Monday, June 05, 2006

COLUMN: The Great American Novelist

This past weekend, I went to see my cohort Sean Leary's My Verona production of "The Pillowman" at Comedy Sportz. Though the play's dark tones aren't my usual cup o' tea, the production was nicely executed and Sean deserves serious kudos for playing it unsafe and bringing such a talked-about and edgy play to the Quad Cities.

But there's a thing that always happens when I go see a play. Inexplicably, I go home with one thought blazing through my brain: "I could do that." And for days afterwards, I keep thinking about the prospects of writing a play. Heck, all I need is, umm, some characters... oh, and a plot. Yeah, I just need to think up one of those plot dealies and I'm all set. At some point, I usually decide that I am at my creative zenith, head to the computer, open up a blank document, grab the keyboard, and sit...

Usually ten minutes later is when I reach my frustration zenith, shut the computer off, and go watch reruns of "Cops."

"You're such a good writer," my mom always used to say to me. After a few years of compliments, even ones from family, you start to believe it. Maybe Mom's right and it's my destiny to write The Great American Novel. Shame of it is, I just don't have anything meaningful to say.

I'm not a deep guy. I've never sat around and gotten all existential. I've never had internal monologue about life's challenges. I've never discovered a universal truth. And I'm okay with all that.

It's why classic literature always seems to escape me. I remember being in lit classes as far back as high school and having to suffer through assorted Great works of fiction. I use Great with a CAPITAL G, because it's not me who thinks they're great, but rather some historians who think they're Great. Me, if it doesn't make me laugh or it's not about music or pop culture, I tend not to connect with it. And that makes me one shallow dude.

At some point, I've had to suffer through all the snoozers. Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Tolstoy... yawn, yawn, yawn, and yawn. Truth be told, if I had to choose my favorite novel of all time, it'd probably be Stephen King's "Pet Sematary." THUD. That was the sound of every literature teacher/aficionado reading this column hitting the floor in a unison of disappointment and disgust.

As someone who gets paid to write, I should have a comforting bookshelf somewhere with worn copies of the classics. Instead, my bookshelf contains such epic tomes as "Dave Barry is Not Making This Up," "The National Enquirer: 30 Years of Unforgettable Images," and at least 20 Dilbert collections.

Part of my issue with "good" literature is that I've always been unable to wrap my head around symbolism. I remember being in school and forced to read some random acclaimed book, and then the teacher would say something like, "The most important element in this chapter is the author's use of the tree, and how it comes to represent mankind's stoic resilience against oppression."

Wait, what? You've gotta be kidding me. "Mankind's stoic resilience?" I just thought it was a stinking TREE. So now to write great literature, I've got to have characters, plot, AND be well-versed in arboreal imagery? Forget that. That's why I shy away from the classics; I just can't appreciate any text where even the grapes have to be wrathful.

Maybe one day I WILL pen the Great American Novel. Until then, you're stuck with the shallow me. The me who sees ridiculous stuff and gets paid to make fun of it in print every week. If I ever shed light on mankind's stoic resilience against oppression, I hope I can do it with a smile on your face. All I can say for certain is that -- should you ever be at a Borders of the future and see my name on the spine of a novel -- if there\'s a tree in it, rest assured that it'll be just a stinking tree.


Becky said...

Hell,I'm a former teacher and have trouble with symbolism. I stand by what I said. You *could* do it. You're just waiting for your muse my friend. OR possibly a Moose. That may inspire you too. Never know.

Anonymous said...

But Shane, Amazon says you do have a book:

Tidoubleguher said...

I agree with Becky. Someday you'll find your muse (or Moose!) and that book will just pour out.