Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Umnak Island, 21 October 1944

My pretty piltzer…

And so ends the first half of the long, long year. From here on, although the weather is just starting to get rough and the novelty of the near north has worn to a nub. There will always be the knowledge that there is less to do than has already been put behind.
It is strange what a mental hazard that has been to me: the felling that even when the day of the week or the month was over there would still be more days of loneliness to live through than had been accomplished. But from here on we coast. 

While on the subject of things that are strange, here are a pair: A letter came from Howard Lewis yesterday and it seems he received a letter from me which I did not write. That’s right—a letter I didn’t write. I don’t glimmer with it, but those are his very words. I suppose that the explanation is that I wrote him a letter, filed in it in the Aleutian memory box and wrote him another with most of the same stuff in it. But that is just agues. I’ll enclose Howard’s opus and let you wrestle it around.

The other strange thing is the twinge I felt when you mentioned the bareness of the background in the picture I sent you. For as Aleutian islands go, this one is quite beautiful. Of course, the area is nothing but dark dirt and green Pacific and bleached clapboard buildings. And of course the ridge is as bleak as November in New York. But there is beauty here too and if you were here and the army wasn’t, I’d not mind a year here.

Rather odd, also, is the fact that the time has been going faster since the departure of my one close friend, Jack, of course. The reason is that I have been working so steadily on the novel. At long, long, long last—a last as interminable as that string of adjective and almost as inexcusable—I have chapter nine under control and feel right about the way the book is going. The one difficulty is that the pages do not add up as fast as I expect them to, and I am afraid the overall length of the book will be under the minimum even for this type of story. But then complications keep suggesting themselves so I may be able to stretch it to the 45,000 mark. I have done more rewriting on this book than on almost all the other stuff I’ve done in the last couple of years.

Last night we had a bit of excitement. The graveyard shift has the assignment of burning the accumulated wastepaper for the day. The paper is kept in big wooden bins, three of them. Usually we match to see who will carry all three out, but last night in a mood of unusual cooperativeness Cobb and the Rebel and I each grabbed a bin. Behind the operating room are three big galvanized iron cans for burning rubbish. It was still dark and we had trouble unloading the bins in the cans, especially because the wind was rising and our hands were cold. Finally we had the cans full and the Reb lit his. I lit the other two and pieces of burning paper and whoosh! the paper flared. Then the wind whipped thought the draft hose in the bottom of the cans and long streamers of teletype paper, burning brilliantly, were soaring thirty feet up into the air. We ran around under this incendiary confetti, making sure it didn’t come down where it shouldn’t. And while we were running around playing fireball the door blew open and a ball of burning paper rolled in. I tore in after it and fished it from under the captain’s desk. By the time I got back outside the wind had died down completely and we had to stir the cans to make sure the last of the paper burned.

The news of the Philippine invasion has caused quite a bit of comment here, but I think the disappointment over the failure of Germany to fold as fast as the newspapers headlined has taken the edge off all our enthusiasm. The start of a campaign is not what fires our imagination now. Only the end of the war. But, off! how we hope for that.
And now, my pretty one, I am going to go to bed. Yesterday I worked on chapter nine for five hours of my regular sleep time and I am pretty groggy this morning. Tell Carmen her letter was much enjoyed and that I think I agree with her about Bill’s painting—although, of course, I can’t be sure without seeing it. I will write her in a day or so. I have already written the Guggenheim people for the application forms.

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