Orwell’s Legacy

I remember only vaguely reading George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia and Down and Out in Paris and London and Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.  But I read them all. My memory of the books is hidden behind too many years and drenched in impenetrable darkness, but I do remember I loved his writing. My developing sense of humanity was tethered to Orwell’s beliefs., though probably not all of them. Most of the time, when I read his books, I felt like I was reading the works of someone with whom I agreed almost entirely. I read his books as fast as I could lay my hands on them. And I sought out people with whom I could discuss them. It was as if the books sparked something in me that I had not, theretofore, known existed. They were like fire to me. I found few people who were as enthused as I, though. And, I suppose, that’s when things began to change. I don’t know how. Perhaps it was the unenthusiastic response I got from professors. Or students. Or who knows who. I remember, though, that I was disappointed somehow that my fierce interest in Orwell’s books did not meet with universal support.

There foregoing paragraph has absolutely nothing to do with what’s on my mind tonight. Tonight, I’m reliving an enjoyable day, a day during which we drove to the Shangri-La Resort near Mount Ida for lunch. I had a cheese burger with jalapeños. My favorite wife had chicken fried steak. My sister-in-law has a burger. Each of us had pie: lemon meringue for my wife, blueberry for SIL, and cherry for me. Good pie. Or, as I like to say, “Damn good PAH!” Then we drove to Mount Ida and wandered in a second-hand store and an art gallery. Both were intriguing. And then we drove home.

I’m not entirely sure what got me thinking about George Orwell. Perhaps it was our cheetoh-in-chief and his drunken-Facebook-equivalent speech in Arizona last night. Perhaps it was the thought that we may, at any moment, be involved in nuclear war. Or perhaps it was coincidental. The latter is unlikely.

To ease my troubled mind, I’m drinking wine tonight. I started with a delightful French rosé. Then I switched to New Zealand red. If I had any in the house, I might move on to single malt Scotch or mescal.

I’ve been thinking, seriously, about taking four days off from whatever it is I do and spending those four days, instead, at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs. I need a kick in the rear to get me writing. Solitude and guilt might do it. A .357 magnum pressed to my temple might do the job, too, but I have no energy in pursuing that possibility. Perhaps there’s no cure. Perhaps I’m a wannabe writer who won’t finish anything worth finishing. I do consider myself talented. I write well when I write. My writing no doubt needs improvement, but I’m pretty goddamned good. Except I don’t know how to write real stories. Stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end; stories that make people want to read them. Stories that pry emotions from hard hearts. I think I have it in me, but I can’t for the life of me drag it out. Instead, I seem to be a pretty decent tactician. I do dialogue reasonably well. I can grab the reader from the start with something jarring or stunning. But I peter out along the way in the process of telling the story. The novel I’ve been trying to write is losing interest; or, I should say, I’m losing interest in it. It’s not the challenge I thought it would be. Or, perhaps more realistically, I’m not the writer I thought the subject would bring out in me. Crap. I’m writing self-assessments, as it I were looking for pity. I’m not. I’m looking for something that might convince me I’m actually a writer and not a wanna-be. I think, though, that’s exactly what I am. I am like thousands of others who are decent writers, but not superb writers; they, we, are destined to wish for outcomes that will never happen.

I have said for years that I write for myself. That’s true, but only to a limited extent. But ultimately I write for an audience I do not know. I write for people I hope will be reached by what I write. The odd thing is this: I have no idea who they are. Are they aging geezers like me? Teenagers enmeshed in hormonic guilt? Who? I don’t know. Maybe the “they” I write for don’t exist. Maybe the “I” I write for doesn’t exist.

When I get into one of these moods, I wish I’d become a merchant marine. The salt water and hard work and endless loneliness would have cured whatever ailed me.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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