Yet, through it all, Eliot was a brick.
As the fabric of what I'd thought my life had become slowly unravelled, his open, sympathetic concern more and more stood out as almost the only thing I could depend on. He continued to invite me to those friendly, informal, and decidedly less unisexed gatherings of friends --- writers and actors and artists whose only common elements seemed a passionate creativity and Eliot's friendship --- who assembled at his apartment once or twice a week. Discussing the making of good art was always the recurrent theme, and the wide variety of forms and points of view took me out of my increasing despair and restored my perspective, no matter how heated the arguments might become. As my name faded from notariety, I could nonetheless feel that among Eliot's friends my actual, recognized achievements and my commitment to art were personal possessions I need not be afraid to defend.
As snubs and slights and insults from Lois and her sycophants became more blunt and wounding, I discovered that talking them over with a sympathetic friend also restored my perspective, often my ability to function at all. I even called him twice from London --- once over a woman, once about the barracuda-like frenzies of the English press. It was a comfort to discover, when I had reached once again the frazzled end of my rope, that Eliot would be calmly, sincerely concerned, even when these drunken terrors attacked me at two or four in the morning. I learned how useful it is to have a night-person as a friend, especially when night seemed, so often, to invade my very soul.
My days --- which started later and later as time went on --- were spent avoiding the cold black hole of that third book. Obviously, it would have to be something completely new. The days when I could chew my cabbage twice were definitely past, and nothing in my unfinished former fiascoes felt new again to me. Lois forwarded me Graham Greene's LORD ROCHESTER'S MONKEY and glowingly suggested an historical bodice-ripper, but that was the last time she expressed any confidence whatsoever in my continued ability to write salable fiction. I went through a lot of false- starts, none of which I could continue next day. Thinking Eliot may have been right, I tried soaking up gay and lesbian novels and studying the oral-sex passages in cheap let-it-all-hang-out sex novels, thinking I could at least imitate the style, but after only a few pages I realized it was even more a soulless waxworks than the awful bodice-ripper had been.
And then, just when I needed it most, along came a fan- letter. My ghost had mimicked my style and approach rather well --- if a bit repetitiously --- and saw no personal compunctions about subject-matter where I did. He demanded the right to climb Roxanne's trellis wearing his own big devil of a name or he'd quit saving my constipated ass. And so NIGHTWING went through an odd charade, printing a letter-story of his under My by-line and a second under his own, suggesting the pressure of my editorial duties necessitated my cutting back on such time-consuming creative activities --- and inviting readers to comment on which by-line might be the better writer. The replies were selected carefully to trumpet both talents, but to assure the silent majority of readers that what Lois had already decided was Exactly what that vocal, published few thought best.
But someone in that faceless crowd took the trouble to seek out my home address and send me a letter I carried in my breast pocket until the fold wore through. She didn't mind my semi- retirement because she had empathized with an increasing thin repetitiousness she felt was the result of my applying my original outlook and amazing talent to whatever she saw as improvements elsewhere in the magazine. Then she found it necessary to explain to me why my work (in concert with Baker's VOX, I hasten to admit) had already achieved an historic importance that would endure if I never again even wrote a line. It wasn't just the sincerity and accuracy and almost poetry I brought to the crassly crude genre; it was that I had always tried, while never ignoring the fact of sex, to reach past that fact of sex to show that very real, vulnerable people and not faceless stereotypes were involved. And she thanked me for even bothering to light such a shady, crass, unfeeling, sexist, hackwork-infested corner of literature with the honest glow of art. I wrote back asking her to dinner, but got no reply.