Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Dark Side of the Spectrum


By the day after I'd begun writing American Zen, which was the fifth anniversary of Shock and Awe, I was already so immersed in my novel that I had barely noticed it was the date we'd invaded Iraq. It was raining here in Massachusetts that day and, I'm ashamed to say, that was the biggest reason why I didn't try harder to get a ride to Moveon.org's candlelight vigil in neighboring Marlborough.

This year, long after I'd put the finishing touches on my book, this past March 19th went completely unremarked by me. In fact, I'd written nothing but increasingly frantic Craigslist ads begging for adequate housing. It's not as if I no longer care about our brave men and women in Iraq. It's just, to quote "Five Deferments" Dick Cheney, "I had other priorities."

But it had occurred to me today that, due to external forces beyond both my control and comprehension, what I sought out to do in American Zen not only did not happen, the exact reverse did.

My novel's first person narrator, Mike Flannigan, was my idealized self, an ideal that I thought writing and publishing AZ would help me realize (since it was painfully obvious by last year that I'd fallen far, far short of his example). Even though he doesn't realize or appreciate it until the end of the book, Mike has it all. This lucky but momentarily ungrateful bastard has a nice home in the toney town of Wayland, Massachusetts, a great wife and three wonderful, loving kids, a family who actually frets when he's not home. For good measure, he also makes a pretty good living doing the one thing he loves to do and is better at than anything besides playing a Stratocaster: Mike's also a well-known and somewhat feared investigative political journalist, sort of a Seymour Hersh-in training.

On the other, darker end of the spectrum is the band's former drummer Billy Frazee. Billy's a former SEAL, on the very edge of life and seriously considering ending it all. When Mike and his ex-bassist Rob Svenson show up at Billy's motorcycle repair shop in Connecticut, Rob notices after Billy accidentally cold cocks Mike a noose tied off and still swinging in the bay. Billy left his family a decade ago, still haunted by what he'd done as a sniper in the Persian Gulf in the early 80's.

Billy was where, what and who I used to be and from whom I was convinced I was moving away while making my slow but sure transition to where Mike was.

It didn't occur to me until long after I finished the first draft that Mike and Billy are really opposite sides of the same coin. Minus the hardcore Republican conservative belief system, I used to be Billy and wanted to be Mike. Right in the middle, during this painful but still-interesting transition, crawled yours truly.

I always thought that penning American Zen, unquestionably my most brilliant sustained effort, would help make me Mike Flannigan and put Billy, or his violent past, out to pasture. I thought, like Mike, that I was just in a rut and publishing this book through the best agent in the business would restore the credibility that I'd always lacked in this family.

But these past several weeks, I've found that I'm actually being pushed closer to where the acid-tongued but suicidal Billy is until he, too, achieves his own salvation at the end of the novel. These past few weeks, I've been harboring the dark thoughts that Billy had squirming in his brain ever since 1981, alternating between fantasies of coming out of retirement one more time for the deserving or just ending it all.

But Billy, as I'd just said, achieved the salvation that comes to every principal character in the book with a little intervention from his childhood friend Rob, who convinces Mike to swing by Troy, New York so Billy can begin repairing his relationship with his estranged ex wife and daughter. Billy, like me, was baffled and buffeted by forces beyond his control and comprehension. But toward the end of the book, he has this exchange with Mike at a garage:
“Mike, did you ever get those books for your kids, the ones with all the different endings?”

I said I never had. It violated every principle of storytelling that I could imagine. Even though I’ve never written a novel, I’d said more than once that while there are countless ways to begin a story, there was only one way to end each one.

“Just before me an’ Liz broke up, I got Jay this book for her third birthday. It had like five or six different endings. I read it to her a few times when I wasn’t too beered-up. She kept asking me to read it from the beginning and giving her a new ending until there were none left.

“She told me she didn’t like a single one of them. So you know what she did?” I shook my head. “She thought up her own ending and I’ll be fucked running if she didn’t think up the best one of them all. She was always a quick little shit. Thank God she’s got brains on her mother’s side of the family.

“Well, that’s what this point in my life is like, Mike: A shitty book written by someone else where all the endings suck. Well, I’m taking a cue from my little girl and writing my own fucking ending.” He pointed toward the bay doors.

“Being in this place, hearing the impactors, smelling the grease, hearing metal on metal… It reminds me that I should be at my own shop, taking care of my own business, sobering up and reclaiming my family. That’s why I threw away the gun.” He’d also popped all the bullets out of the clip and tossed them out the window into the foliage on I-90 just before we got to the garage. “That incident at the bone yard, dude, told me that I can’t be playing the middle-aged hero. You can’t be a SEAL forever.

“So I’m going back with Rob. Hell, we’re in Springfield, Mike- we’re just north of Connecticut. There’s no sense in going back to P’town. And it’s not the fag thing. I just gotta reclaim my life. We all do.”

Indeed, Billy. I'd offer you a beer if you weren't trying to unsteadily climb onto the wagon.

American Zen, even though I was its author, taught me so many lessons I cannot even begin to count them. This novel is the most vivid and organic delineation of characters actually thinking with a subterranean wisdom independent of their creator, of characters literally taking a life of their own.

Billy's not the smartest guy in the world but he's basically good and compassionate and is determined not to live a Calvinistic existence in which those above him in the economic and social hierarchy determine his fate or lead him to think that he has no power to exercise control over his own destiny. Bullshit, Billy says, and I agree.

One of my readers recently wrote something that embedded itself in my brain like a painless fish hook when he said, "Success is the best revenge." My novel is still very much in the swim with several literary agencies and I have many other appropriate agencies to whom I can submit this. I can also send this book "over the transom" (or submitting an unsolicited ms without an agent) to St. Martin's Press, the only major publisher that'll still read stuff sent by you, the author.

It looks as if I'll be going into a dump either Thursday or Friday but it will be temporary. And when American Zen hits the shelves to whatever success it brings me, the contrast between where I am to where I'll be will be enormous. And perhaps more than one person in this family will look at Ingrid and ask her incredulously, "That's the guy you threw out of this family?!"

So, thank you, Billy. You resisted the urge to go to the bright white light and found another for which you don't have to die to see. So will I.

7 Comments:

At March 24, 2009 at 9:22 PM, Blogger Lisa said...

Rather than, "That's the guy you threw out of this family?!"

How about: "That's the family I allowed to cause me any misery?!"

(But hey, thanks for the warped story lines, folks. . . I may change names to protect the innocent.)

 
At March 25, 2009 at 10:14 AM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

peace dude.

i was waiting for you to see the lessons you had written yourself.

to paraphrase ramses (yul brenner version)

so let it be written.

so let it be done.

 
At March 25, 2009 at 12:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From Antifascist,

Your character analysis of Mike and Billy is very interesting and insightful. It is a dialectical relationship-a dialogue between two world views, two paradigms of interpreting life experience. And the dialogue leads to some place. As Socrates, the greatest dialetician, once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And the interaction between these two ways of being brings about an examined life that is well worth living. A spectrum is light examined. There is an unstated axiom, or assumption, in all psychoanalytic theory: Knowledge, or insight, brings about healing. Objectifying these two forces, Mike and Bill, as literary devices reveals an necessary conflict in which one character overpowers, but also in a strange way encompasses and preserves the other in a higher awareness of Self. Billy will never go away, because he is essential to making Mike possible-- and then to making Mike actual. It is an existential struggle of the Self determining its potentiality and identity. It is an internal Ethical conflict which we all choose, if we are authentic, to participate in order to become fully Human.

 
At March 25, 2009 at 4:27 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Antifascist:

That's pretty much the most dead-on interpretation of these two guys that I've ever read.

Why didn't you come up with that, Stevie?

 
At March 26, 2009 at 2:05 PM, OpenID duros62 said...

Jesus, Antifacist, you're gonna make me cry.

You can do this, JP. Steady on.

 
At April 8, 2009 at 8:09 AM, Blogger Gad said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Elaina

http://www.craigslistmaster.info

 
At April 8, 2009 at 8:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"This novel is the most vivid and organic delineation of characters actually thinking with a subterranean wisdom independent of their creator, of characters literally taking a life of their own."

You should send that out with the book, so critics will know what to say about it. Make sure to mention you're a Navy Seal, so they'll be too scared to say anything else, lest you "take a life of your own"

I'll wait for the movie.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

All Time Classics

  • Our Worse Half: The 25 Most Embarrassing States.
  • The Missing Security Tapes From the World Trade Center.
  • It's a Blunderful Life.
  • The Civil War II
  • Sweet Jesus, I Hate America
  • Top Ten Conservative Books
  • I Am Mr. Ed
  • Glenn Beck: Racist, Hate Monger, Comedian
  • The Ten Worst Music Videos of all Time
  • Assclowns of the Week

  • Links to the first 33 Assclowns of the Week.
  • Links to Assclowns of the Week 38-63.
  • #99: Dr. Strangehate edition
  • #98: Get Bentghazi edition
  • #97: SNAPping Your Fingers at the Poor edition
  • #96: Treat or Treat, Kiss My Ass edition
  • #95: Monumental Stupidity double-sized edition
  • #94: House of 'Tards edition
  • #93: You Da Bomb! edition.
  • #92: Akin to a Fool edition.
  • #91: Aurora Moronealis edition.
  • #90: Keep Your Gubmint Hands Off My High Pre'mums and Deductibles! edition.
  • #89: Occupy the Catbird Seat/Thanksgiving edition.
  • #88: Heil Hitler edition.
  • #87: Let Sleeping Elephants Lie edition.
  • #86: the Maniacs edition.
  • #85: The Top 50 Assclowns of 2010 edition.
  • #(19)84: Midterm Madness edition.
  • #83: Spill, Baby, Spill! edition.
  • #82: Leave Corporations Alone, They’re People! edition.
  • #81: Hatin' on Haiti edition.
  • #80: Don't Get Your Panties in a Twist edition.
  • #79: Top 50 Assclowns of 2009 edition.
  • #78: Nattering Nabobs of Negativism edition.
  • #77: ...And Justice For Once edition.
  • #76: Reading Tea Leaves/Labor Day edition.
  • #75: Diamond Jubilee/Inaugural Edition
  • #74: Dropping the Crystal Ball Edition
  • #73: The Twelve Assclowns of Christmas Edition
  • #72: Trick or Treat Election Day Edition
  • #71: Grand Theft Autocrats Edition
  • #70: Soulless Corporations and the Politicians Who Love Them Edition
  • Top 10 LA Radio Shows That Are Rated Higher Than Rush Limbaugh's
  • Top 10 Reasons Operation American Spring Went Flat
  • Top Ten Facts of the MH370 Air Disaster
  • Top 10 Tips for GOP Congressmen Running Against Women
  • Top 10 Signs Walmart's Mistreating its Workers
  • Top 10 Diversions John McCain Found During Syria Hearing
  • Top 10 George Zimmerman Excuses for Speeding.
  • Top 10 Reasons Paula Deen Got Fired by the Food Network
  • Top Ten Ways Pope Francis is Deviating From Convention
  • Top 10 Reasons For the Pope's Resignation
  • Top 10 Emails Hacked From the Bush Family's Email Accounts
  • Top 10 Lies Told by Mitt Romney at the 2nd Debate.
  • Top 10 Examples of How Hard the Campaign Trail is on Ann D. Romney.
  • Top 10 Ways to Tell The Boston Red Sox Are Finished.
  • Top 10 Things Mitt May be Hiding in His Tax Returns.
  • Top 10 Events at the Romney Olympics.
  • Mitt Romney's Top 10 Wild & Crazy Moments.
  • Top Ten Reasons Why Dick Cheney Got a Heart Transplant.
  • Top 10 Facts About Tonight's New England/Denver Game.
  • My Top 10 Resolutions.
  • Top 10 Rejected Slogans of the Romney Campaign.
  • Top 10 Reasons Herman Cain Suspended His Campaign.
  • Top 10 Trending Topics on Twitter During #OWS Eviction.
  • Top 10 Herman Cain Pickup Lines.
  • Top 10 Changes Since Anthony Weiner Decided to Resign.
  • Top 10 Inaccuracies re bin Laden's Death.
  • Top 10 Ways to Prevent a TSA Patdown.
  • Top Ten Things Not to Say When You're Pulled Over.
  • Top 10 Reasons Why Donald Trump Bowed Out of the Presidential Race.
  • Top 10 Ways Evangelicals Will Prepare for the Rapture II.
  • Top 10 Revelations in Today's Parliament Inquiry into News Corp.
  • Top 10 Reasons Why There Was No Vote on the Debt Ceiling Last Night.
  • Top 10 Revelations in Dick Cheney's Upcoming Memoir.
  • Top Ten Ways Americans Will Observe the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.
  • Top Ten Advances in Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia.
  • Top Ten Inaccuracies in Bill O'Reilly's Book About Lincoln.
  • Top Ten Suggestions From the Cat Food Commission.
  • Top Ten Worst Moments in George W. Bush's Presidency.
  • Top Ten Facts in George W. Bush's Memoir.
  • Top Ten Reasons Terry Jones Postponed His Koran Burning
  • Top 10 Causes for Dick Cheney's Congestive Heart Failure
  • Top Ten Ways That Jan Brewer Will Celebrate Cinco de Mayo
  • Top Ten Demands in Sarah Palin's Contract
  • Top Ten Whoppers in Karl Rove's New Book
  • Top 10 Items Left Behind in Rush Limbaugh's Apartment
  • Top Ten Things Barack Obama said to Rush Limbaugh in the Hospital
  • Top Ten Bizarre Promos Offered by the New Jersey Nets
  • Top 10 Bush Executive Orders Labor Wants President Obama to Repeal
  • George W. Bush's Top Ten Lesser Achievements
  • Boolean Bozoism

  • #19
  • #18
  • #17
  • #16
  • #15
  • #14
  • #13
  • #11
  • #10
  • Empire Of The Senseless.
  • Christwire.org: Conservative Values for an Unsaved World.
  • Esquire's Charles Pierce.
  • Brilliant @ Breakfast.
  • The Burning Platform.
  • The Rant.
  • Mock, Paper, Scissors.
  • James Petras.
  • Towle Road.
  • Avedon's Sideshow (the new site).
  • At Largely, Larisa Alexandrovna's place.
  • The Daily Howler.
  • The DCist.
  • Greg Palast.
  • Jon Swift. RIP, Al.
  • God is For Suckers.
  • Hullabaloo, Digby's place.
  • The Rude Pundit.
  • Driftglass.
  • Newshounds.
  • William Grigg, a great find.
  • Brad Blog.
  • Down With Tyranny!, Howie Klein's blog.
  • Wayne's World. Party time! Excellent!
  • Busted Knuckles, aka Ornery Bastard.
  • Mills River Progressive.
  • Right Wing Watch.
  • Earthbond Misfit.
  • Anosognosia.
  • Echidne of the Snakes.
  • They Gave Us a Republic.
  • The Gawker.
  • Outtake Online, Emmy-winner Charlotte Robinson's site.
  • The artist formerly known as Politits. The politics are still liberal.
  • Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo
  • No More Mr. Nice Blog.
  • Head On Radio Network, Bob Kincaid.
  • Spocko's Brain.
  • Pandagon.
  • Slackivist.
  • WTF Is It Now?
  • No Blood For Hubris.
  • Lydia Cornell, a very smart and accomplished lady.
  • Roger Ailes (the good one.)
  • BlondeSense.
  • The Smirking Chimp.
  • Hammer of the Blogs.
  • Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.
  • Argville.
  • Existentialist Cowboy.
  • The Progressive.
  • The Nation.
  • Mother Jones.
  • Vanity Fair.
  • Salon.com.
  • Raw Story.
  • Citizens For Legitimate Government.
  • News Finder.
  • Indy Media Center.
  • Lexis News.
  • Military Religious Freedom.
  • McClatchy Newspapers.
  • The New Yorker.
  • Bloggingheads TV, political vlogging.
  • Find Articles.com, the next-best thing to Nexis.
  • Altweeklies, for the news you won't get just anywhere.
  • The Smirking Chimp
  • Don Emmerich's Peace Blog
  • Wikileaks.
  • The Peoples' Voice.
  • Dictionary.com.
  • CIA World Fact Book.
  • IP address locator.
  • Tom Tomorrow's hilarious strip.
  • Babelfish, an instant, online translator. I love to translate Ann Coulter's site into German.
  • Newsmeat: Find out who's donating to whom.
  • Wikipedia.
  • Uncyclopedia.
  • anysoldier.com
  • Icasualties
  • Free Press
  • YouTube
  • The Bone Bridge.
  • Powered by Blogger

    http://DeeperLeft.com