The sardonic, self-effacing sub-title of Taos-based author John Treadwell Nichols’s just-
published book-length memoir is typical Nichols. Funny, but with a bittersweet edge to it. (The subtitle is drawn from a glib reviewer’s wisecrack some years back that both amused and hurt Nichols.) Anyone who has read John Nichols’s novels and essays or seen the films based on his screenplays knows that he is a major American writer, most certainly top-shelf not midlist. Evidence The Sterile Cuckoo, The Milagro Beanfield War, Nirvana Blues, American Blood, The Empanada Brotherhood, and more than 15 additional titles culminating (so far) in this touching, hilarious and candid volume, I Got Mine.
At root, this autobiographical tome is a book of hard-bitten, determined philosophy. John
Nichols’s quasi-piratical attitude towards life is succinctly summed up in his favorite blues-
song, which Nichols often used to sing in Taos’s sadly now-closed Brodsky Bookstore and
which forms the epigraph to this book: “A forty-dollar bet was lyin’ on the floor/And my
buddy’s point was nine;/Then the police broke down the door—But I got mine.”
When I visited with John Nichols at his Taos home in late September 2021, he was working on final proofs for this book while also chipping away at another work or two. He writes all night in the cool dark, sleeps late during the morning and early afternoon and may greet the rare visitor, a watchful neighbor or his devoted daughter as the day wanes. Or he will just read and research for his current projects.
John Nichols never stops writing. It defines him. It is what he does and who he is. Near
the end of I Got Mine (p. 259), Nichols confides, “Guess what? During my sixties and seventies I continued writing books. Right up until today when I’m six months past my eightieth birthday . .. I’m too bloody indefatigable. And I have no shame.” Nichols turned 81 last July. He still writes every day. Retirement is not an option.
“What else would I be doing?,” he asked me during our visit, with a grin, adding, “I can’t hunt or fish or climb mountains or travel or court women anymore. I quit smoking years ago and my doctor forbids me to drink. My ticker could just quit any minute, I walk all hunched -over as you can see, and I haven’t got much appetite left for food. So, what else would I do? I don’t even have much of an internet connection and I’ve seen all the movies I want to see,” he said.
John Nichols keeps producing quality literary product and his latest book is chockfull
of some of his best and often surprising revelations. There are plenty of laughs. And not a few tear-jerking moments if you own a beating heart. Many failed literary projects, recurrent financial woes, decades of health crises, deaths of friends, crushing personal and professional disappointments, interminable re-writes, three rough divorces and not a few crash-and-burn love affairs are viewed in clear memory. And Nichols does not blink.
I Got Mine is approachable and structured as a fairly chronological account of his
sometimes-meandering, interwoven and oft-conflicting careers as novelist, essayist, screenwriter, photographer, journalist, folk singer, outdoorsman, anti-capitalist, war resistor, ardent lover, boozer, New York City sophisticate, New Mexico rebel-curmudgeon, loving parent and back-sliding family-man. His accounts of his excruciatingly comic, delayed loss of virginity are priceless. There are fascinating digressions and Nichols’s tongue-in-cheek attitude to his own “Milagro Man” legend is refreshing and charming. When he gets too pompous in his Marxist mode, Nichols invariably steps in to pop his own bubble, reminding us that a clear-eyed friend slagged him more than once as “a four-foot Leninist dwarf.”
His varied screen-writing adventures with Alan Pakula, Liza Minelli, Costa-Gavros, Ridley Scott and of course Robert Redford. Redford gets an affectionate but clearly well-deserved roasting in Nichols’s recounting of “Bob’s” lack of cultural sensitivity, indecisiveness and floundering– which led the proud gente of Chimayo, New Mexico to chase Redford and his The Milagro Beanfield War movie crew out of their mountain town.
Through all his personal and professional turmoil, Nichols has adhered to a demanding, if admirable, environmentally and socially aware moral code. It has not made him rich but it has kept him honest. “We all have the right to earn a modest living from our labor. But the inequalities on Earth are unforgivable. And when the money is blown out of proportion, you’re up a moral shit creek minus a paddle. If you’re learning to hate how global capitalism is destroying the planet, too much money is like the electric chair” (p. 31).
The book is generously illustrated with cool photos and Nichols’s own incisively brilliant line drawings. I highly recommend it to you. I’ve read most, if not all, of the man’s books. And I’m looking forward to reading John Nichols’s next half-dozen or so books. I am sure they are in his pipeline. To paraphrase a recent lyric (dedicated to a beloved Beatle by a certain gravel-voiced, revered Nobel Laureate), “Write On, John!”
I Got Mine: Confessions of a Midlist Writer (High Road Books, University of New Mexico Press, 2022, 269 pages)