A Slice of Pie, Please

“My native, hard-wired inclination to mix, intermingle, even fuse in my novels the tragic with the comic, the ugly with the beautiful, the romantic with the gritty, fantasy with reality, mythos with logos, the sensible with the goofy, the sacred with the profane. Critics hard a time with this approach, finding it challenging to comprehend how writing can be simultaneously ironic and heart-felt. Although to the nimble-minded among us, it seems every bit as appropriate as it does surprising.”

  • Tom Robbins, Tibetan Peach Pie

Last week, a friend tried to persuade me to stop calling myself a “writer.” A couple weeks ago, she had overheard me say to some out-of-town friends that “I’m a writer.” She told me to instead say “I like to write,” I guess because in her mind, a writer is someone who gathers their wages from published words they string together in publishable compositions. To me, there is absolutely no difference at all between that and what I do these days in writing for my blog or working, albeit glacially slowly, on my manuscript. Forgetting for a second that those same friends probably weren’t losing any sleep over the fact that I identify myself as a writer, that they were in fact not giving it a second thought, to call myself a writer is to acknowledge the one skill that I do well, whether I get paid for it or not. I was a reporter for a local newsweekly for 4 years and I got a paycheck for writing. These days, I have my blog and I write for it, for albeit unpaid publication, at least weekly. This may seem like apples and oranges to some, but it’s all the same fruit to me.

Many, many times over the years, I have used one phrase to best classify my writing. I have come to think of it as a mixture of the sacred with the profane. I knew that I had read that somewhere before but for the life of me couldn’t remember where. I recently finished Tom Robbins’ audio book Tibetan Peach Pie and there it was. I mean there it is, at the top of this post. Robbins has been easily my favorite writer since my brother first gave me Skinny Legs and All when I was in college. After finishing that book, I proceeded to devour every book the man had written since he first started writing books and have ravenously devoured every book he has written in the years after. Until, that is, I asked Audible what else I should read and entered the name “Tom Robbins” in the search field. The first book to come up was Tibetan Peach Pie. I finished it in about 3 days, give or take. And when I heard the narrator read the phrase above, I realized anew why I write the way I do. Robbins was such a powerful influence on me at that young age. I adored his stories because they addressed topics such as religion, politics, sexuality and money in ways that transcended the subject matter. It was like watching a dog looking in the mirror and calling itself a dog, then laughing hysterically. Because it is, after all, a dog. I know that may not make a lot of sense to you, but it makes perfect sense to me. Robbins spent a few years in Japan and, and like any self-respecting Buddhist, doesn’t call himself a Buddhist. Yet the influence of his time in Japan seeps through his writing like sap from a maple tree. Robbins also spent a few years in Omaha at the Air Force base here, so it’s very possible that he and I literally drank the some water and I was lucky enough to ingest some of the Robbins mojo. I listened to the book with great pleasure and noticed something else about his writing I’ve adapted into my own. Because I have a fairly sizable vocabulary (it expands all the time because I am, well, that guy) I have noticed Robbins love of taking ordinary, mundane subject matter and presenting it with such a beauty and eloquence that it’s easy to forget you’re just reading about his younger days in Podunk, West Virginia (that’s not the actual name of the municipality where he resided. It’s merely the nomenclature I opted to apply to a hamlet of such miniscule importance that it may as well share that name with hundreds of other communities within that particular commonwealth and region [see what I did there?])

Because of my love affair with the English language (don’t worry, I’m not married, so it’s more like puppy love), I have adopted another trait from another of my favorite writers, George Carlin. You may be thinking “Wait, Carlin was just a stand-up comic” and that is true, but in an interview he gave once, Carling identified himself as a writer first and everything else second. He was a writer who performed his own material (and went on to arguably the most successful career in comedy to date). He savored words and expressions, was fascinated by them and drew strength from them. He questioned the use of words and often lost his mind because of their misuse. I, too, have questioned the reasoning and justification behind sayings that, for example, address Nebraska’s need for rain and the logic behind figures of speech we use every day like keeping ones trousers fastened snugly around ones waste when frustrated. I do this because A) I can do it pretty well and am often pretty funny when I try and 2) This crap keeps me up at night. Not necessarily in that order.

A friend of mine is a musician and loves to talk about all things music. That’s not really what he does, it’s who he is. I don’t have a marketable still in this economy, but I do have one that is engaging and entertains people. I mean, you did just finish this post, right? When I say “I’m a writer,” I’m not trying to elevate myself over people and I’m not claiming rights to any special skill. Chief executive officers officiate. Plumbers plumb. Writers write. I’m a writer. It’s not something I do. It’s who I am.

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