I want to say something about William F. Buckley, Jr., columnist, novelist, essayist, host of "Firing Line," editor of the National Review, lecturer, skier, skin diver, player of the harpsichord, mayoral candidate, dropper of Latin phrases and confidant of the president of the United States. He bugs me.
What bugs me is not his politics, which are loathsome, or his inherited wealth, which is shameful and should have been mine, or even his persistent and somewhat irrational defense of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. It is his productivity. The man is a dynamo, a doer of more things than any other human being and, I must add, a living rebuke to someone like myself.
I have resented Buckley for some time. I first began to resent him when I noticed that, in addition to everything else he was doing, he was also a founder of a political party, a husband, a father, an occasional film critic and a person who found time (When? When?) not only to go to church every Sunday, but to take speech lessons so that, in the spirit of egalitarianism, he could talk like his butler.
In his spare time he ran for mayor of New York City and, given a half-hour with nothing to do, would dash off to Switzerland for some skiing or, if there were a bit more time available, sail across the Atlantic, writing columns all the way and presumably dropping them into bottles where they would bob to shore and be fetched by either his secretary or his chauffeur.
To me, Buckley is an updated version of my high school friend, Mel. He was president of the senior class, assistant to the grade adviser, academically one of the top ten students in the school, the starting center on the virtually professional football team and, not incidentally, a point of reference for my parents who wondered why I could not be the same way. It just so happened that I wondered the same thing.
Now it is Buckley who haunts me. He will not let me rest. The minute I decide to take a nap, I wonder what Buckley is doing. Does he take naps? In fact, does he ever sleep? Does he ever get a beer, start a fire in the fireplace and just stare into it? This is my hobby and I do it very well, but before too long I hear the voice of William Buckley urging me to get to work--to write a book or prepare a lecture (but Bill, no one wants me to lecture) or to ring up the president of the United States on the telephone and tell him where he has gone wrong--a very long conversation indeed.
I know these things about Buckley because he has recently published a series in the New Yorker detailing a week or two of his life. It turns out that I underestimated him. He does not sleep. He hardly eats and because of that he never has to go to the bathroom. Instead, he writes letters to everyone in the world or hosts editorial meetings of the National Review and then devotes about five minutes to writing a dozen or so editorials--none of them marred by a run-on sentence.
He is always running hither and yon. He is forever getting on and off airplanes, coming home to celebrity house guests (David Niven, for instance), debating John Kenneth Galbraith (and never learning anything from it) and lecturing the Trilateral Commission in Latin on the efficacy of the MX missile and Cardinal Newman's position on the aforementioned. In the New Yorker piece, not a moment is wasted. If one is not spoken for, he writes a book--and then designs the cover for it. When and if he showers (the New Yorker is mum on this point) I am sure he does so with a Dictaphone.
All this makes me angry. In the time it takes Buckley to prepare for a "Firing Line" show, I cannot select a tie to wear. While he is busy at his typewriter, I am adjusting the water for a shower. While he is skiing down the slope of some Mount Everest, I am contemplating my failure to get anywhere in life or, on a good day, the slowly expanding leak in the ceiling.
This is why Buckley bugs me. He remains the bumblebee of the typewriter, the standard--when it comes to productivity--against which I measure myself. My hat is off to him. But in truth, I would rather be right than productive.
Time for a nap.