It was December 20th and I was waiting for a flight at Dallas’ Love Field... If I were your usual high-quality literary writer penning your usual high-quality literary Relief post, I’d continue: December 20—41 years to the day since John Steinbeck died. Later that afternoon, winging west to LAX, I read a quote from Andre Dubus (in Novel Voices) that writing fiction doesn’t change the world, that “Cesar Chavez did more than six John Steinbecks could have done.” And I thought to myself how everything’s connected....
But I’m not your usual high-quality literary writer. (Blame Christopher Fisher for inviting me: he’s why you can’t have nice things.) So, instead, here’s the best I can give you: December 20—41 years to the day since I was born. My wife and son had given me an iPod Touch as a present and I was thumb-typing a list/article for the someday (please, God, soon) return of The Wittenburg Door:
“Ways to Reboot the Christmas Shoes Franchise”
- The Christmas Hipwaders
- The Christmas Flip-Flops
- The Christmas Sensible Pumps
- The Christmas Pegleg
- The Christmas Soccer Cleats
- The Christmas the guy in line behind the kid dials 911 instead of paying for the damn shoes and saves the mother’s life
- The Christmas Mukluks
- The Christmas Topsiders
- The Christmas Birkenstocks
and so on...
The subject of dead moms and God returned a few days later. Van Hagar’s, errrr Van Halen’s “Right Now” had cycled through on my iPod, and I hunted down its video online. One of the signs appearing in the glorified Powerpoint presentation reads “Right now God is killing moms and dogs because He has to.” (Provocative verb, but substitute "calling home" or “gathering thereunto His bosom,”—or if you're Pat Robertson add “because they made a pact with the devil” to the end—and you've got much the same thing.) Thankfully, that was the last of dying moms on the trip.
But the signs and videos thing came up a couple more times. After “Right Now” I tracked down Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (he flips cue cards with the lyrics throughout the video) and on Palindrome Day (01/02/2010) I checked out “Weird Al” Yankovic’s parody video, “Bob” (all the lyrics in the song/on the cue cards are palindromes: “Was it a car or a cat I saw?”). A day or so after that another Dylan pastiche appeared in a book I got from my folks (mom’s fine, by the way; good on shoes, too), The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. In one of the wax paper sleeves was “The 43rd Dream,” a poem King wrote as a teen, riffing on Dylan’s “115th Dream.”
Toward the end of my California Christmas my family took in Cannery Row. Yes, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is more responsible for its renaissance than any Steinbeck story, but I posed by his statue on the waterfront, nonetheless. Meanwhile, back in Texas, my pre-AP students were (allegedly) reading Steinbeck’s novella The Pearl. And we’ve come the long way round to the idea that “it’s all connected.” (Another “Right Now” slide reads “Right now oysters are being robbed of their sole possession” … hmmmm.)
In his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas C. Foster says “There’s only one story … Whenever anyone puts pen to paper or hands to keyboard or fingers to lute string or quill to papyrus. Norse sagas, Samoan creation stories, Gravity’s Rainbow, The Tale of Genji, Hamlet, last year’s graduation speech ... On the Road and Road to Rio and ‘The Road not Taken.’ One story.” Pride and Prejudice and Zombies makes his point as well as anything, I suppose. And while Solomon wrote “there’s nothing new under the sun,” it’s true that there’s increasingly more “nothing new” under that sun, influencing, intersecting with all the “nothing new” yet to come. Steinbeck to Dubus for the smart set; Christmas Shoes, Sammy Hagar, “Weird Al,” and Steve King for the rest of us. (Dylan, maybe, bridging the gap.) All of it to all of us via this blog entry. This blog entry to your angry letters to the editor. And so it goes. Circle of Life. Hakuna Matata.
Honor those who’ve influenced you, good or bad. Make the most of the chapters to the story you write. You never know whose chapters they’ll intersect with down the road.
Chris Mikesell teaches sophomore English at a public school in Dallas, Texas. His short fiction has appeared in Coach's Midnight Diner 1 & 2; Dragons, Knights & Angels; and Ray Gun Revival. His haiku have appeared here at Relief on numerous occasions.