Thursday, August 13, 2009

Life in Letters : Series of Escapes

Thomas Lanier Williams.
127. To Molly Day Thacher

Dear Molly Day Thacher:

I am back in St. Louis, writing furiously with seven wildcats under my skin, as I realize that completing this new play is my only apparent avenue of escape. My method of writing is terrifically wasteful. I have already written enough dialogue for two full-length plays, some of the best of which will have to be eliminated because it flies off on some inessential tangent. I wish to Christ I could write under some one's direction. That I could get back to New York. I have completed a first draft and part of a second but this process of weeding out is going to be terrific. For an intelligent writer this would not be much of a problem but I must admit I am not. My attack is purely emotional: under good direction could prove very effective but without it is in danger of spending itself in a lot of useless explosions.

However I think the play will work itself out. Because of the almost insane violence of my present attitude (loathing of St. Louis and humiliating dependence) I have to write everything over to tone it down, to eliminate the lunatic note, but eventually, perhaps in a month or two, the final product should emerge as something worth while and the author will then depart for one of three places, New York, the bone-orchard or the state sanitarium.

Of course all of this is a pathetically obvious play for sympathy. I am hoping that you will be moved to do whatever is possible to procure the fellowship for me. My whole life has been a series of escapes, physical or psychological, more miraculous than any of Houdini's but I do at the present moment seem to be hanging by that one threat: obtaining a fellowship and/or producing a successful play. Short as it was, I came away from our last interview with a good many new ideas. I still write with all my old faults but at least I am now aware of them and capable, I think, of using more self-control.

With all the suitable apologies and thanks,

Sincerely, Tenn. Williams
[42 Aberdeen Place
Clayton, Missouri]
[ca. late-October 19319]
[TLS, 1 p. HRC]

- The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams, Volume I: 1920 - 1945
In my world, there is nothing scientific about bookstore browsing. It is an escape from the outside world, a conspiracy of the fates, willing you through this corridor and down that aisle where you inevitably find that title you never knew you needed. At bibliophilic Eden Bart's Books in Ojai, CA, that down-the-rabbit-hole excitement is particularly present as you troll for tomes beneath a 420 year-old oak. The largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the country, Bart's is a haven for hunters, flea market finders and the generally curious. I was delighted to discover that one nook gave way to another and another until I'd found myself at the end of a most pleasant maze and stumbled upon the first volume in Mr. Williams' generous collection of personal correspondence.

His life unfolds in his letters and reveals him to be flawed, introspective, self-absorbed and undeniably brilliant - as finely drawn as one of the characters in his beloved plays. The insecurities that pecked at his artist's soul endear him to the reader. After all, if this gifted playwright doubted his prowess, certainly there's hope yet for the rest of us! With all the drama and genius of Blanche DuBois or Maggie "The Cat", his story draws you in, lulling you, Houdini-like, into a pleasant leave of absence from reality.

Tennessee Williams likely never realized that the discovery of his letters would provide a reader with the blissfully engrossed escape he himself sought all those years ago.