Three Life Lessons
By Grady Miller
Mar 17, 2013 - 2:56:26 PM
UNITED STATES—Let me share with you three lessons from the distinguished and great author that have most deeply influenced me and enhanced my life. From the only formal writing class I have ever taken, guided rather than taught by the Distinguished Author when he was not so distinguished, I took home many more than three lessons, and being the late bloomer that I am, I have often needed the same lesson more than three times. What will surprise you is this: the lessons the Distinguished Author gave me long after I had left the university touched me far more than anything I learned in his workshop.
Lesson #1: Don't do your banking by machine
Don't use an ATM machine. Visit the tellers, sow relationships, clown around, and be part of the village drama. This advice, in particular, has made dealing with the Most Evil Corporation in the world downright fun; it has faces and lives. In fact, it's hard for me to brand it as an Evil Corporation now, since I have great respect for the folks I know who work there because they have personalized my banking experience and have performed many excellent services for me. Following the advice to not bank by machine has made my life richer both in dollars and drama. What more could a writer ask for?
Lesson # 2: Be Ruthless for Your Art
Once, traveling down the coast by car, night had fallen, and I took the left-hand freeway exit to Montecito and toward the Distinguished Author's lair. On this occasion, the Distinguished Author and I spoke via intercom, as I stood in the driveway in tree-filled darkness, facing the blank wall of his estate's side gate. "Listen old sport,” he spoke. “I am finishing the last chapter of a book, the last page, and I cannot see you." No hesitation, no watering down of words, true and to the point. I know that surely it was difficult to turn down the visit of a person of my limitless charm and charisma, in order to keep chained to the writing table. I soon resumed my travels down the coast with awe and respect. "That is how it's done," I thought to myself. Don't let the wiles of everyday life deflect you and pretty soon you'll have written 15 books, old sport.
Lesson # 3: Unlearn Lessons
The Distinguished Author remarked in the workshop that he didn't have time to carry correspondence and write his brother-in-law--words to that effect. He was too busy writing stories that would be read by thousands of people in national magazines. I took this to heart. At the outside it was attractive, not writing letters, less workload, not all that stretching for profound and employing exotic words like rubicund and quixotic. No sir. This lesson ultimately had an inhibiting effect on my epistolary output toward people nearest to me. This was a lesson to be unlearned. It took Mom 10 seconds to dispel this notion that had hobbled me for twenty years: "Most famous writers write letters to their families and that's how they get to publish these big book of collected letters." This comment helped unleash a torrent of missives--some weird, some funny some gem-like newspaper columns—all for the eyes of one appreciative reader. The achievement I'm proudest of as a writer, no more and no less, has been to entertain and puzzle an old woman into her ninth decade, the woman who gave birth to me. I'm sure there are enough letters and postcards to fill a book, and if somebody comes along and says this is garbage, I don't give a damn. I've discovered the endless prolific flow! What matters is the moment, who you're talking to and my own amusement. Or like Hemingway said, “I write letters because I like receiving them.”
Dear TC Boyle:
Above all you gave me a gift very early on, which outshines all other gifts that a teacher can give: you believed in me before I believed in myself.
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