Sunday, January 30, 2011

Burning the Midnight Oil...

There are few things I like better than writing. It gives me a great sense of accomplishment to look at a screen full of words that I’ve strung together. I also like the fact that writing can give one the greatest excuse to read, to question and to communicate. However, despite the huge amount of time I spend at the keyboard, I’m hesitant to tell people that I am a writer. You see, with few things to show for my work, it seems somehow disingenuous.

Those that know me understand that I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the great and near great. Certainly any member of the British Royal Family and nearly all presidents and first ladies can command my attention for a long period of time. For several years I’ve been working at researching, writing and understanding some of their stories. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, this work has so far amounted to several large boxes of photocopied oral histories, State Dinner menus and guest lists, letters and memos from presidential libraries; kind but unhelpful responses from presidential spouses and their staff members reminding me that the role of first lady is much more than organizing the social side of the White House; endless letters from ladies-in-waiting and private secretaries cordially declining any assistance with my current subject (unless I first become a published author); and several quite extensive outlines and first drafts of what I am convinced will one day be real books. Oddly, I am not completely discouraged, not that I haven’t been over the years.

Perhaps the chief reason for my enduring hope is that there are so many people who have been supportive and encouraging throughout the years. Thankfully, my wife is at the top of that list. I don’t know anyone who is more convinced of my abilities – certainly I am not. And then there are my children. While I see my files of letters from the secretaries of presidents, first ladies, queens and dukes as a long catalogue of closed doors, they are mesmerized by the fact that I’ve even written to these people and someone, anyone, has written back.

Other writers have also been helpful in so many ways, while some have been less encouraging. Perhaps my favorite letters are from two English writers of great age who took the time to respond to my rather naieve queries. Both nonagenarians, Lady Elizabeth Longford (successful biographer of the Queen, the late Queen Mother and Queen Victoria) and Georgina Battiscombe (one of the few to have written a full-scale book about Queen Alexandra of England) wrote witty, friendly and genuinely helpful letters telling me to simply write and keep on writing no matter what. Two other well-known royal biographers were less encouraging. One suggested that, “as an American, there’s no way you could possibly understand our Royal Family.” Another stated that with all of the information currently available about the royals, the only way to make any sort of living at it was to “make things up!” Thankfully, American writers are, on the whole infinitely more helpful and give one at least the hope that there’s success at the end of the tunnel.

Perhaps my greatest problem is a certain lack of focus. Ideas for books and articles flow freely… Entertaining at the White House: 80 Years of Presidential Style from the Roosevelts to the (insert administration in office when I actually finish this book!); Lady Bird Johnson: Unlimited Partner; Royal Sisters: The Lives of Queen Alexandra and the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna; Pillow Talk: Doris Day and Her Early 1960’s Comedies; Life in LA: A Neighborhood by Neighborhood Look at America’s Greatest Megacity; Shiny Brite: An Illustrated Look at the Great Mid-Century Christmas; Kim Novak: The Art of Stardom… The list of titles goes on, and so does my seemingly endless enthusiasm. It’s the finished product that I’m missing.

Of course, there have been one or two successes – a series of articles in a historical journal, a (finished!) manuscript of essays about life with so many children and an illustrated children’s book. I keep assuring myself that, in time, I will finish them all. I’m young (ish) and I won’t be driving carloads of children around forever. In the meantime, I gather, I read, I take notes and, I try, to write every day. And I suppose that’s a little victory in itself. It can be a great challenge to keep up with the every day aspects of life – a family and a job and everything that comes with it – and to get anything else done is just icing on the cake.

No comments:

Post a Comment