PUBLISH OR PERISH!
July 30, 2008 by admin
Luckily, I’m not a university professor so I’m not in danger of losing my job if I don’t get a book, or a paper, published. What a pressure that must be for people who really just want to teach. But, I am a frustrated writer. It’s my own fault, however, because I’ve never seriously taken the bull by the horns and tried to get any of my prolific output into the public’s hands. I like to think that this was because of modesty but it could have been laziness. Always, that field seemed to be so far out of reach. It was so “New Yorkish” and I truly think, that in those days, the professional agents and publishers really did have a tight control over determining who broke into the writing market. So, for years, I wrote, wrote, wrote, and dreamed big dreams but never took it to the next level. Two worthy projects are good examples of this:
“OPENED LETTERS, OPENED LIVES” – I probably put thirty years, off and on, into the work of capturing the love story of my great-grandparents; which my mother initiated in the 1970’s by digging into a pile of inherited correspondence between her Bermudian grandparents, Henry and Louisa Hollis. He was a tall ship captain and she stayed home in Bailey’s Bay, Bermuda, to raise their seven children. Beginning in courtship, fragile cross-written letters flew between them, detailing his life at sea and her news from home; covering the era of sail, between 1863 and 1890. Mother tackled the difficult matter of “translating” each letter, by handwriting it into a readable form. The original letters looked like a plaid pattern and not at all decipherable without careful scrutiny. To save on postage, writers of that day layered their material, laying down a feathery, flourishing script normally on all the pages; then turning the sheets and writing crosswise. If they had more to say, there would be a third, triangular, layer over the other two. Eye-boggling, but possible to make out with careful attention.
Before the age of home computers, I typed up this massive story, using the seven hundred letters arranged in chronological order. Single-spaced, they fill eight, three-inch notebooks. It became the most definitive Bermuda history record of that period, as seen by those who lived it. In 1993, Mother and I, in the name of all of the Hollis descendents, donated the entire original letter collection, plus photos and mementos, to the Bermuda Archives in Hamilton, Bermuda, and left a copy of the huge typed translation, which is now available for reading on the premises by anyone who visits the Archives.
During my trip to present the letters, I made three public lectures about the lives of the Bermudians whom I had grown to know so well: the contemporaries of Henry and Louisa. Their descendents packed the halls to learn of them. Publishing rights are now in the hands of the Bermuda Maritime Museum, but I do not believe anyone has yet boiled down this massive work into book form. The dream of doing it sustained me for many years and my work on the project has definitely crafted the writer that I am today.
The value of leaving a written record behind for new generations was its strongest lesson.