What does anyone at twenty-one know about writing or anything else for that matter?
Mark had started a magazine called West, working out of an office on the first floor of Seaport House in the docks. It was 1985. I was…what was I?
A Market Street parking-lot attendant who wanted to write, I was writing, but I didn’t think of myself as a Writer, whatever a Writer was.
I was too clean cut, a loner, not remotely “bohemian”. Did it matter to Mark that I had barely scraped through Leaving Cert English with a paltry D, and that at Pass, and of course hadn’t attended university (didn’t you need to be educated to be a writer? ).
No, it didn’t matter, not to him.
This was my first encounter with Mark’s fundamentally kind and generous nature. A writer himself (he had even worked in Hollywood with Kirk Douglas, among other notables, and had as such an aura of glamour, and glamour with a cool edge, that never really left him ) he saw something in me that I was tentatively beginning to acknowledge, an inchoate impulse that could not be denied or resisted, whose origins were mysterious but beautiful. In short, like falling in love, I had to submit to this obscure compulsion.
It was that simple.
It was that difficult.
My mother, typically supportive, kindly paid for me to attend night classes in touch typing in what was then Father Griffin Road Tech, where I sat pecking away at a large manual typewriter, the only male in a room full of wannabe secretaries; I eventually graduated with a typing speed of seventy-five words per minute.
I thought this showed a serious commitment.
In time Mark published a couple of pieces by me, and, emboldened, I submitted an essay to him the theme of which could best be described as “It’s really great being young”; it was the kind of thing you write when at that age and believe that every experience is vitally dramatic and full of poetry and as such can only be written using language that is also dramatic and full of poetry because of course only a young person knows what it is to be fully alive — a classic solipsism of youth. I didn’t know that the best experiences are described using the simplest language.
The reader does the rest.
All I remember (or rather all I want to remember ) about that piece of writing is it contained the following crime against the English language: “It was a succulent afternoon”.
It was not my first and would not be my last assault against English, but a kid had to start somewhere. Mark peered up at me from his desk.
I couldn’t tell if he was appalled or impressed—he had at times a poker-face and could be inscrutable, with a quick, very dry wit.
There was a pause. I waited, tensely, like a character in a play by Pinter.
“A leg of chicken is succulent,” he said, eventually.
It was a master class in the use of the adjective, and anytime I subsequently gave a talk about writing—which would be many years later— I ended on what I thought of as the “Mark‘s chicken quote”.
It always got a big laugh too.
If I may say something to wherever you are now Mark, those mornings in Seaport House were sweet and you were kind—and those are two adjectives I am not going to change for anyone.