And just like that, he's gone. I admit, I kind of thought of him as an uncle. And now, I don't know what's worse-- getting kicked out of a land war in Asia, or being fired by W. Messed up part was, Rum wanted to jump ship for years, he just wanted to depart on a high note. High notes, I'm told, are pretty scarce over there. So now he' s doing his best Lee Majors impression. ...That's politics, I guess.
But why is Donald Rumsfeld here, on this blog, a site ostensibly dedicated to the many facets of the art of writing? Oh, but Rummy is a writer. And why not? The man has done it all-- navy pilot, ambassador, adviser to presidents, CEO-- but don't trust me when you can read his stellar DOD bio.
He is also the author of the ingeniously titled Rumsfeld's Rules, a twelve-page document that apparently can be found in the desks of many Washington go-getters, young and old alike. Rummy first wrote the booklet while serving as Chief of Staff for Gerald Ford, and has revised it several times over the last thirty-odd years. You can read the latest pith-filled version here.
Also, if you like, you can hear a brief story of Rummy's Rules, as well as NPR's Greatest Hits of the outgoing warlord, a sound-byte assemblage that does some justice to the cavalcade of whimsy that was our 21st Secretary of Defense. It's really quite nice.
[This post is #1 in a Series: Statesmanship & Penmanship: The Writings of World Leaders. My next several posts will all be concerned with world leaders who have written novels, poetry, or anything substantial and more cagey than a senate report on the dangers of aluminum wiring. So Chairman Mao, Jawaharlal Nehru, Napolean Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Subcomandante Marcos, and Moammar Qaddafi-- watch out! I shall address your art with the savage criticism and wry observation that the UN only wish they had. And, in honor of "deadlines" I shall finish with the big man himself: Saddam Hussein... who has written four romance novels.]
On September 28, 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy arrived on British soil. He defeated the British in the Battle of Hastings, and on Christmas Day, he was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.
One of the most important consequences of the Norman conquest of
England was its effect on the English language. At the time, the
British were speaking a combination of Saxon and Old Norse. The Normans
spoke French. Over time, the languages blended, and the result was that
English became a language incredibly rich in synonyms. Because the
French speakers were aristocrats, the French words often became the
fancy words for things. The Saxons had "house"; the Normans gave us
"mansion." The Saxons had "cow"; the Normans gave us "beef." The
Normans gave us "excrement," for which the Saxons had lots of four
letter words. The English language has gone on accepting additions to
its vocabulary ever since the Norman invasion, and it now contains more
than a million words, making it one of the most diverse languages on
This is a painting by Robert Bechtle from 1974. It's called Alameda Gran Torino. Yes, that's right: Alameda. My home town, as well as the backdrop of my first novel. I found out about Bechtle's work a few years ago at an exhibit at SFMOMA. I was blown away. I saw several paintings of houses and cars I used to walk by every day on my way to school (or up to less noble pursuits). I was in a time machine, and Bechtle caught my childhood through a filter not unlike my own: simultaneously real and unreal, comic almost, sun-painted stucco and a terra cotta hyper gloss at the western end of a continent. More so, when I was in high school, I used to drive around and photograph old cars. And there, right on the walls of the museum, was one of the three Northern California artists who developed West Coast Photorealism, and he had set his canvas in my hometown. One of his preferred subjects: cars parked on streets. I thought I had found a kindred spirit. I found out he was still alive (in his early seventies), and living in San Francisco. So I sent him a copy of my book and a letter, explaining how I felt about his work, c/o a director at MOMA. Of course, I never heard back.
So, the new novel. Old question, many forms: what do you do when a character or his narrative becomes didactic?
Sub-Question: What if your two main characters are anthropology graduate students, whose thesis projects present a great deal of their character foundation? What if the second tier of main characters is made up of a controversial professor and a young man living with HIV, who is still coming to terms with the reality of his infection?
So, basically, when is didactic... not didactic? Or is it enough to simply expose your characters' academic beliefs in an entertaining way?
Here's the direction I'm leaning: if you have to do it to tell your story, then do it. Just sell it. If didacticism (a loathe reflex of junior writers) is what the story calls for, then didacticism is what you have to write.
So I just received my quarterly royalties check from my "publisher". Feast your eyes:
I know, I know. You're all thinking that I'll be buying all the coke and hand jobs on our next outing. Then you realize: If you made exactly this amount, each hour of every work day, fifty weeks a year, after taxes-- you and your wife and your newborn son would all be comfortably below the poverty line.
And yes, I have received smaller checks. Once I got one for $1.97. I was going to frame it, but I ended up cashing it. Back then, I was a smoker, and you'd be surprised what a difference $1.97 can make between a "good" day and a "bad" one.