Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Playing the Hand You're Dealt

I wish I could find the quote—or even remember who said it—about the difference between a "writer" and an "author." The gist was that a writer is a craftsman who cares about doing the best possible job, and an author is a pretentious git who cares about royalties. The elusive quote is nagging me because I just finished watching the third and final part of the dramatization of the novel "Any Human Heart" on Masterpiece Theater. I mean "Masterpiece." No, I mean "Masterpiece Classic," which I think is a silly name for a TV show that features dramatizations of works that haven't existed long enough to be "classics" yet, but I suppose that "Masterpiece Period Pieces" would be long and redundant.

Anyway. "Any Human Heart" is about the fictional English writer Logan Mountstuart. I'd have loved the story just for the following conversation between Logan and his friend (and fellow English writer...hmm, maybe the term "author" applies here) Peter Scabius. Peter has just completed a new book titled Guilt, which is about his wife Tess, who committed suicide because of his multiple infidelities.
Logan: (as he reads the title of Peter's new book, Guilt) "Oh, please tell me you're joking."
Peter: "It couldn't be further from a joke. It's part of my penance. The penance I owe to Tess."
Logan: "Penance? 'Guilt'? Anyone would think you were..."
Peter: "I'm converting. I'm becoming a Roman Catholic."
Logan: "Oh, no. What, like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh?"
Peter: "No, like Peter Scabius."
Logan: "Why is it that all English writers are converting to bloody Catholicism? Why not just be a very devout Anglican?"
Peter: "Because I need a savage, unforgiving, brutal god. Since Tess's death...don't you see? I don't want some bourgeois Anglican god I can have a nice cup of tea with. I want to be frightened of my deity. In awe."
Logan: "You do know it's all complete mumbo-jumbo, don't you? Life's about luck. Good luck and bad luck. The good luck you have, and the bad luck you have, that's all."
Peter: "What utter nonsense. You can't live with a philosophy like that."
Logan: "Forget it."
Logan does live with a philosophy like that. He has bad luck aplenty—lovers, friends, and family members leave his life, sometimes tragically, and World War II leaves its scars on him—but he appreciates the good luck when it comes. And he writes, in spurts. Not so much professionally, although his early works had some success and his journalism skills were well respected; mostly he writes in his journals. He takes breaks, sometimes for years, but he always starts up again eventually. And when he has his "final bit of bad luck" and his "individual journey" ends, he is buried under a (crucifix-free) tombstone that labels him as an "Escritor -  Writer - Ecrivain," in reference to his Uruguayan mother, his English father and upbringing, and his final years and death in the south of France.

What defines a writer is the undeniable impulse that results in the act of writing. Whether one's words are paid for or not, published or not, ever seen by anyone else or not, is irrelevant. A writer writes.

N.B. I haven't read the novel Any Human Heart (although I now plan to); I've only seen the dramatization, which may well differ from the book.

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