We all have things that we learn late, sometimes too late to rectify.
For example, Babette, when you had the very first baby in our crowd, I should have sent a gift. At the least, I should have called you. Having that child was the most important moment in your life, and I didn’t even know to rejoice. Ten years later I finally understood, when I had my own first child.
I thought about this and other mistakes after a conversation with Dick Linford, author of “Halfway to Halfway,” a book of river stories, whose experience with self-publishing I wrote about last week.
I didn’t mention in last week’s column that Dick is 70 years old. Although not unheard of, that’s pretty old for producing a first book, self-published or otherwise. Why did it take him so long?
His answer not only explains his delay in writing, but also something about making mistakes.
“One of the things I had to overcome was, you know, my dad was a writer. He should never have been a father. He spent a lot of his life trying to get away from us.
“My vision of my father is him sitting, actually like I am, only he sat straighter, with his arms like this, with a cigarette going and a glass of wine next to him, writing on a typewriter. I still remember the clack clack clack of his typewriter. I got the idea it was a very self-centered thing to do.”
Dick had previously mentioned his dad’s alcoholism to me, but not his writing.
I asked, “Did he publish?”
“Oh, yeah. Over 150 short stories. He published in old magazines, dime Westerns, the things that used to exist before television. He was paid by the word. Then he did a novel that made Book of the Month Club. It became a movie starring Kirk Douglas, ‘Man Without a Star’ (1955).
“My dad didn’t lead a successful life. But he was a successful writer. But he couldn’t make a living at it. That’s the other thing I remember, being dirt poor while my dad wrote. So that had an effect, too.”
His dad’s behavior soured Dick on writing for many years, but it also led to other mistakes, things he feels worse about, like how he treated other writers.
Shortly after he married, for example, Dick sniped at his wife while she penned a historical novel. “When Suzie tried to write, I was not at all supportive. I thought it was a very self-indulgent thing to do. I didn’t respect the process. I’ve finally gotten over that and I’m really encouraging Suzie to write.”
Dick came around to respecting other friends who wrote, but he still didn’t give them enough praise and credit, he says, a mistake that continued until the day his own book was published.
“Two members of my writing group self-published books, and I remember I didn’t give them the enthusiasm I should have for what they did. I feel bad about that. If they were to hand me another book, I’d make a bigger fuss over it.”
I do fuss over people who write books (I even write columns about them) but I make mistakes of a similar nature, mistakes I call “failure to be kind.”
I don’t “get it” about a fact of someone else’s life — until it happens to me. Then I feel regret.
Daniel, when you played your trombone solos in high school in front of crowds, I was a proud mom but I had no idea how hard it is to put two notes together when you’re nervous. My recent guitar lessons, where I crumble even in front of my teacher, have enlightened me. Ten years too late.
Linda, when you told me in the 1980’s about your commitment ceremony where you wore a wedding dress and joined forever with your lesbian partner, I suppose I mumbled the “right” thing but, in fact, I thought it was a little weird. Now I recognize that you were fantastically brave and way ahead of your time. I honor you for that, but you’re no longer living.
Mom, I should have asked you many more questions about your siblings, a brother and sister, who both died young. Those losses must have shaped your life, but you rarely mentioned them. I should have encouraged you to talk. I never did.
Many of our mistakes only become clear after something similar has touched us — death, for example — decades later. We feel regret. We remedy our errors in any way we can. Dick and I, we write.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org