when drunk, used to beg Hemingwav torntell him if his work were not “awfullysuburban”).rnTen vcars ago, I gave uprnreading the hunting magazines when itrnoccurred to me that taking an eight-byeightrnbull elk is intrinsically of no greaterrnimport than shooting a spike unless ofrncourse you happen to be a professionalrnhunter, in which ease you probably havernscant interest (when it comes to writingrnup the story anyway) in how the cold feltrnwhen you got out of your bedroll thatrnmorning, the way first light seemed tornhave been breathed from the darkrnmountains, and the symbolic investmentrnof your trophy. Certainly taking anrneight-point mule deer requires muchrnmore knowledge, finesse, and staminarnthan taking a three-point does, and as arnhunter I acknowledge and respect knowledge,rncunning, and strength. But as arnprofessional writer, I am just not all thatrnimpressed. Maybe it is because I am notrnhelped. Besides which, I can turn threernpoints to eiglit with five taps on the typewriterrnkeys.rnAnyone involved with sports knowsrnplenty of sportsmen, and anyone knowingrnother sportsmen knows the tediumrnof being lectured on technique, and thernlatest technology developed to further it.rnThe other weekend, dropping the horsesrnoff at a friend’s paddock overnight, I wasrnwaylaid by the boyfriend of the friend,rnwho insisted on rehearsing for me, atrnlength, the utility of a new and differentrntype of cross-buck, used to transport bigrngame on horseback. I listened, but Irnwasn’t interested, and I didn’t listen veryrnwell, hi fact, I cannot recall the name ofrnthe cross-buck, or what was supposed tornbe special about it. I solved years ago—rnfor myself—the problem of how best tornbring game from the mountains by buyingrna set of nylon panniers that fit overrnthe saddle and a spider to hold them andrnthe saddle in place on the horse; and Irnhave no interest, whether intellectual orrnpractical, in alternatie means, whichrncould only distract rnc from an appreciationrnof what I find significant and pleasurablernin the experience of hunting elk.rnWhat is the use of solving a logisticalrnproblem in a way that is perfectly satisfyingrnto you, if you are going to keeprnmulling alternative possibilities in yourrnniind, and then go and try out some ofrnthem? The answer I suppose is a lot, ifrnyou happen to like gadgets and technology.rnBut beyond the bolt-action riflernand the four-wheel-drive I am interestedrnin neither, and don’t want to hear aboutrnthem; gadgets, like prizes, being for littlernboys.rnAn avid fly-fisherman himself, TomrnFleming remarks that writers have nornneed of hobbies. His point is that hobbiesrnarc inherently as jealous as womenrnand book critics; while writing, in onernsense a kind of ur-hobby, benefits neitherrnfrom competition nor distraction.rnEvery hobby has its own technique, andrnthe problem for the writer is less one ofrnlimited time and capacity to master severalrntechniques than it is the limitationsrnto his general enthusiasm, and also hisrnability to maintain various enthusiasmsrnin balance. Moreover, if by hobbies onernmeans gluing fragmentary parts of shiprnmodels together, or collecting stamps, orrnplaying tournament golf, then the writerrnindeed needs none of these, activities ofrnthis sort being fundamentally exercisesrnin self-removal—the state in which authorsrnspend their entire working lives.rnWhat the literary man away from hisrnwork table requires above all is contactrnwith the concrete world, and the bestrnway for him to find it is in ritual forms ofrnphysical activity performed in a naturalrnsetting and in the company of his closest,rnmost trusted friends, male or female.rnMichael Noak has extolled the joy ofrnsports, b’ which he means team sports,rnand John Updike probably walks awayrnfrom the half-finished page to shoot baskets.rnBut what have mere games to offerrnthe already cxperientially underprivilegedrnwriter, and what does a writer wantrnwith competition anyway? If he is a wisernman instead of a jealous one, piousrnrather than envious, he must know thatrnhis is the least competitive of all trades,rnhis sole competitors—if any—beingrndead men. The Greeks, who began thernmania for competitive sports, have muchrnto answer for on this score. As do thernoverseers of the playing fields of Eton,rnwhere the scions of the aristocracy wouldrnhave been better instructed in giving thernenemy the bayonet direct than in sillyrncricket and stupid rugbv.rn”It’s a challenge!” people say, in thisrnage of profound mass boredom inducedrnby corporate careers and suburban living,rnas well as by trivial jobs that lack so muchrnas the dignified physical exertion ofrnscrubbing the floor. But, even if thernchallenge is actually a challenge, is it reallyrnworth meeting it?rnIt seems to me that a good test of therninherent worth of a thing or activityrnmight be; Is it worth writing about?rnPutting this test to work, one could askrnwhether war, an engine of catastrophicrndestruction and misery, may neverthelessrnbe a significant endeavor? War,rnHemingway thought, is the best subjectrnfor a writer, an opinion in which he isrnsupported by many of the great works ofrnliterature from ancient times to the present:rnThe Iliad, War and Peace, The RedrnBadge of Courage . . . A Farewell to Arms.rnSince a work of art can be finally norngreater than its subject, we may concludernthat war, horrific as it is, may neverthelessrnbe a worth’ human enterprise,rnwhich was the meaning of R.E. Lee’s remarkrnat Fredericksburg, that it is a goodrnthing that war is so terrible, else wernshould grow too fond of warfare.rnSimilarly, one might inquire if repairingrnyour car should be considered a significantrnactivity of intrinsic merit. Sincernrepair manuals, except at communityrncolleges, do not count as literature; sincernto my knowledge the only work on thernsubject ever acclaimed as literature isrnZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenancern(a book I never read, but which Irndoubt is really about maintaining motorcycles);rnsince, finally, I cannot imaginernreading—or writing—a literarily satisfyingrnaccount of replacing a U-joint on myrnFord pickup truck, I have to concludernthat auto repair work is neither significantrnnor intrinsically important. The argumentrnthat, absent the U-joint, the entirerndrive-train will drop out of the truck,rnrendering it both dangerous and unfit forrnfurther service, is not a valid objection, asrnit implies that the automobile is of significantrnvalue to humanity, and to humanrncivilization.rnTo return to the sportsman-writer, hisrnlife and his work. The artistic temperamentrnis likely to insist on the importancernof technique in e’ery activity, not just itsrnown particular art, and also of the challengernto which technique is applicable.rnThis is why Thomas McGuanc takesrnpride in training cutting horses as well asrnin writing novels, but it is not the basis ofrnOrtega y Gasset’s famous work in defensernof hunting, which Ortega justifiesrnon deeper philosophical grounds. FlanncryrnO’Connor, no elk hunter herself,rnbelieved that only matters of the mostrncrucial importance are fitting subjectsrnfor a novel. It is the responsibility of everyrnconscientious writer to identify hisrnproper subject, a thing he will find it impossiblernto do by getting his values, hisrnpriorities, and his life backwards.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn