I’m declaring amnesty!

You can’t know how happy it has made me to see that stalwarts of the 24-hour news cycle and front runners in the race for an opinion on everything that matters have begun to buckle.

Writers deeply practiced in the wonders of technology are suddenly muttering about their desperately paced lives, as they scramble to keep up, keep current, keep balanced on that knife edge – and no, I’m not going to provide links; you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Providing links, offering a reaction, keeping up, before the spotlight shifts and we’re all on to the next new (frequently dreadful) thing, has just about done me in.

I love this little blog. I love that its very existence brought me back in touch with old friends; with writers I vastly admire, with the best editor I ever had, and with a collection of complete strangers. (Yeah!)  But now I understand why one of my closest friends, whose own blog sustained me for years, said, “I’m SO sorry!” when he heard I’d been given CQF.  It’s a devilish beast to keep fed, let alone readable.

Subjects should be a snap.  But my own klutziness with technology, added to my fervor for gathering everything I want to show you about the subject at hand, has become a bolo around my ankles. More than once.

Do you remember the CQF about Ronald Searle, who died at the age of 91, at the end of December? He was not simply a master cartoonist, he was indeed closer to being Britain’s “blazing graphic talent” (see the Guardian obit below.)

Searle was also the creator of St. Trinian’s and its school girls, true “little monsters, wicked as sin” on the page and in all those films. His instantly recognizable line – shaky, savage, and dangerously insightful — blazed the trail for Ralph Steadman and his ilk. And Searle’s works for the New Yorker for nearly 40 years: cartoons, sketchbooks, covers (and especially cats), rivaled Saul Steinberg’s for their airy complexity.

If you don’t remember that blog it’s because I didn’t write it.  My arms got so full of stuff to attach or to excerpt or to Xerox for you that this compound-complex hero had been dead a good long while before I stopped accumulating. By then I was too embarrassed to drag in with a very cold postscript.

I had started here, with this startling obit:


Whoa! Who knew about Searle’s six years in a Japanese prison camp, with that forced march to work on the death railway in what was then Siam? Probably toute Britain, but not I.  How does one come back from that; does that experience bleed through into one’s work and one’s take on life?  How could it not?  His life, beginning to end, took on a deeper fascination.

I found this insightful career summation, written when he was still alive:


By now, I had his prison sketchbook To the Kwai – and Back; War Drawings 1939-1945, and was Xeroxing drawings for CQF (and fretting about copyright if I reproduced one or two.) And I was close to ossifying friends with some of the gasp-inducing moments from Searle’s life. (Who walks out on a wife and twins, to save his life and his own art?  Possibly only someone who has had to cling to life itself so tenaciously, although for an outsider, keeping a balance of sympathy was pretty delicate.)

You can only share so much of the astonishing life of a stranger, I found, before you’re branded a relic and a blinding bore. So, the links to the riveting Ronald Searle are now yours, with this gala one thrown in, since it’s such a work of love and scholarship and it has such varied examples of his work:


I’m moving on, with the caveat that I am granting myself Amnesty from Keeping Up.

I now know that I cannot possibly include every link under the sun, just because it’s feasible, but if I’m late, I’m not going to fret about it.

If it happened last night, during the Women’s All-Nation Maybelline Olympics, I may or may not be on it.  However, I’m still wondering why Appointment in Samarra was never brought up in the case of Jessica Ghawi, one of the more vibrant young victims in the Aurora Colorado midnight shooting carnage.  The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson wrote about her this way, online:

Jessica Ghawi was twenty-four. This was the second mass shooting that came close to her. The first, in June, was a shooting at a shopping mall in Toronto; there were five minutes between her and a scene in which five people were shot and one died. She went back to an internship in sports broadcasting, and, on Thursday, to the movies, where she died. One wishes it seemed more bizarre or eerie or uncanny that one person would have encountered two different acts of gun violence. But lately, it doesn’t.

Then I realized, Amy Davidson is young and sensible; this is another case of my reaching back toooooo far and too esoterically. Well, whatever.

As for that Samarra appointment, in 1933 W. Somerset Maugham retold the Arabic fable this way (and of course, John O’Hara used it as an epigraph and the title of his first novel):

Death Speaks:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

As for constitutionally being far from current, I make no promises that it won’t happen again.  Courage!

1 thought on “I’m declaring amnesty!

  1. I can’t supply a link, Sheelr, but I can tell you–from one lagging blogger to another–that if you want the definitive rendering of “Appointment in Samarra,” pop in the DVD of Bogdanovich’s Targets and attend Boris Karloff delivering it.

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