STONE SOUP = a disparate collection of prose pieces featuring a narrator who lives on the edge. From falling in love with a cover girl in Los Angeles to getting fleeced by a midnight whore in Miami, insights abound. Raw emotions plus humiliating comeuppances reveal naked truths. [1978: 20 selections; 159 pages]

boonierat

“What made you think me a bird?” he asked.

“You looked a raven, and I saw you dig worms out of the ground with your beak.”

“And then?”

“Toss them into the air.”

“And then?”

“They grew butterflies and flew away.”

“Did you ever see a raven do that? I told you I was a sexton.”

“Does a sexton toss worms into the air and turn them into butterflies?”

“Yes.”

“I never saw one do it.”

“You saw me do it.”

– George MacDonald

It is just under two years, now, since I took the steps necessary to devote full time to the development of my writing skills. Fresh out of the hospital and recovering rapidly from a ureterolithotomy (kidney stone) operation, I suddenly found myself elevated to that state of mind in which all things are possible. That it might not be wise to simply quit work and curl up with the typewriter never even occurred to me. Was I not healthy, robust, full of good things to say?

No, there was never any decision, not really. A part of me I had left behind on the operating table; it seemed only natural that writing was to be my new identity.

What should not have come as such a surprise were the events to follow. Within the week I was broke and behind on my rent. A few days later my girlfriend walked out on me. By the following week I was down to only an apple and a can of pears in the refrigerator. If that was the life of a writer, I thought, then I was more than ready to pawn my typewriter.

And perhaps I would have, too, except that the typewriter I was using was not mine.

But it is by no means my intention to link writing with suffering, even though such a theme has tempted many an author. Rather, I would prefer to debunk such a silly notion once and for all. The man who is driven to write quickly discovers a startling truth: writing is a creative, joyous activity, spiritual nourishment in a class all by itself. Once addicted, the writer would sooner set his typewriter next to a park bench than distract himself with questions of food and shelter. What few realize is that some can live for days on one juicy sentence.

No, the only form of starvation the writer fears is not to be allowed to write. Writing, like the poppy, is also a flower.

That is not to say that some of the selections in this volume do not touch upon the experience of despair. “Proud Flesh,” for example, consists of the opening pages of what was to have been a long novel. The projected theme – never fully developed – was not that writing is synonymous with suffering and despair. I was rather hoping to show that for the creative individual bursting at the seams, not to write, not to create is stagnation, the most intolerable form of death. It is also my conviction that the quest for the creative life is ultimately the quest for complete authenticity. Is not this quest borne of the very same aspiration that nourishes man’s most distinctive religions? There is a very real sense in which the artist seeks to remake himself. His is the responsibility for his own growth, his own salvation. Some of us even feel quite painfully that, in the words of Yeats, we are merely rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Such words strike us not as an indictment but as a supreme challenge.

To fall prey, therefore, to the fatalistic thinking that ascribes man’s lot to a Platonic essence, something akin to Sartre’s the “human condition” of loneliness and subjectivity, is nothing less than a blasphemy.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

STONE SOUP is another chapbook from my writing days. Like many of the thousands of pages I whipped off at white heat it was never published – or, for that matter – even read by more than a handful or two of my writing buddies.

Most of whom, incidentally, are long dead or irretrievably lost; I was hangin’ back then with a crowd (writers, intellectuals, musicians, artists) brilliant to a fault, and way too prone to excess.

I survived. And although in due time I will (hopefully) resurrect and tweak my memoirs, until then I like to remember those wonderfully miraculous crazy-ass days by occasionally posting a sketch or two – even if it is just a tantalizing preface.

🙂 Thanks for visiting 🙂

3 thoughts on “preface from ‘Stone Soup’

  1. Tantalizing indeed, John. You did much in this to revive my sense of purpose. What a miserable and fine mess the writer finds himself in, and in solitude even, not alone. Ah, can of pears. Half a box of stale Cheerios. potatoes sprouting sizable roots, Chef Boyardee 2 years past expiration, rent past overdue. Ah yes.

    You’re entirely right, the sweet addiction to writing, thrilling, drowning out the steady Philistine’s abuse to get a real job. It’s not easy to make a buck out of what bucks the heart, is it.

    And the ever going never ending flow of miracles… that writer whose words are nabbed by the publisher the movie maker the magazine editor and discussed! Deep into dawn, back and forth, the room thick with smoke and the warriors thick with bourbon, reams of paper with precious words, to keep that line or change it, to hear praise of that adjective, to see the thrill in the stranger’s eyes over your metaphor….heaven.

    We likely know an equal number of stories about the suffering. I will tell you that once on the phone with a Hollywood filmmaker who’d seen some merit at first blush in the synopsis of a novel I wrote but had cooled by the second call, dismissively said, ‘We really only use famous authors.’

    Oh really, says I.
    Well goddamn George Orwell was working in a goddamn bookstore and dying of goddamn tuberculosis before he goddamn got “1984” published!

    I, too, intend to be rich and famous prior to the grave and we will do it and show the world.

    Like

    • Hi Barbara,

      I’ve just started your wonderful collection of stories, The Gandy Dancer. I’m a slow reader, drifting off with each sentence to savor the virtual sights and sounds and smells that good writing conjures up. But I’ll get back with you privately in the near future.

      Do you also write poetry, I’m wondering?

      Thanks…

      Like

      • As you can imagine, knowing someone has a book I’ve written in their hands and is reading it is pretty thrilling. Thank you John!
        I have written poetry, not so much for a long time, and sometimes accidentally.
        I’m keen to hear your thoughts on The Gandy Dancer.
        Best to you….

        Like

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