Tuesday, December 10, 2013


The word "extreme" brings into play a metric by which the actions of persons in real life are measured.  We already take for granted the extremity of characters in drama and narrative.  Such creations, from the real and dramatic worlds, define our role models.  In so doing, we define ourselves.

For your own satisfaction and to provide a working list of character types for students, you sometimes prepare lists of characters you have had reason to admire to the point of remembering them although you may not have spent time with them for some years. 

 Once you start the list, you find it difficult to stop.  When you come across these lists, you are reminded of the contact list on your cell phone.  You find yourself wondering, how is old Ahab doing?  Has Michael Henchard come to terms with himself yet?  Is The Wife of Bath still hooked up with Jenkyn, or has she tossed him aside in favor of some more deserving fellow who recognizes the amazing prize he has in their relationship?  Does Antonia ever wonder what would have come of her life had she cast her lot with Jim Burden?

Such flights of speculation are common, given your apparent compulsion to leave no notebook in your presence unfilled and the resulting awareness that of all these notebooks, each one has at least a page with names of characters, some of them arcane, such as, say, Ned Beaumont.  Digby Wolfe would probably have identified him, straight off, but as another friend of yours would say, he, Wolfe, has returned to earth.  He did so on May 2, 2012, although in the best of ways, the most extreme of ways, he paces about your work area, a vibrant presence as you attempt to compose in your own, evolved method of composition, reminding you of the remarkable pull of the opposites you were in the chemistry of your friendship.

William Francis Nolan would surely know the name and be able to identify the Dashiell Hammett novel, The Glass Key,  in which Beaumont appeared.  Nolan, after all, wrote the biography of Hammett you not only edited but co-published.  You have edited numerous of his novels, a biography of John Houston, and a number of science fiction anthologies.  Nolan is living in Washington State now; you have not seen him in person for forty years.

Conrad, who was on that same level as Wolfe, has also returned to the earth.  He did so this past February, which is close enough so that you still feel a slight temptation to call him of a Monday or Thursday to see where lunch will be. Then you realize the disconnect, sigh, and either make yourself some extravagant lunch at home or seek out one of the places where the two of you dined.  

And yes, like Wolfe, Conrad was extreme to the point where in life, he was bigger than life, and as proof of it, you find him appearing in some of the stories that will appear in your collection as Conrad Burnaby, a man much like his real life counterpart in physicality, but as a part of an ongoing prank, a man who is rumored to have a shady past, including forgeries of works of art, most of these in service of being able to buy suitable presents for his wife.

You tend to do that with friends; Unkefer appears in a number of your stories as well, to the point where some officers of the Santa Barbara PD allow him to live in various parts of the city in his AMC Pacer in return for editorial services.  One of those police officers is Bordofsky, a friend who has also returned to earth.  Unlike the real Bordofsky, your fictional one appears to have memorized long passages from King Lear.

In the manner of a truffle hound, you are nosing about in search of friends and characters.  The ordinary will not do, a fact that has a powerful effect on the persons you spend time with, drink coffee with, argue with, engage in long, rhapsodic meals with, and as well the individuals about whom you read.  Men, women, young persons, animals, all of them, in their way, extreme, are as real as they are because of their extremity.  Edward Bear.  Lad, a dog.  Wile E. Coyote.  Natasha.  The wiry, purposeful women who cause Louise Erdrich's novels and short stories to pound in your head with the lush textures of Maurice Ravel's Daphnus and Chloe.  Mr. Stevens in The Remains of the Day.  Inspector Jaivert in Les Miserables.  Jim Harrison's women.

Such extremes are reminders of your own presence in real life events and the need to express characters and actions that go beyond the boundaries in drama, creating, first of all in you a sense of excitement that you have not been intimidated by boundary.

Extreme is a visa to landscapes where remarkable persons, lonely because of their remarkableness, their extremities in the ways they love, work, think, and play, encounter misunderstanding, bureaucracy, and outright opposition because of their otherness.  Extreme is when they find a volunteer flower growing where it ought not, beauty in an unlikely place, light sneaking in through cracks, and ideas bubbling over into a sense of communion with the Periodic Chart of Elements.

Extreme is the music hidden by the screech of a porch door, waiting to be heard, vibrating its tones for the sheer joy of being alive.  Extreme is the languid stretch of a dog upon awakening, and the first ray of light sneaking across the dark of the morning sky.  Extreme is a person who awakens hours before she ought in order to see the mischief of the morning coming forth like youngsters, rading a peach tree when the fruit is at its best, a scant day before the birds find out.

If there is extreme in your life, you will have a life that is filled with lists of characters, real persons with whom to dine, and stories that come to you and rouse you from dreams that were good enough to be true.

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