Saturday, January 12, 2013
Remember Bruce Jay Friedman?
He's still alive, Bruce Jay Friedman, b. 1930. I was reading a collection of interviews with various writers today--and there he was. I'd pretty much forgotten all about him. Yet, there was a time when I read everything he wrote. Novels, plays, stories, essays. He wrote movies, too, and his short story "A Change of Plan" has twice been filmed as The Heartbreak Kid. He wrote the screenplays for Splash and Stir Crazy and Doctor Detroit. He was/is very, very funny.
I just went to the F section on my shelf (not on my transcript) to see what Friedman lingers. And there I found his novels Stern (his first, 1962), The Dick (about a detective--keep your naughty thoughts to yourself, 1970), About Harry Towns (1974). In this last, I've done some pencil-underlining and annotating, which I'll have to erase if/when I sell it. I've underlined this, early in the book:
... he loved tiny, intricately made gadgets; he had a vision of filling up a warm, comfortable apartment with them, living in it, and spending most of his time turning them on and off. You couldn't do that to people, but you could do it to gadgets. And they didn't go wrong, the way people did. If a gadget malfunctioned, you threw it away and got another one (14).
And then ... I stopped reading it. And he sort of vanished from the cultural radar, too. I would guess most younger readers have never heard of him. I have no memory of my reason(s) for my abandonment of him. I probably just moved on to other heroes. So it goes.
In the interview I read, Friedman remained funny--"It's a miracle anybody my age is sitting here," he says. He talks a bit about writing, saying he does not begin a short story until he knows the final line--and jokes that he begins each day trying to figure out how to "put off writing as long as possible."
But the line that got me was this one: "I'm really impressed by how little I know." This from a man in his eighties, a man who has spent his life reading and writing. But it's the kind of thing I hear writers and readers say all the time. I've found that people who study the most are often the people who will most readily admit how ignorant they are.
During the time when I was researching and writing biographies of Jack London, Mary Shelley, Edgar Poe, and Shakespeare (forget his first name), I was astonished how each source I found would send me off to a dozen or more others that I didn't even know existed. And each of those would propel me in myriads of other directions. It's virtually never ending. And all a biographer or historian or memoirist can do at some point is just stop; continuing means madness.
It takes a bracing mixture of humility and self-confidence to admit how little you know. It's a mixture that's especially rare in our public discourse--when's the last time you saw a Talking Head on TV admit he/she didn't know something? They're all so ... positive they are right. Bullheaded is the fancy word for it. Arrogant is another. Frightened is another. (What will people think if I admit I'm uncertain? Or that I've been wrong?)
I learned many things from Friedman, back in the day. It's time to learn some more. I just checked on Amazon and discovered he has a recent memoir (Lucky Bruce) and a collection of stories and a novella (Three Balconies). Learning that made me feel ignorant all over again. And happily so.
So I ordered them.