Page Two

Page Two
He has outgrown mere governorhood. Over the past few months, George W. Bush has become a political phenomenon. He's the acknowledged front-runner in the presidential race, even though he hasn't formally announced his candidacy. He leads in fundraising without having had a single fundraiser. He has captured the interest of the bulk of the GOP without laying out any platform other than the buzzwords "compassionate conservative."

How did the governor get so far on so little? Well, being the son of a president doesn't hurt. Nor does sharing the name of that former president. But those two facts don't fully explain Bush's phenomenal popularity. Much of Bush's family and political history have been covered by other media outlets. In this issue, the Chronicle politics staff looks at some of the issues that have largely been ignored by the big media outlets, including Bush's record on the environment, on education, and his relationship with Hispanic voters. We also try to explain why Bush is likely to win, what his successor, Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, might do if he does, and how Bush's candidacy is playing with the Christian Right. -- Robert Bryce

Some time around Thanksgiving of last year, Nick and Louis called me into their office to talk. There are few things more intimidating than having to switch mental tracks from longtime pals to employer-employee mode, but business requires that, several times a year, we three assume such awkward attitudes with one another.

Their offer was simple: In 1999, would I like to stop editing, stop writing columns, and write full time for the paper? It would involve leaving the offices and working out of my home. I tried to ponder this pokerfaced, resisting the urge to cheer: Sleep late!!! Work late!!! Watch Mystic Knights of the Tir na nOg when it airs!!! The whole idea of writing full time was as flattering as it was appealing. I said yes.

The reality of writing full time at home is much different. Being cut loose from the office in which I had spent the better part of 18 years was disconcerting, especially when National Public Radio contacted me about reviewing Texas music for All Things Considered. This kind of side work was exactly what Louis and Nick had in mind when they pushed me out of the nest, but I was disoriented and trying to finish my third book. How do writers juggle all these things and how the bloody hell does one work at home?

In an e-mail to Jesse Sublett, I offhandedly asked about his working habits. The musician-turned-author-turned-screenwriter sent me a long reply with very good points. He claims not to read e-mail until the afternoon, citing the tendency to get lost in it. He's right, but I have no such self-discipline and have been known to listen to the answering machine pick up while I am busy on e-mail. His suggestion, however, did encourage me to set a limit on the time I spent on e-mail, however, and that has been very useful. Now mail is checked every two minutes instead of one.

My friend Kate Messer once ran a record label from her house. She offered excellent advice. "Get dressed in the morning," she said. This was indeed a revelation, considering I spent February writing while wearing a nightgown. I started getting dressed. It was psychologically uplifting, and I did better work. I even found that putting on a little makeup put me more in the work mode. Now I get dressed when I get up every day. Even if it is in the afternoon.

A phone call from Statesman columnist Michael Corcoran afforded the opportunity to pick his brain: How do you write at home? His response was largely unprintable, but suffice it to say that he promotes a regular balance of personal indulgence and actual writing time at the keyboard. In other words, a schedule.

Finally, I asked Marion Winik to lunch. Marion, as everyone knows, is this town's most outrageous writer with a book contract. Because Marion is so successful as a writer -- and because she's a friend -- I really wanted to solicit advice from her. She listened and munched chips and nodded sagely as I related all the advice I'd gotten and my experiences in trying to construct a writing schedule. "That's all good," she agreed. "It's important to have a schedule. It keeps you from laying around all day masturbating."

That sort of candor is Marion Winik's stock-in-trade. She has wielded it wickedly in three books and numerous articles in The Austin Chronicle and on All Things Considered. She's the kind of writer whose confessional tone struck a symphony of different chords in different people: Marion Winik could dance with the devil and make it sound like a PTA meeting.

In many ways Winik is the quintessential writing success from The Austin Chronicle. She relocated here in 1976 and published her first piece in 1987. It was titled "How to Get Pregnant in the Modern World," and after a brief hiatus, she began writing eloquently about lost purses and other mysteries of life in the modern world and so began her career in the alternative press. She soon expanded into braver worlds, writing in hilarious detail about how she and her husband took their baby into Mexico. And it was here, in these pages, she swears, that she developed the style that got her signed to Random House.

She has a point. When Winik published Telling: Confessions, Concessions, and Other Flashes of Light in 1994, ex-druggies had never turned into suburban mothers in print with such humor and heart. When she published First Comes Love in 1996, she wrote with grace and dignity about the love between a straight woman and a gay man. When she published The Lunchbox Chronicles in 1998, she bridged the gap between the expectations of growing up and the reality of being grown. Winik helped carve a niche in publishing for the burgeoning ranks of writers graduating from the growth of alternative presses in the Nineties.

I have been fortunate at the Chronicle to be Winik's editor for several years. Among her pieces I worked on was "Tony," the chronicle of her husband's death from AIDS. I was so emotionally wrapped in it, I stayed late one night by myself just reading it and re-reading it for its beauty. While editing it I broke down in tears several times, overcome by the emotion generated by such simple sentences, and wept copiously trying to choose pull quotes that were as perfect as her words. The piece became the heart of her second book, First Comes Love. What I took away from the experience I will forever treasure.

A few days from now, Winik will leave Austin with her two sons, Hayes and Vincent, and move to Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, to begin her life with writer Crispin Sartwell. She is not moving to an emu farm as popularly rumored, but the two are buying a house and she will continue her writing there. It's hard to think of her doing that -- Austin without Marion in the new millennium is almost as unthinkable as the idea in the Seventies that a mouthy writer from Jersey could find happiness and success in the capital of Texas. It won't be the same without Marion Winik. -- Margaret Moser

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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