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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 7, 2006


Personally speaking

THE RECENT ARRIVAL OF a $35 check from Xlibris reminded me that I’m very unlikely to recoup the investment I made in self-publishing my book Popes & Anti-Popes last year. A labor of love, it summarized in two or three hundred words the lives of all 263 popes, the result of extensive research into 50 sources about these seminal historical figures. It received no reviews so apart from extracts in the Ojai Orange this will be the only mention of it in print.

The project began because I was writing a book about Rome and I kept asking my friend questions about earlier popes that he couldn’t answer. So it became a minor obsession to document these not-always-saintly figures in an objective way by researching everything about them I could find, both good and bad. There is no personal comment therein, with every statement carefully attributed (viz. ODP= Oxford Dictionary of Popes). Here’s a sample entry:

16.  St Callistus I  b. Rome;  elected  217., d. 222. He was forgiving of repentant sinners, which angered one faction of the church and engendered the bitter emnity of anti-pope Hippolytus, (described by ODP as “intransigent, ambitious, and a strict, old-fashioned rigorist”) whose prolific Greek writings particularly  Philosopheumena  accused Callistus of modalism or not truly recognizing the principle of the Trinity. Callistus, who favored reconciliation for “sinners”, claimed the “power of the keys” which had been granted to St Peter — and by implication to his successors — which allowed persons who had been expelled from the church to be reinstated after suitable penance (Ir).

Noting that this forgiveness extended to adulterers, Tertullian asked sarcastically: “Where shall we post up this generous concession — on the doors of brothels?” Uz quotes Hippolytus’ charge that Callistus found abortion acceptable. Callistus may have been beaten to death by a rioting mob when he tried to convert a tavern into a church (BS) or alternatively to collect some debts in a synagogue (StE). Said to have been thrown into a well atop which now stands in S. Maria in Travestere. LP notes that he introduced three fast days a year when Christians should abstain from corn, wine, and oil.

Incidentally, I cannot recommend Xlibris. They are painfully slow, exorbitantly penny-pinching (charging $2 for every proof correction, even commas) and somewhat unresponsive to deal with.

It has occurred to me more than once that if I had to make a living as a freelance writer I would have starved to death long ago. When it comes to salesmanship, I’m at the bottom of the list. I did have a commitment for many years from Insight Guides for whom I worked on a total of 25 books, being almost constantly on assignment. And before that, I had written many of the earliest $5-a-Day books and Traveling in Venezuela  for the Venezuelan government.

But in addition to Popes & anti-Popes I have been sitting on three other unpublished books — my autobiography; a comprehensive tome (with Bob Perlongo) about marihuana (profusely illustrated and covering medical, psychological, sociological, religious, historical and other aspects of the subject); and the reissue of The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol which sold out in 1971, today fetches $75 on Amazon and was about to be re-launched until the photographer — for unexplained reasons — refused to sign off on it.

My own autobiography is an interesting case because the dozen or so publishers who rejected it a decade ago all seemed to agree that it wasn’t sufficiently emotional and weepy (a la Angela’s Ashes), that it didn’t convey enough of my personal feelings and was merely a series of essays on subjects in which I had been involved including magic, editing the Witches Almanac; Tim Leary, marihuana, the underground press, Marilyn Monroe, Woody Allen, Warhol, producing 800 television shows, traveling in a score of countries, writing 1,000 columns etc ).

What I one day hoped to find was somebody who would collaborate with me on rewriting this book as a saga of the ‘60s and ‘70s when America (and thus the world) changed beyond recognition, due to most of the aforementioned subjects and many others. Being simply a would-be sociologist and not an essayist, I realized that I was incapable of producing such a book, despite being in possession of huge amounts of relevant research.

The longest story about my background since the one published by the New York Times (Feb 3, 1973) was an excellent piece written recently by Saundra Sorenson in the VCReporter which, as of this writing may still be accessible at their website archive. If not, it can be found on A.J. Weberman’s intriguing site, which I highly recommend checking out for its amusing and relevant insight into what passes for today’s “underground”.

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