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A Full Deck


Harry Buschman

Some people find it surprising that someone my age can pull his wits together long enough to write a story. Perhaps it is unusual, but to me it seems the most natural thing in the world -- what I do find surprising is that some people tell me they enjoy reading them -- not many, but some.

Memory, or rather the lack of one, is the problem that keeps people my age from writing coherently. I walk around my town with friends of fifty years standing, and sad to say, not many of us remember the old days with any degree of accuracy. Because I have been fortunate in this regard, I feel somewhat obligated to do what little I can to keep the memory of our town alive.

I've seen a lot I suppose. I was born during WWI, and one of my earliest memories is standing at the curb on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn with my mother and waving an American flag as the local AEF came home. Two world wars -- it seems to me the twentieth century was one war after another. Above all it's the wars that stand out in my memory, they seem to outlast all other recollections. War may well be the thing we do best; Lord knows -- it's the thing we do most!

I am privileged to be able to remember horse drawn trolley cars. I am grateful to remember living in a tenement without heat, hot water or electricity. There were no refrigerators, no radios, no telephones. We never missed them, how could you miss something you never saw or never dreamed of? We lived in a state of unbelievable ignorance. I was a child and it was enough of a miracle for any child to be able to see Charlie Chaplin in "The Gold Rush," and Buster Keaton in "Go West" at the Paradise Theater. They were my formative years, well worth remembering and well worth putting into words -- however humble they may be.

I've been a ravenous reader all my life. It began when my Grandfather, who  worked for The American Book Company, saved galley proofs for me. These were  unbound sections of books as they came off the press for final editing.  Whenever we visited him he would have a half dozen of these proofs tied together with string, waiting for me in a mesh onion sack on the front porch. I had the clandestine pleasure of reading a variety of books, (most of them beyond my understanding) before they were released. I found no competition for their attention at home, no television or radio, no stereo or VCR, so I devoured books blindly, admittedly without relish, like a starving man who eats only for hunger.

I've always wanted to write, but the idea of writing seriously was out of the
question. When you're sending children to college and paying off a mortgage you play the cards you're dealt. The desire was there -- I was an architect, so I wrote about architecture and the techniques of photographing architecture. It was enough to keep the fire burning, but unless that fire is burning out of control there is no real satisfaction in writing.

There is a difference between a fiddler and a violinist. It is a difference as great as the one between someone who writes and a writer. The latter is a person to whom everything else is secondary. Very few people will make such a sacrifice -- so most of them remain fiddlers. Writing is a demanding mistress, and it is a sad fact of life that most writers find it difficult to improve their craft unless they neglect their responsibilities as a husband and a father.

There are very few 'really great' writers. There are a sizable number of 'great' writers, and one hell of a lot of good writers. Although it gets harder every day, I hope to hold a minor place in the latter group. There will be no Nobel, no Pulitzer, the Times Best Seller list will get along fine without me. I can boast only of kind words, short story of the year nominations to the Editors Poll, serving on the staff of three internet literary magazines, and receiving the Zine award for 2001. I can only say that I know I'm a little better today than I was yesterday, and if it so pleases God I hope I may be a little better tomorrow.

Writing today has never been easier, the word processor has made it possible to produce work with almost no effort. Internet search engines do the dreary work of research. Infallible spelling and punctuation programs will guide you every step of the way. In my opinion this simplicity and effortlessness has made the written word somewhat less meaningful. It is not as permanent as it used to be. The work of Cooper and Longfellow leading up through Melville and Twain to Hemingway and Faulkner have a permanency that much of modern literature lacks. Perhaps it's because we don't read as carefully as we used to -- perhaps the word on the monitor is too easily deleted and can disappear even more quickly than it was produced. The word on paper will always mean more to me than the same word on the computer screen.

Or perhaps it's me, the man who used to be the boy who read his grandfather's galley proofs.

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