August 10, 2010
JC: Johnny needs no introduction around here. All About Lulu was one of the first novels 3G1B covered, and JE became one of the earliest friends of the blog, eventually becoming the fourth/third in our collaboration. If you haven’t yet coerced someone into giving you a galley of West of Here, get to work on it, or you could wait and buy one and put a few bucks in his pocket. He’s got rabbits to feed. Here’s his WWFIL.
When We Fell In Love – Jonathan Evison
My old man was sort of a deadbeat at times, but he was (and is) a brilliant guy. He’s currently living off the grid in the mountains of southern Oregon, where, among other things, he hauls his feces around in a wheelbarrow. All of this begs a little explanation, but that’s not the purpose of my post. So, if you’re interested in my old man (and you may be by the time you finish this post), here’s a little more about him.
The point is, while my dad wasn’t around all that much to “father” me after the age of 9, he single-handedly led me to my destiny as a writer. He introduced me to storytelling. In my infancy, it was the oral tradition. In the darkness of my room before bedtime, he spun whole worlds for me out of thin air. He was masterful. His characters won my sympathy right off the bat. He understood tension. Pacing. Climax. For the most part, these stories comprised an ongoing serial concerning three orphaned tiger cubs and their adventures in the jungle. I’m guessing my old man liked Kipling.
Before long, we began inventing these “tiger stories” together. And in these dark delicious minutes before sleep, my fate as a storyteller was won—a fate which was to include twenty years of abject failure and near-starvation for the noble cause of storytelling, not to mention enough form rejections to wallpaper the Tacoma Dome. And ultimately, a little taste of victory. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
By six, I was on a steady diet of Dickens. My dad read me Copperfield. Great Expectations. Little Dorrit. It didn’t take me long to realize that my family (and extended family in every direction) was “Dickensian.” We were a fantastically idiosyncratic lot. A great, shaggy, circus of a family. Bodybuilders. Inventors. Pianists who only played Christmas carols. We took in homeless people, adopted exotic pets, rode mini-bikes. We were flawed, but lovable. Inept but sympathetic. And our lives were filled with all manner of drama—of love, and loss, and at least one rabid squirrel monkey (no joke—she bit a guy in a Red Lion parking lot outside of Portland, but again I digress). To this day, Dickens feels almost as much as a father to me as my dad does (and that’s no blow to my dad). There’s a reason that Dickens appeals to children. His heroes (even those who were not children) were little people trying to navigate a big world which always seemed to have other plans for them.
At eight years old, my old man gave me Kurt Vonnegut Jr.‘s Breakfast of Champions. Thus, while my playground contemporaries were reading The Great Brain and Nancy Drew, I was learning about wide-open beavers and puckered assholes. Whatever else may have been lost on me, I was beginning to recognize the most noble functions of humor—to laugh in the face of adversity, to laugh at injustice and heartache and the hopeless vagaries of the corporeal world. I was learning about absurdity. It didn’t take me long to recognize the Dickens DNA in Vonnegut. The sympathetic characters. The humor. The sadness trickling quietly beneath the laughter. Soon Vonnegut felt like an uncle—specifically, the uncle who shows you the world that nobody else thinks you’re quite ready to see.
When I was seventeen, I met my next literary idol in John Fante, who came to me by way of Saroyan and Bukowski. Ask the Dust virtually cemented my status as a hopelessly young alcoholic misfit, determined to starve himself in the name of literature. While Vonnegut’s protagonists were puppets, and Dickens’ were well drawn cartoons, Arturo Bandini was the most fully realized, unfettered, intensely human character to ever tear my heart out and kick it down the stairs. Bandini was fear and arrogance, outrage and tenderness, lust and greed and vulnerability. Bandini, too, was a little character—but the big world which was forever at work on him was that of his own yearnings and passions and desperate desire to be loved.
I’ve fallen in love a half-dozen times since then, and had at least a dozen sordid affairs, but these three writers seem to have cast the longest shadow on both my work and my life so far. And while I’ve grossly neglected all of them in the past ten or fifteen years, not a solitary day has gone by that these writers didn’t feel like a substantial part of who I am as a writer and a person. I carry these dudes with me at all times.