Amidst Disaster

Okay, so…

Look, I know I’m weird, alright?  I mean, who else writes the last scene of a story before he even has the plot nailed down?  Who else takes a story outline and proceeds to write scenes at random within the defined timeframe?  Who else would abandon a good paying job to be a writer?*

*And now a brewer…

Yeah, I get it.  You wouldn’t let your daughter so much as answer my call, let alone marry me.  I wouldn’t let my daughter marry me, either, to be honest.  I honestly am nothing more than a 12-year-old with a car and a (sorta) job.

Well, that and I happen to have a hell of a lot of experience of life and the world.  Not a lot of 12-year-olds can claim to have got drunk with a president*, or to have slept accidentally in a Spanish brothel, or to have lost (repeatedly) at pool to a renowned physicist, or to have fled from a mother grizzly who decided I was a bad influence on her cubs…

*of the Czech Republic, not the US, but it still works!

I’ve said it before, but the simple truth is that I have been (almost) everywhere, and done (almost) everything.  I’m that Forrest-Gump-type-idiot whose obituary is going to be longer than his list of actual accomplishments.

And do you know what really sticks with me out of all that adventure?  The disasters.  The failures.  The involuntary descent into fight-or-flight.  The moments that not only tell you that you are truly alive, but that also break down the barriers between you and…well…everything.

I’ve mentioned before, but when I travel alone, the first thing I do in a new city is get lost.  I don’t mean ‘can’t find the Michelin-starred restaurant on this block’ lost, I mean ‘what the fuck country am I actually in?’ kind of lost.  That kind of lost has shown me the best and worst of humanity.  Because I (willingly) suffer the disaster of getting lost, I have watched a hooker work a john while her daughter watched from the shadows…

I have stumbled upon the insanity of the stalinist apartment blocks in eastern Europe…

I have found the most perfect field of wildflowers off the coast of Croatia…

I have lit candles to the dead in a private side-chapel in St. Peter’s…

I have drunk shochu with yakuza in a Tokyo suburb…

Hell, I also drank whiskey with IRA “enthusiasts” in a backroom bar just outside of Boston…

I lost my passport in Budapest, and spent the next day dealing with the aftermath of a bomb threat at the US embassy as I tried to get a new one…

My point isn’t what I’ve done, it is what disaster has forced me to do.  Honestly, I can take even the most inoffensive and easy of my travels, and what I truly remember are the times when things went south.  Even something so simple as being too hungover to catch the train I needed led to interactions and events that I never would have experienced in any other situation.

I asked my friend, who fought so long ago at the Battle Off Samar Island, what he remembered about WW2.  It wasn’t the triumphs, and the defeats…it was the unplanned disasters.  “What do you remember about the ship?” I asked.  His answer will always stick with me.  “The smell,” he said, “those were the days before deodorant.”

When you expect, dear writers…

When you plan, and look around all the corners…

When everything is going according to expectations for you, and for your characters…

You’ve lost.  You’ve lost the thread…and the reader’s curiosity.

It is only when everything goes to shit and the random happens that the truly memorable occasions come to pass — both for you, and for your characters.

Look, if your protagonist gets drunk and passes out, you have a minor plot-event to work with.  If your protagonist gets drunk and passes out on the lawn of the archbishop’s palace, you have a whole new level of fun for your writing!*

*Not that I’ve ever done that.  No, not me.  The Polish police promised me that never happened!  Ahem.

It all comes to the question of disaster. As a writer, and as a person, do you cringe and cry from disaster? Do you defy it like some maniacal Ahab wannabe? Or do you laugh right alongside the universe itself while everyone else around you breaks down?

Do you know what got me to thinking about this?  Sailing.

Look, I love to sail.  I love to sail alone…and I love to take others sailing.  Unfortunately, I am a shit-magnet, to put it mildly.  If something is going to go wrong on a boat, it will go wrong when I have others sailing with me.

Now, if I tear a sail, or get becalmed, or run out of beer, when I’m sailing alone, it is no big deal.  Well, the running-out-of-beer thing is big, but the others are small.  But when I have guests on the boat?  Will they remember the adventure and fun of shit going south?  Or will they be all civilized and modern and complain (to others, of course) that “the cruise lines are better”?

Crap, it just hit me: I don’t need to write about celebrating disasters, I just need to get new friends!

{Musical Note — yup, I put this song up before. And, yup, I still love it. And, yup, it works…}

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