Monday, August 22, 2011

Assimilation of Literary Characters Not Recommended

I suppose I’m influenced, to some degree, by whatever current author I’m reading. I recall at the age of ten, when I first read Sir Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” I tried to effect a Professor Moriarty like, British accent, and wear a monocle; an old chipped watch crystal, which kept falling from my untrained eye. When I finally returned the long overdue Collected Works of Sherlock Holmes, the school librarian didn’t fine me; instead, she glued a shoe string to my monocle and sent me to see Mother Superior. The good Sister laughed, but insisted on calling my mother, telling her that her son was possessed and couldn’t return to class until he, meaning me, was cleansed of the malevolence. My mother cleansed me that evening with a hairbrush and confiscated the monocle. I was back to normal, for me, the next morning … sans accent.
About a decade later I recall pouring over – more at devouring – every word of “Don Quixote de la Mancha”. After finishing the greatest story ever written, I made a trip to Holland, Michigan to size up their windmills on 7th Street and Lincoln Avenue, and see if I could meet a Dulcinea Del Toboso (I didn’t). Instead I got a parking ticket. There are many other examples, but you get the gist.

So, a couple of weeks ago, while swinging in my hammock up in the Windsong (my home) shade garden; where I lay reflecting on my reading proclivities, represented by an accumulated pile of recently purchased books awaiting my selection. I’d just finished writing my fourth novel and was taking a hiatus so I could spend some long overdue time, resuscitating my dormant reading. The first volume I picked from the top of the stack was, “God a Biography” by Jack Miles; which I promptly, but reverently, declined as too analytical – a sibilant mimicry – of the bible. That day I just wasn’t up to extrapolating into my life the complexity of Mr. Miles’ religiosity; maybe at a later time. 

Anyway, as I shuffled through the volumes’ of literature I had recently acquired, I went on to reluctantly reject the “The Myth of Sisyphus” by Albert Camus; not because of the beauty of his prose (some of the most “aphoristic truth-seeking sentiments” in literature), but in this particular novel, his theme, his stones; which I and others have concluded are, in part, worn out concepts, and even rejected, in the main, by the author himself, “… I am not an existentialist!” he loudly shouted in somewhat of an intellectual snit. Most importantly though, I did not want to return to those funk moods of days past, brought on by my own youthful trifling with that dark way (existentialism) of attempting to put a touch of clarity on the chalice of life.

My shade garden concentration was unexpectedly interrupted, and I sat up in the hammock; books piled on both sides of my legs. About ten feet away in a lower branch of an oak tree perched an arrogant, large Blue jay loudly proclaiming his territorial boundaries. In admiration of the cocky fellow, I suddenly thought (karma-like, naturally) to follow his example and declare this is where I would, at this time in my life, take my literary stand. I would find a new mentor; discarding those old icons of: Hemmingway, Pierre Lecomte du Noüy, Kahlil Gibran, Mickey Spillane, and of course Al Cap’s Li’L Abner, etc, etc.
My search now had a focus, and as I anxiously continued to rifle through the stack of books, I inelegantly faltered at something by Ayn Rand. I reflected that I read her Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in Tahiti, in French Polynesia, where I lived for awhile in 1959, and then again in 1960. Regressing into my habit of imitating authors’ themes and style, I shortly there after drove into Papeete where I went aboard a French destroyer; open to the public, with the stirring notes of La Marseillaise coming from its bow speakers, in recognition of France’s Bastille Day. Upon boarding I saw a Legion’s recruiting table set up on the starboard amidships. Wait for it … I was pulled my some mysterious literary ghost (probably John Galt … who is he you ask?), and compulsively attempted to enlist in the French Foreign Legion (a symbol of authority).

My fervor diminishing exponentially with each minute I spent standing in the queue of youthful Polynesian men wanting to wear the distinctive white Kepi head gear; when suddenly I recalled the catastrophic 1954, two month siege of Dien Bien Phu. At that moment of reflection I was standing at the table. Fortunately, the Caporal-chef rejected me out of hand as “not proper material”, with a disdainful look, and arrogance only the French are capable of emitting – mainly from their unwashed bodies in the tropical heat – much like the pungent stench of an Avenue des Champs de Elysee urinal in August. Yeah, well, so – maybe I was offended. Still, with further reflection on an army that marches at only 88-steps per minute, versus the 120 of other armies; “strolling” in that ridicules dirge like mode – and also being forced to sing Le Boudin (lit: blood sausage; reflective of the red bed roll the Legioners carry on top of their field back-pack) while at attention, was … well, not the least acceptable to this North American. 

 On a more serious note, the French Foreign Legion is a properly proud group of brave men, some of the best fighters from countries all over the world. And less we forget the motherland through no fault of her own has an endemic aquifer scarcity in many parts of La Belle France, which historically mitigated their bathing habits.

By-the-way … has anyone seen Brigitte Bardot  lately?

Still sorting through the stack, my eye(s) fell on the title of a hard back, seductively plump, (290 pages) fiction novel titled; Bleed County by this writer. Now, as all of you who know about writing; that at a minimum, I must have read and reread that story half a dozen times; in rewrite and editing mode just to bring it to fruition; never for pleasure (why fellow writers – is  that?). 

Yet, something seemed to be compelling me to pick it up, my novel that is. I began turning its pages, consuming the words, this time for enjoyment; not to be diverted by the critiquing of plot, characters, etc, or scanning for syntax errors. 

A little more than five hours later the book slipped from my fingers to the ground … finished. I started the hammock’s swinging motion and with weary eye(s) fell asleep. Well now, I feel comfortable enough with you dear reader to share that I don’t ever recall my dreams (causing me to doubt that I even dreamed in the first place, but … people, very smart people, tell me that I do dream; that is unless I’m abnormal?!?). But, the time I spent slumbering in that hammock was time enough for me to experience a first ever; a Hollywood production of dreamland panoramas, of living vicariously, through each character in my story. I had slept for about three hours, and awoke recalling every vivid minute of my unambiguous assuming of each personality in my novel Bleed County.

 I felt discombobulated, not knowing if I were still dreaming or back in the sweet reality of the Windsong Ranch shade garden, (now dark except for the landscape lighting). My dog Gunner came wagging up to me and I began chatting with him as is our usual practice. There was no poor imitation of a soft southern accent or Appalachian lilt passing over my lips, like the characters in Bleed County. I glanced at my watch and got up, rushing back to the house, as I had a dinner date. As I got ready, I noticed I did not have a predilection to dress in bib-coveralls, like the main protagonist Turge in my story. Nor did I effect the limp of Miss Gankey, or the ram-rod bearing of her sister Greer, a military pilot. I have a permit to carry, but felt no need to pocket a weapon into town like say … the sheriff, and deputy who patroled Bleed County. I did recall that I needed to remember to pick up my prescription from the local pharmacist, but only as a “Get ‘er done” chore and not attempting to obtain some “powders”. 

Later that evening, I surged into feeling expansive; free of my character imitation affliction, and knew that I was no longer blighted with effecting the mannerisms of the protagonists of what ever literature I was currently reading. I celebrated by making a Gankey “comfrey” poultice for my tired feet. I sat out on the cool open portion of the deck and watched Carnation’s blackbirds circle over my head. Oh yeah, I began wondering fearfully if my Bleed County probation officer had reported my failure to appear in her office that week?


  1. Delightful musing from your hammock. I, too, have read" Bleed County" many times, and I catch myself wondering about Turge and Gankey's safety when storm clouds head your way. Your humorous blog makes me want to read their story one more time, in fond memory of their unique world view.

  2. I love this post! Makes me want to go back and read it again, as well. I miss those two characters . . . bought a pair of flip-flops in Gankey's honor!