Letting Your Hero Do Their Thing

On this matter of a hero's fall, I recall sitting in the second row of a packed Public Theater screening room one Saturday evening, watching Bukowski being interviewed. At one point, while drunk, he kicked his fiancé several times and kicked her hard. All of a sudden this writer hero of mine was a nasty shit, and I left feeling confused. The author, on camera, had reacted to what he considered a personal affront but hadn’t acted as I imagined he would. He behaved like members of my own family might.

My baseball hero Roger Clemens, five-time Cy Young Award winner, never admitted to taking steroids when the evidence was compelling that he had. I had given a ball with his autograph to my son before the accusations came to light. To my mind, he had stood for persistence and grit and control. He still does.

There are so many of these wayward heroes nowadays that to strike them from the rosters would eliminate, well, just about everybody: there would not be a single hero standing. Only after dispelling belief in the myth of these literal attachments that one can begin one's editing process in earnest, I feel, and view life and one's work for what it is. To consider one’s fallen heroes, as well as their hype, might be important, however, and why one had been drawn to them in the first place.

Malcolm Lowry had been purported to drink his after shave lotion, an extreme demonstration of the indulgent embodiment of a “tortured artist.” Aspiring writers hopefully would not attempt to drink their aftershave, although might strive to write or paint an image at once specific, personal and universal. Interesting is not so much how Lowry’s aftershave must have tasted to him but that he had been a compulsive note taker of all that transpired around him, including his destructive processes. Under the Volcano was a brilliant marathon of a singularly introspective and painful will. Lowry’s work ethic must have transcended his hype long enough to finish the book. It took him ten years to edit apparently. He had help doing it but did it nonetheless, no small feat given how monumental an extraction it represented. Lowry did drink a lot and led a fragmented life in some respects. However, what he produced, as the result of whatever dedicated process, was a book that is felt in its reading and was the thing that drew me.

Pinned to any given archetypal hero are false expectations and belief in their magical ability. The context of one's life is most likely not their context, and one may need to distance oneself. We view a great painting at the museum, not the exactitude; failures and colors spilled in moving toward the finished product. Persistence is their universal attribute and shared by all fallen heroes for the most part with no secret other than sleeves need be rolled up. They all got dirty.

Maya Angelou notes: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”