Thank you, Chris, for sharing this.

I have no familiarity with any of the books, films or people to whom you refer. I only started following you because I saw your cartoons in Coffeelicious yesterday and even though they stopped accepting submissions from new writers, your simply drawn cartoons still captured my attention.

I could share them with half my friends and they would tell me, “my three-year-old could do that,” and I could explain, until I’m blue in the face, why their three-year-old might be able to draw something that looks like your cartoons but the fact that they can’t tell the difference indicates they wasted our taxpayer dollars on their public education and their family’s money on their college education because they missed everything of beauty and value offered to them during the years they attended.

Their inability to tell the difference is the reason why we stand at the abyss, facing the possibility that Donald Trump may well become President and bring upon America a new consciousness that would make Joe McCarthy wish he had sided with Adlai Stevenson. (I say this by way of a compliment. Should you be supporting Trump, I take it all back.)

It seems your need to share has compelled me to share.

Unfortunately, I don’t know who inspired me to write. I have simply always written. I was writing scripts for comedy shows when I was a kid and trying to force my sister and friends to record them onto my father’s cassette deck. I tried to write comic books, only to discover I couldn’t draw for shit. I abandoned my epic novel after six chapters in seventh grade because I realized that you need more than two characters and one plot device.

Do I credit Rowan and Martin and Jerry Lewis, or Babar the Elephant and Curious George? (More to the point Jean de Brunhoff and the Reys?) Or Beverly Cleary for the Henry Huggins books which I devoured? Or Mary Shelly for writing Frankenstein, the book which featured (or should I say the book whose school library edition which featured) a woodcut print of a naked breast that I showed my best friend in absolute confidence when we were in the third grade, and for which, being scandalized, he chose to rat me out to the teacher causing her to report the book to the principal who, in turn, called for a conference with my Baptist minister father and mother,[1] who, in turn, rather than being proud of their son for tackling material well above his grade level, punished me severely and taught me forever that the value of some endeavors exceeds the momentary pain of punishment — a lesson which became a theme in much of my writing as an adult?

Or James Clavell, whose book Taipan I bought for fifty cents off a grocery store book rack in the summer between seventh and eighth grades, and discovered why people underline passages and dogear corners? (By this time I learned to not let my parents know what I was reading, and to read under the covers with a flashlight. And carry out other activities under the covers as well.)

Perhaps I should thank my mother, Ann, who is the only adult in my family I recall who read a book other than the Bible or a commentary on the Bible. She read to me when I was little, took me to the library, and made sure I had plenty of books to read. If I wanted to know about space, she found books on astronomy. If I wanted to know about submarines, she found the children’s version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Every summer she enrolled me in library reading clubs and made sure I completed the lists. She made sure I had the money for the Scholastic Book Club summer books, in spite of a father who was so cheap he supervised us when we made sandwiches. He watched to make sure we used only two slices of bread,[2] one slice of American cheese, one leaf of lettuce and one deli thin slice of meat. Two sandwiches at most for me. One for the two sisters. All items store brand, bought from the day old shelf.

So I guess my inspiration to write was my mother, which will probably surprise her, since I never show her what I write. Probably because somewhere along the line she stopped reading the books she once enjoyed. And those are the kinds of books I write. The kinds of books I read under the covers with flashlights. Not with erotic passages per se, like Taipan (although cigerets, guns & beer has a few), but books that rock the boat, books that reflect the attitude that caused the principal to kick me out of high school so many times — like the time he kicked me out of school because my “attitude was outside the dress code.”[3]

I do know the one writer who influenced me as a writer, however. Walker Percy. And, undeniably, Flannery O’Connor, since you can’t mention one without the other. Between Love in the Ruins and A Good Man is Hard to Find, I could probably teach a semester on writing. I can’t deny other loves, Bellow, Hemingway, Lessing, Faulkner. Even Connie Willis, who few would want to include in such company, although I think she has a lot going for her. But it was Percy who finally broke through to me, and instilled my voice and his vision and mine coalesce even now.

So thank you for sharing, Chris. Even if we share at cross purposes, or drift past each other in a sea of sharing. My inner three-year-old relishes your jokes.

_________________________________________

[1]Despite the misleading modifier, my mother was not a minister.

[2]If we could have made sandwiches using only bread he would have been much happier. Dinners were heavy on biscuits and potatoes. This carbohydrate overloaded diet led to weight problems as an adult.

[3]I can honestly say I was, and remain, the only student at San Marcos High School, and possibly anywhere, to have that honor.

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Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

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