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RANT FROM AUGUST 1999
"On Finding One's Niche"
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     The advice that comes to writers, asked and unasked, states
consistently, "Find your niche.  Otherwise you'll be overwhelmed
and lost in the over-abundance of material that floods the desks
of editors."
     I have never liked the image of the niche, that narrow
little indentation in the wall, where I would be confined, like
Saint Whatsisname.  It stirred that old fear and dissatisfaction
with specialization and expertise and experts -- you know,
"someone who knows more and more about less and less and ends up
knowing everything about nothing."
     I haven't wanted to crawl into a niche.  I've been proud of
being a generalist, someone who can see across and even jump
across the barriers that have been built up between compartments,
someone who knows what's going on in more than one cubicle.  
     My study of history, not in the narrow Ph.D. sense, but as
an on-going understanding the broader sweep of things, along with
lots of mythology, has helped preserve this sense of being
something of a generalist.  It also creates a healthy sort of
skepticism.  
     For instance, I do not believe than an airplane the size of
a football field can be made invisible, and I certainly don't
think that the American people should be buying dozens of them at
a price of $2 billion apiece.  My grasp of geopolitics,
economics, pork-barrel budgets and fairy tales like, "The
Emperor's New Clothes," enables me to keep this skepticism alive
and well.  Specialists and experts aren't allowed to be skeptics,
they tell me, except in their narrow field, for fear that they
"lose their objectivity."
     For all that, I keep hearing about the need for a writer to
find his niche.  When I examine my own writing I find a theme
that keeps surfacing -- it's in the published fiction, and in the
unpublished non-fiction.  The theme is aging.  It includes the
fantasy of not aging, of getting older and perhaps wiser, of
preserving a lengthening memory, of gaining a perspective and
catching on to history, of finding the stuff that proverbs and
myths are made of.  Also, having to confront the unavoidable 
necessity of setting ego aside at last results in a new/old sort 
of clarity.  
     Look at the books published already.  The "Duke City
Alchemist" in DUKE CITY TALES is older than he looks.  He's an
adept, who has answered the First Big Question ["What do you
want?"] and has stumbled on power.
     The protagonist in A WORLD FOR THE MEEK survives The Blast,
"survives a very long time," in trance, long enough to be able to
notice erosion and evolution.  The dolphins have inherited the
earth and can communicate with him.  They cannot believe that he
has personal pre-blast memories.
     "Soliloquy with Five Interruptions" appears in THIS'LL KILL
YA AND OTHER DANGEROUS STORIES.  The protagonist is Methuselah on 
his 969th birthday, musing about life and its meaning, while the 
waters of his grandson Noah's Flood continue to rise.
     A theme running through the stories and essays in VERMIN:
HUMANITY AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES deals with the aging of our own 
species and its inevitable mortality.  It seems to be a more
urgent theme for oldtimers -- the young ones are still busy
empire-building and many aren't ready to take up the topic.
     Non-fiction works, not yet published, deal with the same
theme.  MYTH AND MORTALITY: WHAT TO DO WITH EGO deals with what we 
believe about the fact that we die.  FROM FEAR TO LOVE is the
result of an enquiry undertaken in the seventh decade of life:
"Well, Harry, if you no longer believe that, what do you believe, 
and on the basis of what?"  THAT AWKWARD AGE deals with being a
grandparent, never having had a grandparent of my own, but having
seven grandchildren, mostly grown already, which fact verges on
the incredible.
     This could turn into a niche.  I have a growing notebook,
entitled, SECOND HALF JOURNEY -- observations which can't be made
during the first half because they don't come to mind at that
stage.  The strange thing about this niche is that everyone of us
is gradually getting into it.  The only ones who aren't are dead. 
Not everyone is thinking about it much, but I am -- thinking,
observing, listening and writing about it.  
     Letters to the editor of the local alternative newspaper
here in Albuquerque, THE WEEKLY ALIBI, indicated a desire for
some material "of interest to people our age.  Signed:  Elderly
Citizen."  I let the editors know I had some of that material. 
The youngsters who run the paper, mostly twenty-somethings in
age, jumped on it.  So, I'm writing a column that appears every
other week, on average.  I send them one a week and they select. 
I wanted the column to be called, "The Longer Perspective," but
they came up with "The Old Guy."  My editor, Dennis, often refers 
to my stuff as "Harry's good cheer."
     I sense that I am not as angry about our mortality as some
of my companions and acquaintances.  Somehow I'm able to allow
it, this aging.  I'm even finding ways to enjoy it, finding
things I really do like about it.  I find myself not envying the
young at all. 

                            *   *   *

Copyright © 1999 Harry Willson

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