He came into my office as he often does, or as I often do to him in return, to avoid actual work, to talk about the fun stuff—the difference in Raymond Carver after Gordon Lish, how the Pinckney Benedict story “Mercy” is perfect for our students—and/or complain about the unfun stuff, also fun in its way. We work in the same pod and his office is directly across from mine. We’re not rivals; he’s fiction and I’m creative non. Truly, we’re friends.
“So, I’ve finished another major rewrite of my novel, and I’ve got a few people lined up to copyedit it one more time,” he said. “Then, hopefully . . .
“How’s the thing with the agent?” A while back, an agent wanted a one-sentence pitch from him, and he’d agonized for a bit over it, also a topic of conversation.
“It’s fine, yeah, so hopefully it’ll be done-done, and then by the end of the semester, I’ll land it.”
“That’s so great,” I said, or something like it. “Really amazing to teach and do something like this. You’re the man.”
In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway recounts the goings-on in Paris when he was an expat. I read it in Paris when I was twenty-one, an intoxicating affair. But for all its inclusion of other artists—Ford Madox Ford, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald—A Moveable Feast is a romance about the solitary artist, the artist who is a faithful lover only to his art. And it’s a damned lie.
The next day, my colleague came back. “So when I was in here earlier, what I meant to ask was if you’d read it—if you’d be one of my readers. I came in to ask that, and then I chickened out and I didn’t.”
“Oh, really? Oh, well, sure. Of course. I’d love to.”
My dad loved the trumpet. In the early 50s, my grandma set aside egg money to buy him one, and he practiced it in the barn, “mastering” it—his word—in six months as a sophomore in high school. His band teacher was his favorite teacher, and this band teacher encouraged him to join the army band. He tried to run away to do so, but since he had a brother who died in Korea and since he was a minor, he needed my grandpa’s signature to join. Thus ended my dad’s dreams of the trumpet.
In an end table in our living room, I came across some of his trumpet music, tracked with sixteenth note and—whether this is memory or imagination, I no longer know—thirty-second note runs. This, too, is a romantic story. Better yet, it’s tragically romantic.
How much art dies on this hill? How much withers for lack of a good reader or the withholding of a signature of blessing? How much art is sacrificed on the threshold of fear and pride?
A day later and I went into my colleague’s office, identifying my part in these near misses.
“So, I could have offered to read it, too, you know,” I said, “but I didn’t because, you know, I didn’t want to presume. I guess I thought of it as private, didn’t want to interfere.”
He’s gracious and incisive about the situation. “It’s like we’re still stuck in the model of the solitary artist,” he says. “It’s not like anyone has taught us how this works.”