Strictly stylistically speaking, sometimes I feel like a 44-D stuck in a worldful of Twiggies.
Well! I feel better already and am prepared to tackle the subject on all of our minds. That's right--don't turn your backs on me--I mean our purple lobsters. And what the hell we are to do with them in a world in revolt against purple.
Let's begin at the beginning, eh? We need to blame someone and might as well start with good old Hemingway,
"Since the good old days when Charles Baudelaire led a purple lobster on a leash through the ...Latin Quarter, there has not been much good poetry written in cafes. Even then I suspect that Baudelaire parked the lobster with the concierge down on the first floor, put the chloroform bottle corked on the washstand and sweated and carved at the Fleurs du Mal alone with his ideas and his paper as all artists have worked before and since."
In his 1922 article, Hemingway had at the new American Bohemians in Paris--"the scum of Greenwich Village..skimmed off and deposited in...the Cafe Rotunde." Hemingway denounced the lot of these poseurs and wannabes, concluding: "They are nearly all loafers...talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition."
Some truth there, worth remembering. But:
1) Hemingway had the wrong writer--and maybe the wrong-color lobster. The poet Apollinaire wrote of the Gerard de Nerval in 1911:
"With all due respect for cats, however, let us consider the case for the humble lobster. The poet Gérard de Nerval had a penchant for lobsters, or at least for one lobster. Nerval was seen one day taking his pet lobster for a walk in the gardens of the Palais-Royal in Paris. He conducted his crustacean about at the end of a long blue ribbon. As word of this feat of eccentricity spread, Nerval was challenged to explain himself. “And what,” he said, “could be quite so ridiculous as making a dog, a cat, a gazelle, a lion or any other beast follow one about. I have affection for lobsters. They are tranquil, serious and they know the secrets of the sea."
Note: there's no mention here of a purple lobster. Nor did my research uncover any poet with even a pink one.
2) Solitude is wonderful. But let's not throw the lobster out with the baby's bath water. If Hemingway was the first to add the color purple, he did so to ridicule both the color and crustacean. And if, in fact, he wasn't first? I say blame him anyway. Would you expect any nobler motive from a lion-hunting, swaggering drunk who mocked poor coffee drinkers--or a brawler who'd had his butt whipped by a quiet Canadian writer, Morley Callaghan?
It could be argued that H spent his life living down the disgrace of that match...and that he spent his career bludgeoning those who dug the color purple--and had the muscle to work it the way it should be worked.
Let us consecrate today as
Purple Lobster Day.
In the new publishing landscape, more than ever the pressure is on us to:
--'murder our darlings'...
--avoid fine writing...
--slaughter adverbs and adjectives wholesale...
--fire a shot or throw a punch in the first five pages...
--avoid flashbacks, dreams and imagery.
Soon any moron with a box of crayons will be able to scribble a sellable work.
But each year, on Purple Lobster Day, let us be permitted to ponder if the color purple has its place, at least here and there, in our work. Let's remember Oscar Wilde, the daring wit who turned his life into a purple lobster, one that he walked with defiance and pride:
Today let us wonder if those who insist that we murder our darlings have none fit to kill. Today say No to Papa's tribe of Skinnies protesting the more Partonesque.
Happy Purple Lobster Day! Give the tail of your own pet a good loving tug and don't let that big bully, Papa, scare you from giving your voice its full range. At the same time try to show an outrageous free spirit all day. Your purple lobster will thank you.
In closing: my favorite writer, Ovid, may have been the world's first poet to stretch his purple lobster's tail. A charming tale recounts how a few of his critics composed a list of the three lines in all his works that they most wished he'd drop. Without knowing what they'd written, he drew up a list of his own: the three lines he loved best of all. The two lists proved identical.
That's the spirit--you go, O!