Thursday, 02 August 2012
Ave Atque Vale, Gore Vidal
For me, the unbearable thing about getting old is being forced to live on without the friends who are wretched enough to leave me behind when they go. One of them did that this week when, on Tuesday evening, Gore Vidal died at age 86.
Vidal was my friend, beginning when I was a teenager, for more than half a century. Oh, we never met but for me, it was an intensely personal relationship. Having once discovered his writing, I became his student, admirer, devotee – even at so young an age – and from then on, he published nothing I did not buy or, from magazines, did not save in an ever-increasing number of files and binders.
Part of it was, I think, that unlike so many grownups in my childhood world, Vidal did not leave me to guess what he meant – even when his meanings were several. He always wrote with exquisite clarity.
I never had a mentor. No employer took an interest, nor any teacher. Beyond whatever was prescribed by authorities year after year in the public school curriculum, there was nothing and no one to direct my education or encourage my curiosity. I was on my own except for the accident of finding Gore Vidal when I was 15 or 16.
Hundreds of times over our years together, he reassured me when the culture and, sometimes, individuals slighted or dismissed me. Two instances off the top of my head: college, which neither of us attended, is unnecessary and can be detrimental to the development of certain minds; and I was/am not nuts to think that Timothy McVeigh had a point - however poorly he expressed it - about government hypocrisy.
Vidal taught me early in life to watch for two great evils of humankind, particularly among those in high places - hypocrisy and dishonesty, and nothing in our politics and business has happened to change that.
There is no way to know how much of who I am, what I believe and what believe in I owe to Gore Vidal. Certainly more than to any other single person. He pointed my way to ideas, history, politics and literature I would never have known without him and he did that with brilliance of thought, with grace, wit and passion I cannot hope ever to match.
I also liked his bitchiness - it made me laugh - and his obvious need for public adoration. Those two things kept him human for me because although I've never been much for heroes or hero-worship, I always kind of wished I could grow up to be just like Gore Vidal.
Vidal fed my mind and my soul. He made me better than I am by requiring me to stretch intellectually to keep up with him. Only one other person has done that, another writer though not as famous as Vidal who, fortunately, is still with us. No one has influenced my life more.
I am bereft. Ave Atque Vale, Gore Vidal.
At The Elder storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Do Not Use the Elevators