Thursday, January 12, 2017

Commentary — Reading, Writing And Reality

When I was a kid, sometime after first grade, my best friend and I used to go down to his basement where he had a box of presidents. Thirty-four of them at the time.  Each, from Washington to Eisenhower, was rendered realistically in white plastic and stood no more than six inches high.  He also had a bunch of model cars — maybe more than a dozen conveniently in proportion to our presidents. We’d each choose our gang as you might choose a softball team among friends and neighbors. We’d choose automobiles the same way. And then we’d engage in some sort of adventure, careening under chairs and behind boxes as if we were writing and directing a film. Of the presidents, I chose Franklin Pierce first. He was my main character for no other reason than I thought he was the best looking of the lot. My friend chose Jefferson. My friend may have had more profound reasoning. Pierce was not one of the best, historically. I also chose a Lincoln for my main car (my father always drove a Ford) and for my friend, whose father drove a Plymouth) a Chrysler Imperial. Hours would pass as some sort of drama would unfold. What possible scenarios were created escapes me now.

Poster by Mark Stevenson
My friend was also involved in sports and though he would pick me first to be on his team in neighborhood basketball games even though we all knew I’d still be there for the last pick. (I was that bad.) I eventually disengaged when it came to athletic competitions.  Even so, our fictional adventures continued.  We would go down to the crick (a very small creek) with crawdads and frogs and, with a few additional friends, recreate the adventures of Robin Hood.  My friend was Robin and I was either Friar Tuck or Little John because this happened during my prolonged chubby phase — a phase that has come back to haunt me in my golden years. I preferred Little John.  I wasn’t all that religious, even then.  We would use stripped branches from fallen trees as staffs and dowel rods (for a nickel from the local hardware) as swords. There were also woody, willowy weeds that with some kitchen yarn could be used as a bow and, broken in the right place, as arrows. Our dramas were improvisational but could last from noon to nightfall. I’m sure there were kids our age all over the country doing some version of this.

My chubby phase also contributed to the next step in creating alternate worlds. In the mid-grades of elementary school, my friend and I participated in the annual talent show by writing our own Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton skits.  Even without Alice and Trixie, the performances were a huge success. Our classmates preferred our often slapstick comedy to the accordion players and tap dancers.  We wrote the skits, rehearsed them. and improvised during performances. I was Ralph because of my previously referenced girth and my friend did a spectacularly goofy Norton, especially considering he was also excellent as Robin Hood.

My good friend and I eventually went in separate directions. Initially sports won out for him.  There was nothing he wasn’t good at. Football in his younger years, and later as a successful photographer and father.  I kicked about — the Army and jobs in communications mostly – but never really gave up imaginary worlds and the desire to share them. I acted a bit in community and small theater while holding down sometimes fascinating day jobs.  I wrote plays.  One, “Death In Bloom,” saw the stage. I helped start an alternative newspaper, which is still going 25 years later and, at forty, began writing mysteries. It took awhile, but I found something that enabled me to invest serious energy in made-up stories.

The best part about being a novelist is I can engage in my adventure while at a desk, in the shower, or putting together the evening meal. At any time, or any place I can enter my world, and when I grow tired of it I can leave it — most of the time. The worst thing is that my nature has grown a bit anti-social. With the exception of my brothers and a few close friends, meeting with other people is anxiety producing.  I absolutely hate the telephone.  I have a thousand reasons, but mostly because of its untimely, unknowing, persistent rudeness, interrupting my fictional world or my adult make-believe.

What has happened, of course, is that I’ve become even more selfish in perhaps the true meaning of the word. What many around me do not understand is that now, at this stage of my obsession, I’m always writing. If I’m up walking around, if I’m shaving, if I’m watching TV…. I might be in the midst of committing a murder or finally solving it. It’s not just happening when I sit in front of my computer. In fact, if I’m typing, I’m probably just emptying my head of what I’ve already created.

Anyway, next month, Ed Norton, AKA Robin Hood, AKA Thomas Jefferson is coming to visit. I have seen him since sixth grade, but not often at all and certainly not recently. We’ve both entered our seventh decade of life, he probably with grandchildren, perhaps great grand children and me with a few now dusty books as offspring. I’m not complaining.  Actually I’m in the middle of three novellas. I go to sleep lately, looking for a way to save the life of my protagonist’s best friend in one of my books. I suspect I did the same thing down at the crick a few dozen years ago.  Or, more likely, visa versa.

1 comment:

the Tao of Teri said...

a wonderful tale of adventures, then and now. Well done!