Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fermenting the Human Condition

Sometime during the latter part of the 1800s, there was a trapper making his way through the plains of the midwest when he came upon a young Cherokee woman dressed in buckskins and riding a Palomino horse. She couldn't speak any English, and the trapper could barely make conversational Cherokee, but they fell in love and he brought her with him to live back east.

In the following years, with his own two hands, he built a homestead of almost mythical proportions at the base of a mountain. Thick roman columns graced the front of the elegant home; wide plank flooring gleamed in the interior and for a painfully short period of years, they lived happily. At some point, the home caught fire and burned to the ground... and I can't begin to imagine the emotional turmoil that they must have felt watching the burning embers disappear into the sky.

They didn't have enough money to rebuild it new again, so instead, they built a smaller cabin home and lived with their family the rest of their lives. One of the children they had was my grandmother.

My grandmother was born S.E. Thomas. It wasn't until close to 72 years later that she learned she'd been named after her uncle, who died in a coal mine before she was born. She had nine children and three husbands, all of which, she could argue and win against, including one particularly memorable knock down, drag out fight where she grabbed a civil war sword and sunk it into the door frame after the man ducked.

My grandmother had more kinds of jobs than I can count, ranging from working in a canning house, to sewing men's suits. She knew about folk medicine and how to gig a snake and how to make home made wine from leftover scraps from fruitcake.

She used to read my stories and poems when I was young and laugh or smile or shake her head. She got me drunk off of screwdrivers when I was fourteen and her raisin jack gave me the highest high and the lowest hangover I've ever had when I was in my early twenties at my best friend's cabin.

43 days ago, she was diagnosed with small cell cancer. Earlier this morning, close to three o'clock, she died. She'd been on morphine for a couple weeks now and anyone who's seen someone like that, knows they're there, but not really... there. But she was feeling no more pain and I guess there's thankfulness in that.

My uncle Don is a modern day mountain man... he's carrying the tradition of that trapper in the midwest... Don knows about black powder rifles and hunting and what sort of berries will kill you or curb your hunger. I know what he'll say when I see him in a few days... At the end of it all, I don't know... maybe my uncle Don's crazier than a shit house rat... maybe he's right... but he'll say a group of spirit horses came to take her to see the great white Tatanka. He'll say she's at peace.

I don't know about the details, but I agree with him in philosophy.

I started this post off with a direction in mind... I knew what it's intent was... first to tell a little about my grandmother.

Second, to try and explain to you that, not all, but most, writers are real pricks to themselves. Worse, most of you get the fall out.

See... the thing is, we're great at listening. Oh, hell baby, we've got the sympathetic bartender beat by a landslide. Shit, we'll even toss you a cold one or pour a few fingers of bourbon if that's your thing.

But being a listener? Put your head on my shoulder and let's hug it out. Tell me your troubles. Let me hear your heartbreak. We'll listen to anything of the human condition because like it or not, it all gets mixed up in the stew of fodder for what we write.

And we'll help you if we can. After all, with everything we've heard before, we've got a good reservoir of help to offer advice from.

But ourselves? Tell about our own pain? Talk about it to someone?

You've got to be shitting me...

You don't think that most writers end up being alcoholics or junkies or nibbling on the infinity shape of a double barrel for nothing do you?

Right or wrong, we keep it inside... and when it's ready, if we want to exorcise those demons, we know what to do. Oh, you'll see bits of us there... but even then we never tell everything. We're our own storytellers and greedy bastards that we are, we save the best for ourselves.

We hold everything in... let it ferment... and eventually we bleed on the page.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your grandmother sounds as if she lived this life to the fullest and without regret. She reminds me of my own Grandmother who passed. We will always miss them, but I am sure the Great Spirit needed her more, and chose to limit her suffering.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
- Jack London

Saw this quote today and thought of you and your Muse. In your case, however, I think your Muse may chase you with a club. ;)


1:07 PM  

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