Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Jim Thompson on Life

The following passages are from Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me. I'm posting these because, even bereft of context, I think these passages have a lot to say. They were a good slap in the face (more like a right cross, actually) when I read them, which is I suppose something at which Thompson excels.

Something else at which he excels? Complex emotions, plainly expressed. And that skill always earns my respect.

On Discretion:

"I guess we're a pretty stiff-necked lot out here, Howard," I said. "I suppose it comes from the fact that this country was never very thickly settled, and a man had to be doggoned careful of the way he acted or he'd be marked for life. I mean, there wasn't any crowd for him to sink into--he was always out where people could see him."


"So if a man or woman does something, nothing bad you understand, but the kind of thing men and women have always been doing, you don't let on that you know anything about it. You don't, because sooner or later you're going to need the same kind of favor yourself. You see how it is? It's the only way we can go on being human, and still hold our heads up."

On Careers:

He wasn't exactly right about that, but I knew what he meant. There was other work I'd have liked a lot better. "I don't know, Bob," I said, "there's a couple of kinds of laziness. The don't-want-to-do-nothin' and the stick-in-the-rut brand. You take a job, figuring you'll just keep it a little while, and that while keeps stretchin' on and on and on. You need a little more money before you can make a jump. You can't quite make up your mind about what you want to jump to. And then maybe you make a stab at it, you send off a few letters, and the people want to know what experience you've had--what you've been doin'. And probably they don't even want to bother with you, and if they do you've got to start right at the bottom, because you don't know anything. So you stay where you are, you just about got to, and you work pretty hard because you know it. You ain't young anymore and it's all you've got."

On Storytelling:

But I guess there's another thing or two to tell you first, and--but I will tell you about it. I want to tell you, and I will, exactly how it happened. I won't leave you to figure things out for yourself.

In lots of books I read, the writer seems to go haywire every time he reaches a high point. He'll start leaving out punctuation and running his words together and babble about stars flashing and sinking into a deep dreamless sea. And you can't figure out whether the hero's laying his girl or a cornerstone. I guess that kind of crap is supposed to be pretty deep stuff--a lot of the book reviewers eat it up, I notice. But the way I see it is, the writer is just too goddam lazy to do his job. And I'm not lazy, whatever else I am. I'll tell you everything.

But I want to get everything in the right order.

I want you to understand how it was.

These are pretty innocent passages on the surface. Read the book, and you'll get a much more twisted experience--something I highly recommend.

Good day, all.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Not So Brief Intermission

This is a very personal, scattershot entry. If you're not prepared for this sort of thing from me, then leave. I will not be offended in the slightest (it's not like I'll know).

We all have those places where we find relaxation, solace and strength. They may be ours alone, although more often than not, we share them with others. Here's mine:

I know. Doesn't look like much, does it?

Nevertheless, I used to get so much rest, so much peace on this nondescript bench, which you'll still find on the 2nd floor of the Blocker Building at Texas A&M University. What peace I found owed partially to it usually being a stop on my way to one of this gentleman's classes.

This is Dr. Douglas Brooks. He was my mentor. He died last January. Somehow, I only found out 2 weeks ago.

I do not wish to pour my memories out for you all to read here; indeed, my stories of him are better heard than read. But I can't let his death go without some acknowledgment.

In the classroom, I loved the fact that he was always intellectually rebellious without being egotistical, a singularly uncommon trait in a professor. He gave me radical, yet intuitive ways to think not only about Shakespeare but indeed all of literature. For me to express those ideas here would be a disservice to the energetic elegance with which he imprinted them not only on me, but onto all of his students. He also angered more than a few people with his ideas, which drew--from me at least--nothing but admiration.

Out of the classroom, he completely changed my taste in a lot of areas, particularly film and music. We'd talk a lot about film, and as many ideas as he sparked in me, he presented so much more encouragement. Once upon a time, I gave some lectures to intro film classes at A&M, and he was always in the back row of the lecture hall. He didn't have to sit in; he just came to watch me, like a parent supporting his kid in the big game.

High expectations, bankrupt of pressure. I don't know if I've known that feeling from anyone since.

He also gave me Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and Hal Hartley. He gave me a copy of Trust many years ago, a gift which had many repercussions quite impossible for me to articulate here. That movie was one of many films, books, and albums he just gave me out of nowhere, merely because he thought I'd like them. I'm proud he bestowed that sense of random generosity upon me.

Douglas also entrusted me with his own work. While I was in College Station and even after I left, he allowed me to help him with his research and planning his courses. I loved every minute of it. He managed to make everything seem simultaneously important but lighthearted. Emphasizing the lighthearted was his specialty, and truth be told, I wouldn't be half the man I am today without him. Even with everything else he did for me, the most important thing was teaching me not to take myself so damned seriously.

I loved Douglas dearly. I'll miss him forever. I'll never forget him.

And as the man says, I'm tired of the people we need leaving us before their time.

We now resume regular programming. Thanks for listening, and good night.

Read: The Winter's Tale, by William Shakespeare
Watch: Trust (dir. Hal Hartley, 1991)
Listen to: Exposed, by Mike Oldfield

...and anything by The Residents.

P.S. If you are one of Douglas's former students and have somehow come across this blog, please feel free to add whatever comments about him you like.