Monday, March 25, 2013

Writers Gone Wilde

What is (or rather was) Oscar Wilde's take on writing as a career? Don't. Or at least don't unless you've got some other way to pay the bills.

From this story in the (UK) Telegraph

Oscar Wilde believed his success as a writer was due to him never relying on the craft as a source of income, a previously unseen letter by the author has revealed. The document, along with the poet and playwright's first draft of his famous sonnet The New Remorse, was found in a dusty box in the back of a wardrobe.The 13-page letter is undated but is assumed to have been written around 1890, just as Wilde was becoming one of London's most popular playwrights. It is a deep and insightful letter of reply to a would-be writer seeking tips on how to be successful. Wilde told him not to rely on earning a living from writing, adding: "The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer. "Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you." 

Interesting. When your job consists mostly of creativity on demand for others (which, it can be argued, isn't really creativity at all but merely cynical and calculating cleverness) then your personal creativity, creativity for creativity's sake, often suffers as a result. The muse is a high-maintenance bitch, and she does not appreciate being pressured by the mundane necessities of, you know, bills and life and stuff. Ask for too many favors, and she'll just shut right the hell down.

I've had this exact conversation with other struggling and semi-unhappy full-time writers. The conundrum is this: If you find that what you must write for pay is consuming all your energies, and causing (by dint of its almost universal low pay) near-constant financial stress and worry, which in turn negatively affects your personal creative desires and goals, is it better to grimly stick with it and hope inspiration (and/or luck and opportunity) hits? Or should you just swallow your pride, give up freelancing and go find a day job; one that may not have the cachet of "writer" attached to it, but one that A. pays bills and B. will once again allow you sit in front of a blank piece of paper (or a keyboard) with a sense of joy rather than dread?

Wilde obviously thinks the latter, and that writing for money rather than art will ultimately deaden and corrupt one's soul. Whether Wilde meant that from a purely artistic or purely practical and financial standpoint, I don't know, but I do know that I sometimes feel like that picture of Dorian Gray looks, especially when bills are due...
That's why I've always said that I'm just one winning lottery ticket away from finally writing stuff I can be proud of. Until then, I suppose I'll, per this earlier blog post, continue writing stuff I can cash. Hopefully, one of these days, those two points will intersect and I can prove old Oscar wrong...   

Thursday, March 14, 2013

From Boom Town to Ghost Town

Getting to be that time of year. I haven't actually physically observed lesser prairie chickens booming on a lek in a few years, due to losing my main private land viewing area, as well as the depressing fact that there aren't a helluva lot of them, if any, left to observe on public land. Still, I think I might go out early next week and see if I can find a lek I can watch through the binoculars. I have a few double secret spots where there might be one hanging on. I hope so. It's something I - or anyone else for that matter - may not be able to do for very much longer.

I don't know what's going to happen with the LPC, no one does, of course. I want to be optimistic. I want them to thrive, to hang on in the teeth of everything that's lined up against them. I also want to win the lottery and keep my hair. I'd say the chickens have only a marginally better chance for survival than I do for sudden wealth and a perpetually thick mop. I hope I'm wrong, about the chickens and my hair. They will never recover to anywhere near their historic or even late Seventies-era population and range levels. I will never again hear or see a chicken booming on the lek that used to occupy a sparse, windswept patch of high ground on my wife's family homestead. I saw my first real, live prairie chicken on that spot back in 1995. It was also the last prairie chicken I ever saw in that area. The next year all I heard were fading echoes as the birds just melted away like an outgoing tide.

Lessers are, of course, recreationally extinct everywhere except SW Kansas, and depending on what happens with the pending ESA status decision by USF&W, even that is in serious question. I've been meaning to get up to Kansas and hunt lessers just once, in some doomed "Last Buffalo Hunt" sort of way. I may not ever get that chance. We'll see next fall.

In the meantime, I will merely watch, fascinated and haunted as always, but without being able to shake the feeling that what I observe is epilogue.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Boone's Lair

I don't want to brag or anything, but yeah, Boone and I are pretty tight. OK, so maybe not, but I did have the chance recently to interview T. Boone Pickens at his unbelievably awesome Mesa Vista ranch, which is a mere hundred miles or so due west of where I live and hunt, but light-years away in terms of quail habitat.

It was a really interesting assignment, and if so inclined (as always, I urge you to be so inclined) you can read the whole story in the current issue of Covey Rise magazine, which thankfully went to press just in time for the Covey Rise guys to send some issues to Dallas for the Quail Coalition's Park Cities chapter banquet and auction last week, where the man himself was holding court and signing copies. I half-jokingly asked them to save me a signed copy, and I'll be damned if one didn't show up in the mail today. Thanks, guys.

As for the ranch itself, well, what can you say? Pickens is and always has been an obsessive quail hunter, and as physical manifestations of obsessions go, this one is a doozy: 68,000 acres of lovingly restored southern plains prairie where virtually every management decision is made with the goal of increasing native habitat for wild quail. It's basically a 100-square-mile time machine, a snapshot of what the southern plains may have looked like before agriculture inevitably and irrevocably changed the region into what it is today.

It is a starkly, staggeringly beautiful place, if you're into prairie. Which of course I am. I feel fortunate to have gotten a chance to see it, if for nothing else than the opportunity to scout out how I can sneak back onto the place this fall. I mean, come on, it's a hundred square miles. They can't keep an eye on all of it at once, right? 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Here's Hoping For Next Fall...

 Another hunting season is in the books, and actually has been for a while, I've just been too lazy to post anything about it. You already know about the ducks (there weren't any), but quail season, while still very grim, wasn't quite as grim as last year, which was very grim, indeed. As long as I was willing to walk like hell, I could usually find at least a covey or so most times I went out, and in fact averaged about 1.7 coveys per outing over the course of the entire season. 

Just let that sink in. 1.7 coveys per outing, and I'm calling that a good year? Hell, yes. Last year I shot three wild, public-land Oklahoma birds, total. So yeah, I'll take 1.7 coveys over that any day. But I cannot stress enough how many death marches I had to endure to get to that average. And as an aside, I generally refrained from hunting up singles unless the covey was large enough to sustain me shooting (or rather shooting at) any more birds than what I managed to scratch down on the covey rise (usually none to one...). I didn't see many coveys this year that met that definition. 

 The fact is, there simply weren't many birds around this year. All my hopes are now riding on a wet spring and a mild summer. Get that, and next season is looking better, if not anywhere remotely near "good." Don't get that, and instead get another late spring and summer like last year, and I start looking toward Montana...

As for the dogs, Ozzy's puppy season ended much better than it began. At 14 months old, he's much more confident and bold than he was back in September. Overall I'm very pleased with him. His personality is awesome, he's got a good nose, his range is settling in to where I want it, his stamina is impressive and he's developed a toughness, both mental and physical, that I quite honestly didn't see (or more likely wasn't smart enough to see) early on. I just need to keep getting him into birds and keep developing that confidence. I think he's going to be a good one. This season was his, for lack of a better term, Hippie training. I didn't put any pressure on him, I just let him run and basically do whatever he felt like doing. Hippie training is now over, and between now and next fall the focus will be on turning him into a polished gem. Or at least a shiny piece of quartz.

Jenny, too, continued to get better as the season progressed. Which is good, because poor Jenny, who turns three next month, just had the bad luck to come along at a time when quail hunting in Oklahoma is about as bad as it can possibly be. Not counting her puppy year, this was her second full hunting season, and at three she should by all rights be developing into a seasoned veteran. She's just not there yet, but if I can keep her away from the damn porcupines, I think she'll get there.  Both of them are going to be seeing a helluva lot of pigeons and field work this spring and summer.

A few pics from one of the last few hunts of the season...

Ever have one of those days when the dogs just didn't want to look good? Both Jenny and Ozzy usually have fairly high tails (Ozzy actually pulls his a bit), but for whatever reason this was just a lackluster day, style-wise. There were quail there, but those points are not going to win any style awards. Granted, they were both pretty much worn-out at that point, and Jenny had just been corrected, twice, for porky points, so I know she was sulking some. This was one of two coveys we found all day, this one thirty minutes before shooting time ended.  I missed both birds on the covey rise, then hunted a few singles just to try to get some pics. Yeah, I missed them, too. Ever try to shoot a gun and a camera at the same time? Never works...

Lunch, which consisted of an apple, some colby-jack cheese, peanuts, ham and a few mugs of lapsang souchong, the Laphroaig of teas...

Ozzy at the end of the hunt, after logging, according to the Alpha, a 26-mile day. The kid was tired. So was I. Jenny had already hopped into the truck, done.

All in all, I can't complain. This season was frustrating, yes, but it was also something to build on, and for that I'm thankful. I'm keeping my fingers crossed and looking forward to next fall.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Hate February Because...

After an abby-normally dry and warm winter, I was just starting to get excited about this...

and this...

And even this...

And what I got over the course of this schizophrenic month, which started out with sunny skies, spring-like temps and almost zero winter precipitation up to that point, was well over thirty inches of this...

I know we desperately needed the moisture, but it doesn't make it suck any less. Is it too much to ask for a little balance to the winter experience? Where the hell was all this snow back in November and December and January, when the dogs and I were pouring sweat and sucking dust? The only potential silver lining is that it will help jump-start the spring green-up, which in turn will certainly help out nesting quail, provided any survived...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

And Speaking of Spam...

 After a long week spent digging out from the Great Snowpocalypse of 2013, my wife and I desperately needed a break and a laugh, so this weekend we made a road trip see the touring production of Monty Python's "Spamalot."

Sitting in the theater and watching the audience file in, we calculated that it was about a 60/40 split between fellow hard-core Python fans (of all ages, even youngsters, I was delighted to see) and clueless season-ticket holders who had no idea what they were about to watch.

This was confirmed when the very nice elderly couple who sat down next to us starting thumbing through their programs, the first page of which is comprised largely of the same faux-pidgin Swedish as the opening credits in "The Holy Grail." The rest of the printed program was equally nonsensical and irreverent, and utterly befuddling to someone not familiar with the Python sensibility, or lack thereof. 

A few confused minutes later, the husband leaned over to my wife and asked (and I'm not making this up) "Is this play really about Spam?"

It was a long evening for that poor couple.

We, on the other hand, had a ball. If you're a Python fan and you haven't yet seen "Spamalot" I would highly recommend it.