“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” – Joseph Heller
Born on May Day, 1923, Heller was the American satirical novelist, short story writer, and playwright, unknown in the mid-1950s when he pitched his idea for Catch-22 to Simon & Schuster, and editor Joseph Gottlieb decided to take a chance. The rest, of course, is history. The novel became one of the all-time best sellers and a successful movie, and the term joined the world's lexicon.
Catch-22 refers to absurd, no-win choices, particularly in situations in which the desired outcome of a choice is an impossibility, and regardless of the choice, a negative outcome is a certainty. In other words a Catch-22 is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot succeed because of contradictory rules. A simplified example would be: To apply for a certain job, you need to have experience in that job. But in order to gain experience, you need to first get the job.
Heller made up the term to reflect some of the absurdities he saw during his time in the military (I can vouch that there are always plenty of opportunities there!). Originally, he intended it to be known as Catch-18. But established author Leon Uris was in the process of publishing Milas 18, and to avoid any confusion, Heller and Gottlieb talked it over and decided to go with Catch-22 instead. While some have said it was “Destiny,” Heller said “Destiny is a good thing to accept, but only when it's going your way ... So, maybe this was destiny!”
Heller's second novel Something Happened also did well and he had a stellar career as a satirist, playwright and writer of screenplays. His work was instrumental in the final versions of both the movie Sex and The Single Girl and the hit TV series McHale’s Navy.
Despite all his accolades, he never considered himself famous and once noted, “Some people are born mediocre, some people achieve mediocrity, and some people have mediocrity thrust upon them.” Medicrity like his is probably something we should all hope to achieve.
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