Riverrun was right. He warned me that Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin sea stories would quickly become an addiction, and so they have. I spent most of last weekend buried in the second book, Post Captain, and now that I’ve finished it I’ve got such a jones going that it's all I can do to keep my feet from ambling of their own accord down the hill to Seattle Public Library’s temporary Central Branch to check out the next one, and dive in. Not only are these books the best of both of pulp and high literature, but somehow they’re better than both worlds: none of the pander of even the best pulp, and none of the philosophizing or overblown literary affectations of so-called serious fiction. These are, indeed, smart books for smart people, but O’Brian feels no need to convince you of how bright he or his characters are. Indeed, there’s no trace of the the author in any of what I read so far, and the rich and utterly real complexity of the characters, especially Stephen Maturin, extends across the book-to-book progression, so that you honestly feel like you’re witnessing the uninflected accounts of these men’s lives. What an achievement. And what a delightful surprise to be discovering them just now. It gives me hope that there’s other hidden pleasures around other future corners, just when I need them. That said, I still feel the onus to control my new addiction, if only to prolong the dosage.
Addictions thrive at transition points in people’s lives, and my situation is no exception. I’ve been in juggling two writing commissions for a couple months now, and last week added a third ball in the form of a sampler of TV pitches I sent to an L.A. agent last Friday. Happily, though, at the moment all three projects are on administrative leave of sort of an or another. On the one commission, I sent notes off to the producers enumerating what my co-writer and I planned to do in the final draft (in order to get our final payment). They’ll either sign off and we get to work, or they balk, at which point I’ll probably walk since it ain’t that much cash any way. On the other commission, which hasn’t actually been paid yet, I’m holding off on any more research until I get an check in the mail. And on the TV pitches, I’m waiting to find out which of them this agent decides is most saleable. It feels good to have everything off my plate, however temporarily.
The real transition, however, is the one I seem to be half-consciously making between writer and full-time stay-at-home dad. Even if I do continue to plug away at one project or another, I’m starting to realize that it matters a lot less: that whatever artificial purpose my creative efforts were giving my existence pale when compared to the meat-and-potatoes purpose I have taking care of my 11 month-old son. Believe me, I don’t say this out of any cloying moralistic sense of self-congratulation. Some times I long nostalgically for the days of artificial purpose, clandestinely typing away at relatively subversive plays while pretending to be busy with actual work in the belly of the American corporate beast, but such is no longer my lot. Now it’s feeding, changing, snuggling, playing, comforting after a head bump, getting up at 3:37 am to replace a lost binky, rinse and repeat. I spent the first ten or so years of my career as a playwright creating demons to drive me to work enough to get anything of substance done, but when you’re a parent, you don’t need to create demons to drive you to work. The demon comes custom-built into that cute little bugger you begat.
When I told my older brother that my wife and I would be having our first baby he was delighted. He has five kids, one of whom was born twenty years ago when he was just 18. He told me that being a father would make me a better writer. I’m not sure how this is supposed to happen, but I believe him for some reason. Faith, maybe? If it’s true, it’s down a road which I can’t see very much of at the moment.