Four Part Harmony Part I
This post goes out to KC who asked if I’d share some of the thoughts from the recent ADK teacher session on “The Mandolin Case,” titled “Four Part Harmony.” Part I is today, and I’ll post one every Monday for a month to complete the series.
Part I was “Why I Write.” I’m reminded of a college Philosophy exam. It had one question. “Why?”
One student answered “Because.” He got an ‘F.’
Another answered ‘Why not?’ He got an ‘A.’
So I guess I’ll stick with ‘Why not?’ My motivations were multi-factorial, but they fell into three general categories.
The first was simple enough; writing made me feel young again. Back in grade school the teachers would have us write stories, and I often was awarded a blue ribbon. After “The Mandolin Case” was released and so many people liked the book, it brought back those same feelings of validation I experienced so long ago. Stories made me happy as a child, and I guess adults don’t outgrow the desire to be accepted. My world accepted me, and it was fun.
It’s strange, ’cause in my work as a Doc you do make a difference, but it’s my job. I have a moral, ethical, professional, and legal obligation to deliver the goods even when I don’t feel good myself. If you lose your muse in the Doc gig you’d better find it PDQ or else become mired up in a heap of big-time trouble. (Someone asked what my speciality was and I said, “Staying out of trouble, and I’m real good at it.”)
As a writer it seemed different. I was under no obligation at all; I just wrote because I believed I had something to say and wanted to share it. When my book got good reviews it made me feel like the kid with the blue ribbons again. I’ve often said with art you toss your heart out there and see if people stomp on it, but they embraced it. I was both touched and humbled by the response.
The second reason was a sense of immortality. We don’t have any real immortality except in Eternity of course, but somehow I could envision that my writing would allow my ideas and dreams to live on beyond my time. One of the dominant thoughts that drove me was one of my kids as old people in the nursing home reading to a grandchild on their knee. The child would ask, “Was great-grandaddy really like that?”
They might answer, “Well no, I think he made that part up.” Then they’d flip to another page and say, “but now that scene at the Bomb Shelter is real ’cause I was there.”
Already our family stories live on. My son is a helicopter pilot and a paramedic, and my daughter is a sophisticated University young lady. They were both raised in part by middle-aged bluegrass pickers. When they tell their stories, their young friends think they must have made them up, but the stories are true. Our way of life lives on in them.
Maybe a hundred years from now some kid will find my story on a dusty book shelf, read it, and decide we had such a big time that they needed to make art part of their life, too. Perhaps long after I’m gone a weary doctor will realize others have been there before and find some comfort in the pages.
The third reason was practical; my survival. All I ever wanted to be was a simple and decent man;, a country doc with a wife, 2 1/2 kids, a dog, and a picket fence life who got to play some music on the week-ends off call. I found it wasn’t always so simple. When I began to write about Indie he showed me how to make it work. You remember his line? “It doesn’t take any special talent to be wicked. Anyone can do that. But to be a decent person requires creativity to the point of art.” I wanted to be decent, but also not be trampled on in this hyper-competitive modern world. Indie, through the process of writing about him, showed me just how to do it.
I have several more projects in the works. but if I never got anything else done in the art world, that reward alone would be more than enough. Through writing I developed my strategy. Now if someone sets out to do me or my people wrong I just smile and wave a matador’s red cape in front of a brick wall. I tell ’em I don’t think I’d charge on through. 80% of them have the good sense not to, but 20% run headlong smack through the cape and into the wall and then get knocked out.
When they come to they ask, “Why did ya go and do that?”
My response is always the same. “I dunno. Read the book.”
I’m as imperfect as anyone else, although I hope I was a decent man before the book. But writing took my life philosophy to another level. It yielded a hard-fought tranquility that is mine for the rest of my days. As Irene Lehman said, “When a man writes like that, there’s a reason.” Through the process of writing I solidified what was important and true to me and why it was so. And it was more reward than money can ever buy. As a writer, I found every little bit of me, and realized I liked me just fine, imperfections and all. If anyone out there is still searching, writing ain’t a bad way to find yourself.
And it’s a fun journey.
I’ll be back next Monday with Part II, “How I Became a Writer.”
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