7/19/14 Third-Rate Drivel

I cannot stop. I have this time on my hands since I am not feeling my best, not that I am complaining, so I decided I would write something.

“You should write a novel,” a friend suggested. I have thought about that for quite some time. It’s hard work developing characters, keeping focused on the plot, not writing superfluous things that contribute nothing to the overall novel. Nah…it simply requires too much discipline which I neither have nor seem willing to develop, nor likely to devote if I did. I am writing to clear my mind, not clutter it. In other words, this is a self-indulging sort of wordful clutter. That your mind may be cluttered after reading this, it is not really a problem of mine. You’ll have to deal with that.

I am good for 1,500 to 3,000 words. After that, I am useless. I certainly appreciate others who have the discipline to write a long novel because I will tackle reading one in an instant, even trilogies of large novels, without a second thought. I must have read Atlas Shrugged twenty times, The Lord of the Rings trilogy a dozen or more. I’ve read War and Peace twice. As a child, I even read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and I will forewarn you that I am a formidable opponent when playing Trivial Pursuit. Debbie says I know more useless facts and information than just about anyone she has ever met. I am a walking hard drive of futility.

My attention span is just too short for a novel. After all, I don’t want to work at writing. I want to write in a flash of inspiration, and a flash is just a flash. It may produce a moment of brilliance, but it is just a moment. I admire the writer that can produce brilliance over the course 1,200 pages.

I like Voltaire, Twain, C.S. Lewis, and G.K. Chesterton. Though they all wrote novels, Twain’s being the longest among them, to me their greatest work consists of short pieces, such as Twain’s travel adventures, which are a series of di8sjointed shorts, and Voltaire’s and Chesterton’s essays. They are all brilliance whose flash still lingers.

And in an odd twist, Melville, too. Of course I have read Moby Dick several times, and it is a delightful book. But it is not Moby Dick that captured me. It was Melville’s dry, boring, 100 page awful novella Billy Budd that permanently took a piece of me and left its indelible mark. I only read Billy Budd once. It was a hundred pages of torture. I never want to read it again, promised myself so, and have easily kept my promise. But Billy Budd has never escaped me. It moved in and never left. It is like a bad houseguest. It gnaws at me, pulls at me, cajoles me, and angers me all at the same time. Never have I had something so short and dry make such an impact. I’d recommend that you read it yourself, if you can force your way through it. From the outside, it looks quite simple; but once inside the cover it is as uncomfortable as the root-canals I wrote about yesterday. Billy Budd moves in and never leaves, and you never quite get used to his presence, much less want to have a conversation with him or his companions. If staying power is a sign of literary brilliance, and permanently communicating something awful and powerful on the first reading, never requiring a second glance, then Billy Budd wins as the all-time greatest literary work. I’m glad I read it. It’s over and done with, now…but at odd moments, quiet moments, in moments of introspection when there is no distraction, I find myself thinking about Billy Budd. Sometimes I wake up from fresh dreams of Billy Budd. Herman Melville, I salute you! What a remarkable achievement.

I don’t even care to write a short novella, though. If Billy Budd was as hard to write as it was to read, then I’d never take the time to get the characters developed. I suppose that’s why fiction comes hard to me. It is difficult to develop characters out of nothing and keep them consistent. I’d rather write about characters I already know, perhaps give them a false name rather than expose them, but they’d likely know themselves if they read what I had written.

We are told to write about the things we know. I’ll agree with that, ’cause it seems to me that I’d have a hard time persuading you  of anything with any writing about something that I didn’t know, though science fiction writers have a knack at this. I envy their imagination. I don’t have it.

I find it much easier to take something ordinary and reduce it to the ridiculous. But frequently that yields drivel much like the drivel I wrote yesterday.

“What’s wrong with drivel?” asked the man peering over my shoulder, the one with disheveled hair much like mine, and a moustache much like mine, with a fine cigar stuck in the corner of his mouth. He looked a lot like a certain Mr. Clemens. “I’ve written my share of drivel. We all have.”

“You, Mr. Clemens? Drivel? You?” I asked, not believing it for an instant.

“Pure, unmitigated drivel,” he said with an air of self-satisfaction. “And that Voltaire you seem to admire, such drivel had never been written before in the history of humanity. He attained a level of drivility that has not been duplicated, even by me. That is what made him what he was. He was not afraid of drivel.”

“But I shudder to think of putting the drivel I write out for everyone to see,” I said.

“Nonsense,” he scoffed. “Your drivel is as good as any drivel I have ever seen. The trick is that it won’t all be drivel. It will be interspersed with the occasional flash of inspired brilliance. That’s what we all look for. One can’t be brilliant all the time…it is drivel that will see you through, after all, Voltaire’s Candide is about as big a pile of drivel as I have ever seen…even worse than my “About Barbers” short. Drivel is drivel. One man’s drivel is another man’s masterpiece.”

The air was thick with cigar smoke. I could tell it was a good Cuban with a Connecticut wrapper, which is the best kind. I commented on the fineness of it several times, thinking he might offer me one, but all I got was a hard look and a stony faced silence every time I mentioned it. I think he was rather stingy with his cigars, though he shared his words freely. I’m sure the words cost him more than the cigars, because they still have a very high value and the cigars are gone up in smoke. He took a big puff, then another, blew the smoke in my face and disappeared in a fragrant cloud of Cuban Olor and Connecticut Connecticut tobacco.

Well, that settles it….if it is drivel that drives us towards brilliance, then here is your drivel. It comes to you free of charge. I can’t even smoke a cigar as I write it because I am not allowed to smoke one in the house. I’ll smoke one as soon as I get through, though. I can drivel with the best of them.

About that time, Debbie walks into the kitchen Where I was sitting as I wrote this. “Have you been smoking a cigar in here?” she demanded.

“No. I have been writing. I have not smoked a cigar all morning,” I said, truthfully, too.

“Well, I smell cigar and I won’t have it in my house,” she said, looking at me as if I had lied.

“It wasn’t me,” I declared. “It was Mark Twain.”

“Yeah…right,” she said in disgust, not believing me for an instant.

“Well, you and Mark Twain better get out of my house, then.”

That’s it. The drivel is over for today. Tomorrow may bring some fresh drivel, or it could be leftover drivel. Rest assured, though, it will be drivel just the same. Fresh or leftover…one is about as god as the other, I reckon.

I certainly don’t want to write about anything serious, or at least anything more serious than a chastisement for smoking a cigar.



©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp

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