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a clean, well-lighted place

a_clean__well-lighted_place
Vincent van Gogh: Le Café de Nuit [The Night Café] (1888)
" … I'm seeking immortality …"

Visiting Portland after a long winter and Damned Pandemic-induced absence feels as refreshing as a visit to Paris or Rome. Compared to our home near the center of the universe, it's a major metropolis. Further, due to the efforts of an inept surveyor, Portland's city blocks are tiny when compared with any other American city's, lending a human-scale aspect to the place. Even further, Portland features those exemplars of civilization, clean, well-lighted places for books. Portland's many bookstores encouraged me to pursue my literary leanings, for the very best future I could imagine featured me on one of those well-organized bookshelves in the old Beaver on Hawthorne or the original Powells, or even A Clean, Well-lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. I imagined myself shelved among masters, the E. B. Whites and James Thurbers, the John O'Haras and Eliot Pauls, and so I eventually was, but rather too near the end of the reign of the great American bookstore.

It's been half a generation now since the bookstore first felt the hand of internet commerce.
Amazon was perhaps wise to focus upon disrupting bookstores first, for they were the most civilized and oblivious. Most were not managed more aggressively than a vanity might have been, many losing money but not that much, able to maintain themselves by the tenuous buoyancy of passion and habit. They came and went without very much affecting the net culture of a place. When one shut down, another quickly replaced it. But they were all vulnerable to any predator who might remain indifferent to the irreplaceable cultural presence they represented, anyone able to actually pull off the old adage about selling for a loss but making it up with volume, anyone unscrupulous enough to offer free shipping. Amazon's entry into the market was devastating. I'm informed that most of the sales for my own bestseller came through Amazon, a retailer who deeply discounted my book without even asking, when I suspect that price was beside the point for most who purchased it. Amazon got more from selling it than I ever did.

I cannot describe the feeling I experienced when I first found my title shelved there among the immortals. I felt a tad more immortal myself, though I well-knew that feeling was delusional. Delusions can be useful! I had become no different in practice, but in theory, I had utterly changed. My legacy secured, I would endure, or so I imagined. I found my book in The Library Of Congress' collection, duly stamped and catalogued for the ages. I touched that particular copy with the deepest reverence, and even surreptitiously signed it for those ages, including the inscription I always scribbled whenever signing a copy. "May this elephant emerge whenever you engage." It had, indeed, emerged and I was duly engaged. I was an author. True, an unemployed author at that time, one more in name than in current practice, but there among the immortals, regardless.

Fast forward nearly twenty years and San Francisco's A Clean Well-lighted Place For Books has been closed for fifteen years. Powells remains, though reduced by Damned Pandemic restrictions. The old Beaver on Hawthorne closed forty years ago. I still seek communion in that now almost ghostly company. I want to see more of me in print, for there's really nothing else even a little bit like it. A minor author, on some cobwebby, almost forgotten back shelf seems better positioned than pretty much anyone never published. It's my tribe, my family, a collection of people who, given the chance, probably wouldn't join any collective, all there together, bound by obsession and talent, good fortune and curse.

While I've been sweating details of Authoring, I fear that I've neglected my envisioning. Different from planning, envisioning enables strange attracting powers. One does not attract a future through determined logistics alone, but also by sheer imagining, the less specific, probably the better. One does not conjure up their Thanksgiving dinner by revisiting grandma's stuffing recipe, but by deeply remembering the scent of that supper simmering to completion. That pulls you in! Sensory aspirations help, and seem most powerful as tractor beam attractors. For me, for Authoring, that tractor beam illuminates A Clean, Well-lighted Place, a Night Café, for instance, where I'm pouring over some newly-purchased book, or Powell's on Hawthorne, in the same block as the old Beaver, tidy and inviting, where I'm discovering myself tucked up on a shelf with immortals. Ask me what I'm doing, pouring over manuscripts and mind-numbingly compiling old postings into books, and I should respond that I'm seeking immortality in a clean, well-lighted place for books and authors.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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