Some years ago, when one of my books was about to be published in France, the French acquiring editor telephoned me to get acquainted. It was a kind and friendly gesture on his part, and I truly enjoyed our conversation.
But he did ask one question that startled me:
“So,” he said. “Will you be moving to New York any time soon?”
Friends, that threw me for a loop. I couldn’t have been more flummoxed if he’d asked me whether I would be scooping out my brains and scrambling them with my breakfast eggs any time soon.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing but admiration for everyone out there who has lived, is living, or will be living in the city that’s variously known as Gotham . . . Metropolis . . . America’s Downtown . . . The Big Apple . . . and Gateway to Hoboken. New York City is amazing in a million different ways, and I’m in awe of the place and all that it contains.
I absolutely understand why it’s an ideal place for a writer to live, if only for a while.
But as for me: I could no sooner live there, even for a month, than I could eat a tractor tire.
As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
I wish I were in New York City tonight, though. Because if I were, I could go to the Tribeca Film Festival to see a documentary film by Fred Barney Taylor entitled THE POLYMATH, OR THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF SAMUEL R. DELANY, GENTLEMAN.
On the off chance that anyone visiting Eat Our Brains wouldn’t already know:
Samuel R. “Chip” Delany, author of THE EINSTEIN INTERSECTION, DHALGREN, NEVERYON, and STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND (among many other novels), is one of the most fascinating human beings to have ever written science fiction – or anything else. He’s an African-American child of New York City, an erudite literary critic, a sharp and shocking creator of short fiction (if you haven’t read “Aye, and Gomorrah . . .” – go read it now), and a prolific genius as a novelist. He’s also had an incredibly full life away from his writing desk, and the word on the Information Highway is that Mr. Delany discusses that life with full candor in THE POLYMATH.
As a student at the University of Kansas, I was privileged to hear Mr. Delany lecture and read from his work while he did a brief stint on campus as Writer in Residence. (This was yet another educational experience for which I can thank Professor James Gunn, who was responsible for bringing Mr. Delany to Lawrence.) And then, years later, I happened to run into Mr. Delany during one of my rare visits to Manhattan . . . while we were both stuck in one of the astonishingly slow-moving elevators in the Flatiron Building.
I didn’t mind. It gave me a few minutes of conversation with one of my heroes. (He may have felt otherwise, but he was so polite and pleasant that I never would have known.)
I can’t think of any author whose life and work have been more different from my own life and work.
And yet I also can’t think of any author from whom I’ve learned more.
But for me, that’s always been the whole point of reading – and of reading science fiction in particular. When I open a book, I want to be smacked upside the brain by something I don’t already know, written by someone who’s seen things I’ve never seen. And who has the guts and skill to show me.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to put down books that are by and about people who are like me.
It’s just that . . . well, hell, I can write those.
So, to summarize: No, I could never live in New York City.
But God, how I love it.
And I love Chip Delany, too.
If someone hears of THE POLYMATH becoming available for viewing on the Web or on DVD, y’all let me know, okay?
And now, here’s a link to a video that’s New York City through and through: