(WARNING: This post has nearly nothing to do with the war…)
There are many forms of addiction in life, drugs alcohol, sex, gambling, and adrenaline. For me it is writing rather communication that is delivered from that medium, I have tried and failed at many things, I have failed at painting, I have failed at drawing, I have failed in more relationships that I care to admit (however, all of those painful lessons have not been forgotten, or repeated much to my wife’s satisfaction), I have failed at sports, even my beloved baseball (I did manage to steal home twice in a single game, but that is another story). I have failed at business (Granted the Dot Com world didn’t really count, did it?). I have been marginally successful at being a son; I have failed my parents at times. I have failed my friends at times, and to my disdain when they needed me most. I failed at photography, granted I loved my work, but for the life of me developing my own film was nearly catastrophic. With the exception of the military I have never been good at much; save for communication, debate, recollection of seemingly irrelevant material; names, dates, places, and events, and of course writing. The one passion in life that I have had a tangible and realistic grasp over is writing. It is my obsession, it holds me together and it has spanned the entirety of my life. Everything that I have ever read is chronicled in a marble covered notebook, rather volumes of them (I tend to have an obsessive compulsion to buy these notebooks when and wherever I find them), and from ever book I read I take something from it, a particular phrase, a metaphor, a pun, or a thought that it awoke within me. In essence I learn, from and evolve with each page I read.
At Kemper two of my classmates and I invented a holiday, May 6th 1990 we christened Writer’s Day, Stephen Susnar, Edward Brandon, and I were the most celebrated writers in our time, rather we arrogantly thought so, and we were nurtured, by Madame Francoise Bien and Mrs Patricia Turner, they encouraged and pushed our writing to the very limits of our life experience, and then some. Susnar, a dear friend of mine and quite possibly the man who gave definition to the word procrastinate wrote a masterful narrative on procrastination; it began; “As I awoke, I looked at my Apple computer screen, the cursor flashing, slowly, mocking me. As my eyes came into focus I saw in the screen, that a piece of paper I’d fallen asleep on had be glued to my face with saliva, prying it from the side of my head, it was my notes from 3 weeks ago, it stated two things, write paper, and don’t procrastinate… As I looked at the clock it read 5:30 am, in exactly three hours this paper assigned over three weeks ago was due. Ahhhh, I now had the motivation I needed; a crushingly repressive and rapidly approaching deadline.”
We’d all been fond of British humor, and in fact much of the reason for our being late on oh so many assignments was due to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, over and over and over and over we watched this film until we had to trade our worn out copy, for a brand new one at the local video store. A particular favorite of mine was Douglas Adams, specifically for our little band of essayists was this quote; “I love deadlines, and that whooshing sound they make when the go flying by, well. Susnar was a master of “roping” that deadline and using the inertia generated by its approach to not only meet the deadline but he had this uncanny knack for getting an A, receiving high praise from Madame and Mrs turner for having such a well thought out and executed story or essay. God how I hated and admired him for that, to our group of would be novelists, he was our Hemingway. For this particular assignment I decided to ignore it completely and drink bad beer instead, my punishment was more horrific than my 18 year old mind could fathom. It was (at the time) no great secret that I absolutely HATED Hamlet, of all the classics
forced upon the eager minds of youth, I dreaded, hated, loathed, and despised Hamlet above all others. Why, for this simple reason; when his stepfather the King was in the chapel praying Hamlet had, opportunity, and motive to end him on the spot. Yet, (this is THE primary reason I loathe the character) he hesitated and as a result of that three other characters died. In Hagakure it says when you decide upon a course of action, it is best to act, even if it will be very difficult. I mean c’mon the man was on his knees with his back to him, and for some moral reason he decides to wait to “murder” the king. It makes the brain baby kick just thinking about it. However I digress. My punishment was, since I hated Hamlet so, much was to re-write it, in a modern context. Oh, and I had 48 hours to not only start it but turn it in! Oh, how I love pressure! Did I mention how much I loathed Hamlet.
However, I was not to be alone in this misery, my compatriots Stephen and Edward were with me, and together we were going to do justice to this “piece” of… literature. But first we had to go out and drink beer. So, it seems that I am rather fond of procrastination as well, and let’s be honest my work had been written a few hundred years ago. How hard could it be? It is now 15 years and change later, and it still makes me laugh to think how utterly wonderful it was to be so profoundly dumb! How hard could it be? Three boxes of NoDoz (1 for each of us), no less than a small Columbian plantation of coffee, and breaking into the school library to “liberate” a word processor; for those of you reading this who cannot remember a time before laptops, we had this device called a word processor. It had a screen about as big as an 8 inch TV, and it was dreadfully slow, in fact it was so slow I now wonder if it was sent by the agents of procrastination to punish me more for waiting. We hijacked a high school student from class to type for me, and I had to fake illness (Nurse Royston, had an odd sort of crush on us, she always read our work like a star struck bobby-soxer), suffice to say I was given bed-rest all day and the four of us (including my hijacked high student drafted a piece of (for its time, (and by time I mean the lack of it that we actually had to think of and write) literary sorcery. We took the base story, and added ourselves, in the military school context, it worked out quite well, and 40 pages later (we in-fact called it the hyper-abridged Hamlet), We ended our little experiment in reinventing a “classic”. Thoroughly burned out, and mentally exhausted we did what any college students do, we blew off study hall and got more bad beer, and as Cliff Claven would assert killed off our weaker brain cells. On an aside; I failed to mention William Shakespeare in my works cited. I still have an axe to grind over the whole Hamlet/procrastination thing. Interesting how these things tie themselves into our lives. Back then we really did fancy ourselves to be capable of writing the next great American Novel for our generation, I do miss being that idealistc, young, and foolsih. The world was ours for the taking, but we just never reached high enough.
I’ve never been a great student, even at Pepperdine I barely squeaked by with a 3.0 GPA, the semester of 9/11 2001 was the only time in my life I actually got a 4.0. I was a 31 year old man, and I plastered my report card all over every refrigerator I could find. I mailed a copy to my parents, for the first time in my life, I didn’t try to hide my report card, or hope that they forgot about it. It seems comically irrelevant now, but comical nonetheless.
My sophomore year at Kemper (JUCO) I wrote a paper comparing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now; my favorite book ever, and favorite movie followed by Sallinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Mike van Diem’s Character respectively. The paper was nearly 70 pages in length in its draft form when I left a copy of it on the libraries word processor. A villainous (and MASSIVE) college football player nicknamed Bump, an unflattering reference to his apparent relationship to prehistoric man decided to steal my work and turn in my draft as his own. When I turned in my paper I was accused of cheating. I wasn’t entirely offended at this and in this digression I’ll explain;
I once took a religion class, felling a need to understand man, God, and man’s relationship with God. In said class Religion 101, we were taught by our school Chaplain, a Catholic Priest; this may be wrong but I never really liked him. ON the surface he seeme a decent chap, yet there was just something about him I never trusted. I guess it was apparent in my dealings with him; I went out of my way to avoid mass (which was often mandatory). I did other homework in his class, if I went at all. Well he was in general displeased with our entire class as we had done terribly on his mid-term examination, lack of interest. Wait, it does get worse. So when it came time for our final review he allowed us to review the actual examination. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot??? This was unheard of at military school, so of course all of us copied the answers any and everywhere we could. When it came test time we were all adequately prepared. Most of the class got 100’s, that was ludicrous! I got a respectable 87% which raised my overall grade to 79%. Now, comes the part where to this day I still would like to go back in time and kick my own ass. As I mentioned he was a Catholic Priest, and conducted mass in town, so I went to one of his early masses, and entered his confessional. I told him about the test. I have never heard a priest so enraged, and use so many profane words, nor has a priest, in a church, ever cursed at me. He grabbed me and ushered me outside and said;
“Mr. Currie, you think you are pretty damn clever don’t you!? The sanctity of the confessional is a sacred trust, and you think that you can use it for your amusement!?”
Well, I was only 18, and c’mon, I found a loophole to clearing my conscience and getting away with it. Of course, I didn’t say any of that, but I did (AT THE TIME) think it was damn clever. About 8 years ago, I went back to see the old school and stopped by the church and Father B was still there. We shared a glass of wine, or a bottle or two, and laughed for nearly 2 hours about it. To this day I have no idea why I never liked him. It was great to revisit that moment.
Ok, back to the paper, I was called out to defend my honor, so I walked into the room where my fate was to be decided and began to recite verbatim the first 15 minutes of “Apocalypse Now”, I was told to stop, they asked Mr. Bump to reciprocate, of course he could not, thus he found himself on a bus back home. Oh, that and the fact that he stole about $2000.00 worth of merchandise from the school store. For some reason the aforementioned films and books set me on a path years and years ago. As I mentioned Susnar was like our Hemingway, Eddie was more like a modern Kerouac, and me, well I was something else. I can’t explain it really I just loved to read and I began to absorb words, symbolism, metaphor, and the power of words. Getting into speech and debate, student council, writing classes, writing one act plays, attending abstract theatre, watching foreign film, and more writing classes. Several attempts at novels, and other works, yet it was the military that held my attention, always back to the uniform, it in essence became my religion, my sole driving purpose, it came to and has for nearly two decades defined me. For some time during my writing classes I realized a theme in my writing, I developed what I called inflexibility of character. Rather, characters that either by choice or inability do not change, resigned by the powers that be to move in a line towards a defining moment, or the end. Then in 1993 I went overseas, and my passion for writing almost overnight disappeared.
Upon my return the gift of written communication deserted me, no matter where I went, or how many classes I took, my writers block, was with me like a scar reminding me of what was once nearly perfect, now tainted leaving me with a memory of what was no longer there. I thought that I’d lost it forever, and it really saddened me. I thought that losing the ability to give tongue to my thoughts had been a punishment for the things I’d done. I took my medicine and moved on and for three years I didn’t write, rather I couldn’t write. Until I was in Washington DC for a military course, at FT Belvoir , I walked the hallowed ground of the capitol and it began to come back to me. I walked all over that evening until the dawns early light and once again in my life I was questioning who I was, and what was my purpose, but it felt to me that I’d find the answer here, if anywhere. For me it wasn’t to be a wise man on mountain high in Tibet, the reason I was who I thought I was, was born in this place in 1776. I ended up by the reflecting Pond as the sun took the darkness. As I walked to the edge of the pool I wondered what a lie looked like, fear prevented me from looking for the reflection would be my own. Had I been lied to all those years, or had I been lying to myself? Regardless, I walked to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and began to write in; yes, you guessed it a marble covered lined notebook. I wrote until well into the afternoon, the words flowed from my pen as if being excised from my past I wrote for nearly 5 hours until a Capitol Police Officer walked by for the fourth time, and asked what was I doing. The only word I could muster to him was “Freedom”. I held his gaze for a moment longer; smiling down at me he tilted his hat and walked on his way. Being in DC had unlocked something inside me and since that moment, I have tried to write as much as I can, when I can and where I can. Being here in “this war” there is so much I have written about, so much I have been witness to and so much that has for now gone unshared…for now.
Today was a good day; I was in as good a mood as I have been in months, so I kept it to myself. Wouldn’t want to have anyone spoil it. I got a great email from a friend, and it put a smile on my face. On the inside. Another time perhaps… I am a little tired so until next time.
To be or not to be… (What a joke!)
PS Have I mentioned I really hate Hamlet!