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the diary thing 
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05.31.00
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 teeth
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I'M ANXIOUS AND AGITATED and nervous. I'm off to Spain in four days and I have so much to do before I leave. I'm trying to finish two features, print a job for Sony Style magazine, try and find out what's happening with my undertakers piece, and deal with two sick cats. All I really want to do is make applesauce and bake banana muffins. 

Two sick cats? That's right -- no sooner did the bad news about little Nato sink in, than we came home to find Keebler walking around with his jaw agape, whining pitifully and drooling buckets. A visit to the vet confirmed what his morbidly bad breath had suggested: tooth decay, advanced. Seven hundred dollars later, he's short five teeth, one of them a major canine. My cat is a snaggletooth. Apart from the five pills we have to shove down his throat three times a day, he's doing fine -- great, in fact. It only underlines Nato's declining state of health that Keebler, with sutures in his mouth and a depth charge of antibiotics in his system, is rolling around on the floor next to my desk, while Nato spends much of the day lying on the bed. 

I'm off to Spain for ten days, and I dearly hope that Kathleen won't have to deal with any sudden emergency -- I'm being euphemistic, you might note -- that befalls Nato. I'd hate for her to have to take care of that on her own. While I'd hate to come home to a dying cat, it might I'd hate even more to deal with K., alone and distraught with the grief of the whole burden of euthenizing the poor thing. Please, God, let it be a few more months, at least.

I'M REALLY PROUD OF K. RIGHT NOW. She recently wrote a piece for the other national daily, about her experiences as a city kid yanked back to the land by her family in the early eighties. She agonized over every word, but was blessed with a sympathetic editor, and they published something she's entirely happy with, as far as I can tell. Her family liked it too -- despite worries that the truth of a difficult time might be a bit uncomfortable -- and she's been getting a great reaction, some suggestions that she turn the story into a book, and one query assuming that the piece was excerpted from a published memoir. 

I can say, without hesitation, one sure thing about journalism: writers, not editors, make readers happy. A good editor is invaluable -- for assigning pieces, cultivating writers, and helping them write the best piece they're capable of producing -- but editors do not make a magazine, newspaper, journal or book really sing with great work. A writer ultimately produces the words on the page; a bland, obvious enough statement, but one that needs repeating over and over again. I've been involved in too many situations where, it seems, editors are unwilling to print anything that hasn't been fed through some kind of averaging process, subject to an exalted style sheet, run through committee, anointed with a perspective other than the writer's, and either mulled down to avoid imagined offence, or re-written to create "controversy" that might not really exist. I recall the hell I went through with the Globe and Mail a few years ago, while silently fuming about the casually negligent process of editing I'm going through right now.

Readers like to see pieces about people, pieces with a story. Since it requires actual effort to go out and find stories in the commonplace of life, editors will rely on publicists to feed them stories, and so celebrity journalism thrives. Too often, it's considered obligatory to approach any story about regular people with a jaundiced, harsh eye; a writer is encouraged to exaggerate conflict, to polarize people like characters in a short story, to cultivate an air of the absurd that might be desirable in fiction, but in the narrow scope of a short article does little more than draw everyone as either a clown or a dupe.

I can't help but think of old Stephen Glass -- just recently graduated from Northwestern Law School, I read today -- and his moment in the sun. Here was an ambitious young writer, probably a whole lot smarter than the editors he was working for, who realized that he didn't stand a chance of making it from the bit pieces at the front of the book to the broad expanses of the feature pages if he didn't provide his editors with a bit of spice. So he made up things, and his career rose with the frequency and outlandishness of his inventions -- it was only the professional jealousy of a fellow writer, bitter at having missed such juicy stories, that exposed Glass' fabrications. In any case, none of his editors seemed to suspect anything, or at least they kept their suspicions well smothered; after all, he was delivering the goods. 

Once caught, the usual handwringing ensued, but the scapegoat was at hand, and punishment meted out. It couldn't have been so awful for Glass -- he's a lawyer now, bound to make more money than he ever would as a journalist. Lucky fellow. He should write a book.


 
"There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other."
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- Samuel Johnson
Life of Johnson

 
More cat woes, and some memories of  high school -- hey, Pete; if you're reading this, tell me I'm not imagining things. Wedding stuff.

TALKING WITH HER MOM about the article over the phone, K. speculated about her life if she'd stayed in the city through her teens. 

"I'd probably have gone to St. Joe's," she said. "I'd have been a good Catholic girl, run track and field..."

I know the world well. I went to St. Mike's, the big Catholic boys' school, and girls from St. Joseph's were at our school all the time; at the dances, in the plays, dating football players and cheerleading. They were considered a bit sportier, and a bit less sexy, than the girls from Loretto Abbey, the other private Catholic girls' school that supplied us with a break from the spartan regimen. The St. Joe's girls could be a bit snobby, we thought, but not as snobby as girls from Bishop Strachan, the big-deal society WASP girls' school just a few blocks away, by our arch-enemy, Upper Canada College. In any case it didn't matter much to me; I was a dating disaster in high school, and as a prominent figure in St. Mike's freak scene, pretty much under social quarantine until college. (Nothing much changed there, either.) A good Catholic girl was socially mobile, a bit of a tease, vaguely saving herself for marriage, or until a better offer came along. They married early, and my friends who actually dated them suffered from terminal blue balls. 

"...I'd probably have married some guy from St. Mike's," K. chuckled to her mom on the phone. Then she stopped short.

"Oh my god."

PREPARATIONS FOR THE WEDDING are just getting underway, and we have a rough date, in any case -- the end of September, 2001. We're talking to a Spanish restaurant about catering the meal, and will be visiting the Boulevard Club, just down by the lakeshore, next to the Palais Royale, when I get back. (They have a dance floor overlooking the lake, but might be a bit on the expensive side for us.) An old curling club over by the park was an option for a hall, but it seems they really are just a curling club, alas. We've always been fascinated by the building, and the search for a venue seemed a great excuse to get inside.

Working on the undertakers piece, I happened to meet Father Larry, some kind of radical, inner-city Catholic priest. K. had her heart set on a church ceremony when she found out that they'll marry divorced people, but after my decade-plus of church schooling, I was dead set against dealing with priests. Larry, on the other hand, seems like a but above, and his apparently fractious relationship with the local diocese is something to reccomend him. I'll give him a call when I get back.

No white wedding; no tuxes; no fancy flower arrangements; no wedding cake. I can't stand wedding cake -- inedible stuff, most of the time. No ushers or bridesmaids; no speeches or formal MC. My friends Jane and Larry have offered to do music, and I've been thinking about a DJ -- a real DJ, like my friend Nav, who spins at techno clubs. K.'s going to get a suit tailored, and so am I -- any excuse for a new bespoke suit. There will be a stag, however. 

It's almost a year-and-a-half away, but it seems we have so much to nail down now, in terms of bookings and arrangements. I suppose Father Larry will insist on some sort of interviews -- the Church is big on marriage courses and rap sessions these days. The guest list is around sixty people, at the moment. I don't know how we're going to pay for it all. I suppose that's another reason for the delay. Every now and then, some subversive friend mutters those tempting words to me: "Elope. Elope."

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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