone both hip and elegant and a hell of a hand with a flyrod.
Over the next few years, my life unfolded rather logically from this beginning. I read all of Pat Ryan’s boys in Sports Illustrated, and when the likes of Russell Chatham left for Gray’s Sporting Journal after Pat left SI to be the editor of People, I hung out with Russ Chatham and his enormous appetites, and kindly avuncular Charlie Waterman at the offices at Gray’s. And sometimes I think Ed just had me take them out of the office so he could work! Some of them were odder than hipsters; the worst thing Ron Rau ever did was lie on his back in Harvard Square looking up women’s dresses, saying that he had been in the Alaskan outback for a year and
hadn’t seen any women’s legs. And then inducing me to piss on John Updike’s lawn on the homestretch up to Ed’s on the North Shore; but I still remember Kay Evans, who must have been 80, saying indignantly to a waitress in Brookline “Don’t you know that is GEORGE BIRD EVANS? “The Evanses were mad — else how could they expect a waitress in Brookline to know an obscure West Virginia dog-writer and artist who kept his Purdey in a Pinto.
Oh yeah, that other George… In those days, George V. Higgins, still Boston’s greatest crime novelist and arguably the best writer of Boston dialect that ever lived, had left the prosecutors office and was writing full time. He was also the only writer my father and I read aloud to each other, laughing hysterically — my mother hated it because she thought he was vulgar. Like George Kimball, he was not a figure who I approached easily, but at least George Kimball was an inhabitant of my bars. Ed Gray and I were kicking around an idea for a column and he said, “Why not book reviews?” I had done conventional reviews for Mark Zanger and David Rosenbaun over at the Real Paper. Although that was fun, I had something more in mind. On Saturdays, George Higgins wrote a column on the editorial page of the Boston Globe called “The Lit’ry Life”, where he covered everything from crime writing to boxing to George Plympton to articles on field sport and fiction and novels and everything else. I remember seeing the first recommendation of Gretel Erlich’s The Solace of Open Spaces in George’s column. I said “Why don’t I do that?” So I did, and that became Bodio’s Review and that was that. I only quit when Ed and Becky were lied to and fired from their own magazine by he disgusting David Foster, who also corrected Charlie Waterman’s spelling of his own wife’s name — Debie to Debby — apparently thinking that in 50 years of marriage this professional writer hadn’t figured out to spell his own wife’s name!
Ed laughed at me, and said “You don’t have to quit on my account, as I guarantee that within a month, with your temper, you’ll quit on your own.” Foster’s secretary called to give me a due date for my column. Then Foster called, asking for it a week sooner, and when I told him the girl had given me a later date, he said “I guess I’m going to have to kick her pretty little ass.”
I hung up, wrote the column immediately, and quit in the last line. I never returned to Gray’s until Foster was dead. Once he called John Barsness and asked if I’d consider coming back if John woud ask me. John told me that he had said to Foster “I can, but I already know what he is going to say: Not just no, but FUCK no.”
There was a slight inquiry in his voice. I said “As stated, John” and turned the conversation to something else.
There’s a curious footnote to this as well. After I got to know Tom Russell, he had become a fan of George Kimball’s boxing writing. He may have been the greatest boxing writer of our generation. George was dying of lung cancer and living in Kansas. We had some good correspondence before he died.
And that’s the story of the beginning of my writer’s life.
More blog thoughts; my stepson Jackson and his friend Bill Davis were undergraduates at St. John’s at the time, so their blog was pseudonymous. Bill works as manager of an organic grocery in Portland these days, and Jackson is married and living in Deep Springs Valley where his wife works at the college and he takes his son Eli around on his adventures as a serious landscape photographer showcased in his blog Crest Cliff and Canyon. But sometimes I’ve missed the erudite politically incorrect wit of Odious (Bill) and Peculiar (Jack).
We are the old establishment now, but we hang on. Now we are thinking of having a party at Reid’s in Denver, to commemorate the 4000th post. I’m hoping that Cat and Malcolm can make it down from Wyoming and Montana, and that the Laramie contingent will be there –novelist Brad Watson, who is bringing me a stand up desk, Carlos Martinez del Rio, director of the Berry Biodiversity Center there, Jim Caldwell, blogger and sporting gentleman. Perhaps we can convince riflemaker, retired English prof and administrator, Gerry Cox, to come out from Ithaca — and Gerry is another person I encountered first through the blog world, or so I thought until he reminded me that he had placed a piece in English Literary Renaisssance, the journal I edited at Amherst back around 1979! Maybe Daniel Riviera, a Renaissance man of sport, with his horses, Elhew pointers, Gyr-Barbary falcon, and Spanish pouters will finally make his pilgrimage out from the wine country to join the rest of the “sewing circle” then. Rebecca O’Connor is planning to come so maybe we can find the elusive Lauren McGough, the first and only official female Berkutchi, despite the publicity given to the young Kazakh girl. And depending how late it is, we might even see Helen Macdonald, who is coming to the US to do a book signing tour in April and May. Other people who are seriously interested (John Hill?) should contact me or Reid.
To be continued…