Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Umnak Island, 8 December 1944

Hello My Wonderful Widget…
You are extremely loved, my pretty Piltzer. I am especially aware of what you mean to me because of the mail situation. A lot of the fellows have been getting wires and letters reporting that they have not been heard from in weeks. And today a rumor was rampant that there has been a long delay enroute in the letters written during the last couple of weeks. Since your letters mean everything to me up here, I work under the assumption that mine help you along down there and I am sad that you should have the worries that a long delay in deliveries brings. I hope you remembered that I promised to wire any time that circumstances should prevent my writing to you for three days. I am going to wire anyway tonight, to prevent you from worrying too much.

Ted got a letter from his wife today which advanced a hundred terrible theories about why she was not hearing from him. They ranged from absence of affection to the complete disappearance of this entire island in a volcanic eruption. And I remember the strange explanations I used to devise to account for missing mail at 980.
Other than the mail business there is nothing to report which is at all new. I am really sweating over the last chapter of the masterpiece [Day of the Dead]. It comes tough. As it stands now the novel seems to have the faults and virtues of my short stories—rather good background, continued action and plenty of verbs, but sketchy characterization and uncertain motivation. No matter what Ann [Ann Elmo, Murray’s agent] thinks of it when she sees it, it will have been worthwhile for I have learned a lot. And it is distinctly better than “Thunder” [“Thunder Down Under,” an unpublished murder mystery Murray wrote with his Australian friend Howard Daniel]. But, Mona, how I look forward to some factual writing after flailing around with the fiction.

Because of the pounding away on the book, I haven’t been doing as much reading the last week as I have averaged. I’m now going through some of Thomas Mann’s short stories—which, dammit, I still don’t see as great—and Steven’ Paul Bunyan stories [James Stevens], which are also disappointing. The main trouble with the Bunyan tales is that they are told with a rather conscious literary pretension and consequently lose virtually all the logging camp flavor that a more simple approach would have brought.

There is also a touch of literature in a new radio program we get over the local station these days. It comes on at 11:15 p.m. and is called “Words and Music” (which was the title of Corwin’s first show). The format is organ music intermixed with mood poems read by Hollywood starts. The music is really bad—an organ played to sound dreamy and consequently a piece that sounds nothing like the composer intended. But the poetry is quite good and the reading of it even better. Strangely, Merle Oberon was the best so far. She read Housman and Wordsworth with the quiet restraint of Chamberlain announcing the start of the war. Ingrid Bergman’s readings indicated how much her acting ability is visual, for they had little impact. Except her final selection. She read a translation of the Norwegian national anthem, a magnificent, ringing performance.
"Sunshine!": Cartoon by Oliver Pedigo

Our weather remains much milder than I had imagined an Aleutian winter, but the veterans say that things do not get really rough until January. The pattern now is a fair period followed by a cold snap, then snow which lasts a day or two, then a Chinook and several days of muck, then cold and much skidding over the icy ground and then fair weather again. But when I speak of a pattern it is like trying to talk of the meaning of a Surrealist picture—everyone has his own idea, if any. Tooke the Texan, for example, insists that we have only had a good day in the last two months, while I claim we have only had a couple of really bad ones. Above all else, the weather remains unpredictable. As I write the wind is blowing hard and the room is getting cold. But when I walk around the building to drop this in the mail box a few minutes from now, the day may be beautiful.

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