Sunday, January 29, 2012

Perkins Cove —

In the weeks during which I put off launching this blog I was going to call it "Down and out in Southern Maine," to reflect the direction in which the prospects of Mainers striving to make a living are headed.

On the other hand, I'm not broke, jobless, or facing grim prospects, other than for promotion. So I am calling it "Living it up in Southern Maine" instead.

I started writing a long time ago and arrived in 1982, when the York Weekly began publishing my column "Hard Times," and paying me $10 for it. In 1987 I quit commercial fishing and went to work as a reporter for the York County Coast Star in Kennebunk. For the next 23 years I made my living as a writer or editor. As 2010 drew to a close I became a full-time publisher. Since then I have written shopping lists and emails. They are useful but not what most writers aspire to create.

When you're in your 20s you can sit at the bar and hold yourself out as a writer, never having published a word — in some cases never having written one.

"I'm writing a novel about fishing."

"How interesting. How are you coming?"

"Right now I'm roughing out the characters."


"Oh yes. We do this so that as the book unfolds, everything they do will be true to who they are."

"Wow! I didn't know that writers did that."

"The good ones do. I could not conceive of putting pen to paper without knowing my characters like I know the members of my family."

"That is interesting."

"Yes; it's the essence of great writing: striving for truth when it would be so easy to capitulate and churn out rubbish. Now if you'll excuse me. Bartender!"

Indeed, when you are in your twenties you can sell this BS to other dopes in their twenties, especially dopes with degrees in English, but over time a lack of published material, even rubbish, will give you away.

The same holds for a fisherman. In my day we joked that all a fisherman needed was a pickup truck and a wife who worked, but deep down inside we knew that sooner or later we needed to unload some fish, if only to justify our extended absences from home.

Until the waning years of the 20th century a fisherman tended to prosper in proportion to his appetite for work. Luck played its part, but money in the bank tended to correlate with time on the water. Today the federal government is deeply involved in fishery management, for better or worse. Depending on the fishery, fishermen are allocated or acquire a quota of fish to catch at their leisure. And leisure it often is, given the allocations.

Of course, there is no quota system for writers. Fishermen lament that "You can't catch them twice," but the writer's resource is bottomless. Writers use words over and over and arrange them in endless ways. If there were any justice in this world, it would be the other way around. Writers would be allotted a finite number of words with which to fashion ideas and fishermen would have an endless supply of fish that they could catch over and over again. This arrangement wouldn't do much for the price of fish, of course, but there would be a lot less bloviating going on.

Ten years after I left fishing to become a reporter I went to work for National Fisherman. This intersection of career paths, which my mother might have foreseen, was unimagined by me, but it is, a decade and a half later, the vantage from which I have entered the world of bloggers.