Saturday, August 27, 2011

Eagles I Have Known

My maternal grandfather, Frank S. Smerchek, was an Eagle, a Sokol. Although most sources say “Sokol” means “falcon” rather than Eagle. But we knew him as an eagle. His parents migrated from Moravia, now part of Czechoslovakia, in the 1800s.

 The family belonged to that segment of Czechs known as “Freethinkers” who had revolted against the Catholic Church in Europe. Although many American Czechs were, and still are, devoutly religious, the Freethinkers did not join any organized religious group. The Smercheks were a pleasantly tolerant lot who simply avoided controversy, advocated sound character, and strived for moral principles.

Sokol was a fraternal organization that embraced the Hellenistic ideals of “a sound mind in a sound body.” Some of my cousins remember grandfather’s fantastic gymnastic ability and his mastery of the difficult dance where one does alternating leg kicks while squatting. My mother’s side of the family was one disciplined bunch of people. And they frankly disapproved of people who weren’t. They lived lives of moderation and didn’t think much of slackers and goof-offs.

 I’m haunted by a remark an agent of some renown made about writers years ago. He said that as a group, we were among the most sickly he knew. Neurotics, alcoholics, depressives. Unable to sustain relationships. I didn’t know this agent personally, but he sounds as though he might have had a stomach ache.

 I’ve been in the game for quite awhile. I’ve been to a lot of conferences and know a lot of writers from about every genre. Truth is, I think writers are happier and healthier than most people. We have more control over our lives. That might sound crazy, but it’s true. We can’t control whether or not we get published. We can’t control where we get published, or coax people to buy our books in a down economy. But we can control whether we write or not. And what we write.

Most writers are eagles. Not because we soar, but because of our dedication to The Work. In fact, most writers are compulsively self-disciplined. We feel guilty if we don’t “get our writing done.” Lady Guilt is a vicious mistress. That can’t be good for us. So I’ll score one for the agent on that. As for nursing neurosis--in today’s mystery marketplace, there’s little room for too much carrying on. Agents and editors can easily replace prima donnas.

 One of the unexpected bonuses from writing is the development of first class resilience. The real kind—not the pumped up positive thinking that’s sort of desperate.  I’m always stunned to find a writer whose career have taken a nose dive still hanging in there, year after year, and then ka-boom. It’s their time again.

The agent may have been right about sickly. It’s all too easy for writers to slither into poor eating habits and neglect physical exercise. Some days I forget to eat, or break away from the computer, or go outside, or get enough sleep. I might go blind if I read any more microfilm for my academic book.

Yesterday I went on a hike with friends. A long one. It was good for me. Good for my body, and good for my writing.

Some days I remember my grandfather’s motto--“A sound mind in a sound body.”  


Mike said...

Good post, Charlotte. We're eagles who exercise our wings.

Mike Befeler

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hi Mike--I think all writers are Freethinkers. Although Lethal Lineage draws on my background as an Episcopalian.