by Matt Waller
After taking a long break from writing on this site, I read a book that made me want to write again. The book, A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley, is about a drifter, booze-loving sports fan who spends a lot of time drinking and thinking about writing, but not much time actually writing. Like Exley’s narrator, I’ve been spending a lot of time drinking and thinking about writing, but not much time—well, none at all—actually writing.
The book’s overall merits are certainly debatable (see Walter Kirn’s analysis of Exley and the book, “Sad Sack Superman,” for a good critique with which I mostly agree), but that’s not the point of this piece. What struck me were Exley’s sharp insights into the life of bar denizens and the state of mind that bar life’s accompanying excess and idleness can engender. The attitude that I noticed and couldn’t help recognizing in myself is the detachment and the smug satisfaction that comes with doing a lot of thinking without doing much… doing.
Reminiscing on his early life, Exley’s narrator remembers being in a bar called Louis’ where “the vibrant, incessant hum of its conversations seem[ed] to whisper of plays, paintings, and novels just short of being realized,” before continuing, “I wonder now if I ever gave thought to how these things were to be accomplished drinking beer in Louis’.”
Obviously, the bars I’ve been frequenting aren’t the bars of Greenwich Village in the 1950s, and there hasn’t been much talk of writing the next great novel or slapping a masterpiece down on canvas. But still, the air was often humming with whispers of business ideas, writing ideas, travel ideas. It didn’t hit me until reading Exley, though, that those ideas wouldn’t be accomplished drinking beer in dive bars. I’ll still be spending my fair share of time in these places, and I do think that experience has its merits, but I think that after an extended break, it’s time to spend a little more time, to use another of Exley’s phrases, “locked up in a room getting on with the business of life.” Cheers to the return of the Commutes and to getting on with the business of life.