Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What You See Isn't Always What You Get, Or ...

Be Careful Jumping to Conclusions ...

I had a buddy once, a writer, with whom I got along pretty well. He was local, we did some work together. We weren't blood-brothers, but now and again we'd go hang out for a beer or lunch. If we had any kind of gathering, we'd invite him and his wife and they'd usually show up. If they had a party, we got asked to drop by. The four of us would go out for dinner now and again, and he and I would run into each other at conventions.

Nice guy, smart, clever, talented, and very funny.

I'd have said he wasn't quite at the help-me-bury-the-body level, but we were somewhat above wave-at-each-other-at-work friends.

He and his wife decided they had to move to a new town. Portland was cold and chilly, there were some health issues, so they wanted a warmer, drier climate.

I could understand that. We wished them well, and assumed that they'd stay in touch.

They moved, and far as I could tell, dropped off the face of the planet. No forwarding address, no email, no letters, phone calls, zip. Dropped off the the e-groups he'd been in that I knew about.

I sent emails to the address I had; they didn't bounce, but they didn't get answered, either. My buddy's web page went fallow. Nobody around here had heard from him.

What the hell? Maybe they got run over by a truck or caught in an avalanche or something.

After a fairly long time with no word, I put on my private eye hat and, in a couple of degrees of separation, tracked them down. They weren't hiding, they just weren't talking. So I made a call, left a message, and eventually, heard back from the wife.

Why, yes, they were fine, moving along, how are you? and all like that. In the course of the conversation, it came up as how my buddy had more or less quit writing and gotten a job teaching.

I had known he was depressed about his career. He had talked about bagging it and getting a teaching credential, but I hadn't taken him seriously. Over a long period, he produced some good books, and his most recent one had been terrific , one that impressed me. However, despite great critical reviews, the novel sank like a stone into the midlist pond, leaving hardly any ripples.

He was discouraged, and he decided to back away from it. When I heard this, I didn't expect that would last forever -- writing was too much a part of him -- but there has been a sizeable gap in there -- almost ten years since his most recent novel was published.

That call was the last we've heard from them, and since it was pretty obvious they weren't interested in continuing whatever relationship there had been, I shrugged it off and went on my way. That's how it goes, and AMF.

Still, it was troubling for a while, until I came up with what I thought was a reason. Might be wrong, my deduction, but it makes a certain sense to me. Since he had mostly quit writing and gotten a real job, he might think that other writers would look at him askance. As if he were a failure because his books hadn't hit the jackpot, and because he had walked away in disgust. I wouldn't think so, but I can see how he might feel that way.

And as long as he was corresponding with other authors, the subject of writing would naturally tend to come up, and I think he just didn't want to deal with it. Me blathering on about my books, and him steaming because his hadn't gotten the recognition they were due. (That I could surely understand -- all writers feel that way ...) Unfortunately, talent doesn't always get rewarded in this biz. Several of the best writers in the fantasy and SF field died as poor as church mice. I knew (slightly) three of the best -- Ted Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, and Bob Sheckley. None of them had a pot to piss in when they shuffled off, and at their best, all of them could write rings around most of us; that on a bad day, using a leaky pen. Harlan Ellison once allowed as how most of us in the biz weren't fit to carry Fritz Leiber's pencil case, and he was right.

I could understand that.

Or, maybe my buddy and his wife, as some people do, just moved away and never looked back because they didn't want to leave any strings connecting them to their history. Fresh start. I know others who have done that. Packed up, left town, started over, never gave a thought to the old town and friends there. Past is prologue, and have a nice life.

I dunno for sure, but it was -- and still is -- certainly food for thought ...


Bobbe Edmonds said...

I've done this myself. In fact, it's the reason I'm in Seattle, not South Carolina, or why nobody up here ever hears about or meets a friend of mine visiting from S.C.

I just didn't want to keep any.

The reasons vary from person to person, some I screwed over too badly to make it up, others screwed me. Still others I just had a parting of the ways, moved far off and grew apart.

But the biggest reason? I just didn't want to be reminded of South Carolina as I remembered it. I spent most of my youth there, and part of my early adulthood. It's where I made all my mistakes, and it's certainly not too big to occasionally run into people I made those mistakes with or to.

It's not always right, but there are times in a person's life when they just reset the timer and start the game over again from the beginning. Maybe this time, armed with a little better sense.

Steve Perry said...

I don't begrudge anybody that. If somebody makes it a habit, that's different -- it implies an inability to deal with reality, and the idea that if they zip over two states, they get to be somebody new.

I know folks like that. They never learn the lesson.

I had a buddy did that with wives.
He'd pick a young woman who hadn't had much experience in the world, wow her, marry her, and when, after a few years she grew up and didn't see him as the great and powerful Oz, she'd bail.

He'd go find another one. Got harder as he got older, and eventually, he couldn't do it any more. Married five times. All of them much younger than he was.

He kicked off before he wore out the last one ...

Dan Moran said...

I think it's useful for young people to move away from home to find out who they are. And then coming home, to find out how who they are meshes with who they used to be ...

When middle-aged people do it, you gotta think something's wrong.

Jordan said...

In two weeks, I'm leaving the town I've lived in for the past ten years. I graduated college here, worked my first real job here, met my wife and had a child here, all in the last ten years.

I'd like to think that when I leave I'll keep in touch with those I've left behind, but I'm not so sure.

Being a college down, I had the sad pleasure of watching the dozen or so close friends from school move off one by one over the years. Very few do I regularly keep in touch with, but I'm not sure if it's them or me. For the folks that I'm still friends with now, I hope I'll stay in touch. I guess I'll find out shortly.

Ximena said...

I had a friend in college who disappeared while I was in Scotland. Only one person knew how to get in touch with him, and he was sworn to secrecy. The story is he was ditching his lousy life (including those of us who weren't so lousy, but still were part of his past). Recently I found out some of his friends think he's really in Witness Protection. I think they'd just rather believe that than think he'd really ditch us all of his own accord.

I have another friend who NOBODY knows where he is--he had a nervous breakdown and vanished a little while later. They've had "John, please contact us" up on their web site for over ten years now. They reckon he's an anonymous corpse somewhere. I remember the guy fondly.

Personally, I still want to go home someday.

Steve Perry said...

I can understand that a place and time can be transitional. You are in school or a job you don't play to keep, and you don't forge any real relationships, so when it come time to boogie on, there's nobody back there you'll miss, or who will miss you.

When we moved to Oregon from Louisiana, there were some folks I was fond of who weren't happy to see us go -- I was teaching a kung-fu class, I liked working at the clinic and the doctors there.

I tried to keep connected by mail and the occasional phone call -- this was before the internet and email. And it is to be expected that time and space can fade the connections, even now when email is virtually instantaneous.

I made a point when I did go back to see family to look up the old friends.

Paths diverge, and that's the way of things; still, when somebody you thought well of, and you believed thought well of you, just stops talking, you tend to ask yourself, What did I do?

Sometimes it's you, sometimes, it's them. Sorting that out might not change the situation, but it can change how you feel about things.

If I screwed up, maybe I can make amends, or at least avoid doing it again.

If it was you? Well, fuck you and the horse you rode out on ...

Dan Moran said...

"How can I miss you if you won't go away?"

In my life I've had more trouble with people who wouldn't go away, than otherwise. Partially due to having lived in one city my whole life, I imagine.