Lest everyone think I’ve been a slug over winter break, I thought I’d better offer a reason for not posting. Since fall classes ended, I’ve been heavy into my spring directed writing class project. It will certainly carry on through the summer and possibly the fall as well. I’ll have to put together a post on what I’m up to soon. But for now, here are a couple of my previous blogs that I combined into my third writing project during the fall semester. What seemed like an easy task turned out to be a lot more complicated than I ever imagined. Both pieces are on writers I admire and have influenced me. I hope you enjoy them.
Save the Trees
I wish I was a faster typist. No, scratch that. What I’d really like to do is actually type. I perform a poor imitation. During the 1970s while serving a four year sentence at Valparaiso High School, my guidance counselor tried repeatedly to get me into typing class. That was what they called it then. They used real typewriters. I always begged off, as it didn’t seem like a “manly” activity. My logic, quite flawed as it turns out, was if I need a typist, I’ll hire one. Well I’m paying for it now.
The word processor is a wonderful innovation. Without it, I’d be responsible for the decimation an entire forests. I’d also need barrels of white-out. But even this crutch has its limitations. Until recently, my brain and fingers pounded the keyboard in sort of a mutual harmony. The thoughts didn’t overwhelm the digits. But now the ideas are coming in frenzy and my clumsy fingers struggle to keep up. And I get frustrated. An aspiring writer should know how to type. A few years ago I took a keyboarding class at the career center at work. The program was called Mavis-Beacon. The contortions required to mimic the virtual keyboard prompts were unnatural and uncomfortable. I’d have had much less trouble when my fingers and mind were more pliable. Like when I was in high school.
Mechanical issues aside, I prefer a creative nonfiction style based on actual events from a first-person perspective. I say based, because to me truth, rather than the straight relating of fact is more important. Jack Kerouac, whose work has been an inspiration, popularized a technique that involved the fictionalization of real events. This is something I’ve also played with. Kerouac incidentally, was a lightning fast typist. His best seller, On the Road: the Original Scroll was fired off during a three-week marathon session. His canvas was a taped together 120-foot-long “scroll” of typing paper.
Kerouac also turned out some fine nonfiction. His tale Lonesome Traveler: Alone on a Mountaintop, relates of working as a firewatcher in the Cascade Mountains. A favorite of mine, the piece chronicles his manning of an isolated mountaintop outpost. Having once visited a fire watch installation in the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, I have no problem relating to how the experience must have felt. The firewatcher’s main responsibility, I was told by the tour guide, involved scanning for forest fires from the 100 foot-tall steel tower. The coordinates would then be radioed to dispatch for appropriate action. Fires often emanate from lightning strikes. The prospect of becoming a human lightning rod isn’t too appealing for most people. Writing being the solitary endeavor it is along with the lure of ample time to read, must have made the risk one worth taking for Kerouac. Nowadays, satellites do the watching; not nearly as romantic, but much safer.
As for gathering material, I favor living it, then telling it. Kerouac spent years on the road, something I’d love to do. But for the time being, I’ll be lucky to scrape together a couple months away. Some observers credit chemical over-indulgences that snuffed Jack’s life at age forty-nine as the basis of his creativity. I often ponder the question, but nevertheless don’t plan to take that particular path. After all, successful as he was, he’s still dead. And I definitely won’t attempt to mimic his use of the scroll. I’ll just stick with the word processor and save some trees.
A Little Piece of Dirt
Recently, I reread Hunter Thompson’s breakout best-seller, Hell’s Angels. The story centers on his experiences as he rode and partied with the notorious Southern California 1% Club. In the end, he barely escaped with his life after suffering a severe beating know in Angel vernacular as a “stomping.” The reason is lost to time, but may have had to do with the sharing of potential book profits. The Angels felt, and not without justification, that there would be no story without them. Beware when your subject matter includes outlaw biker gangs; they play by their own rules. Normal people would have just hired a lawyer. Subject compensation however, is something a writer needs to think about. It will doubtless come up in a project I’m currently contemplating. Lucky for me though, a stomping shouldn’t be part of the payback.
Thompson was gifted with a brilliant mind and vivid imagination. An incredibly caustic wit was part of the package. He was also eccentric and controversial. He helped popularize the sixties’ innovation of new journalism, a deviation from the simple straight reporting of facts. HST’s version was dubbed Gonzo, in which he became a central character and integral part of the narrative. The impetus was the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Thompson was in town as a news correspondent. Riots ensued and he discovered much to his shock, the press credentials he carried provided little protection. He was soon swept into melee and became part of his own story courtesy of a Chicago Police Department night stick.
Thompson’s commentary on life and politics in America is still remarkably fresh and relevant. But what fascinates me most is our common interests. Hunter, for example, was a gun enthusiast and devout 2nd Amendment advocate. He had an extensive collection of firearms that he loved to practice with at his Colorado estate, Owl Farm. This property was purchased in part with the advance from Hell’s Angels. The down payment was $10,000; chump change now, was big money in 1968. There he also engaged in another of my passions, riding dirt bikes. He didn’t buy quite enough land though, since later in life numerous complaints were lodged about his bizarre antics, such as blazing away with various weapons into the wee hours. In the end, the Aspen area where he lived saw the millionaires pushed out by the billionaires.
Thompson’s career accomplishments included twelve books, many of which were best-sellers, along with hundreds of magazine articles. Many of these were commissioned by Rolling Stone. He also did a piece for Cycle World Magazine. That same publication presented me with my first rejection slip. To reel Hunter in, the editor enticed him with a brand new Ducati to review. I should be so lucky. Hunter being Hunter, the resulting story, Song of the Sausage Creature had to be cleaned up so as to be presentable in a family format. Many authors look down their noses at the literary relevance of magazine articles, but I disagree. They are a good foundation and venue for floating ideas that may one day grow into larger works. I think Hunter would concur.
Thompson had trouble separating the wild and crazy in-print persona he had created from the real-life one. They increasingly became one and the same. Like Jack Kerouac, he was tormented by substance-fueled demons. They killed him in in the form of a self-inflicted bullet to-the-head at 67-years-old. Chalk up another victory for drugs and alcohol.
A life-long dream of mine is to own property where I can do much the same as Hunter, that is ride dirt bikes and shoot guns. Presently, I don’t have a big advance to back me up, or even a little one. But I am heartened by Rider Magazine’s purchase and publication of three of my stories. I hope to cultivate a long-term relationship with them. And maybe if I keep at it, I can one day move onto bigger things and earn enough to buy my own little piece of dirt.