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A Piph

John W. Pinkerton


Around four thirty this morning, I had an epiphany.  Well, maybe not an epiphany.  Perhaps just a piph, but I had it and continued my contemplation of it sitting on our front porch drinking my morning coffee.  Good times.

The piph was about literature and life.  Hold on.  Don't run away.  This ain't going to get navel gazing deep.  It's just a piph, not an epiphany.

Most of us learn to read, and when we do, we discover a broader world filled with real and fictional characters, many of whom we admire.  Naturally, we usually identify with the heroes of these works.

For me, the world of literature was a great influence which I believe has acted as a map to my life.

The piph I had this morning was, “Crap, maybe this was a mistake.”

Okay, come with me back to my youth.  One of the first fellows I identified with after reading a book I checked out of the library was Wilbur Shaw, Indy racer and winner.  I could see myself flashing across the finish line leaning forward into the wind.  As a youth, I found myself sometimes driving at breakneck speeds, but I never really developed much of a love for cars except the beauty of some.  Ah, Bugatti.

Then there was Henry Ford, another library book checkout, titan of industry.  But I couldn't work up much enthusiasm for making money.  Of course, now I'm a born-again capitalist, but that didn't come until late in life.

Then I moved on to fictional characters, many of whom played out before me in “literature.”  I say “literature” because I've always been drawn to high class writing.

Hemingway and his fictional characters were poster boys for macho men.   I've never really been macho although I have played one in real life; I quickly realized it was a daunting task for a skinny kid.  But it became part of me to never back down from a fight, never take crap off of people, never give up.

Fitzgerald and the world he created appeals to the sadder, more sensitive, more tragic side.  Many young men see themselves as deep brooding figures done unjustly, and I wore this mantle for a while.  I had to put this aside because I've always had a happy fellow inside myself trying to get out.

Faulkner probably had the most influence on me.  His world was filled with macho men, brooding figures, and a cast of the deformed and depraved.  Pretty appealing…but maybe that's just me.

Okay, the results of all this reading was that I began to see myself as a character in one of these pieces of “literature,” and this led to some strange places.

I began to see myself on the big screen living as one of these heroes of literature.  I say the big screen because most literature becomes a projection of the movie industry although often unrecognizable when compared to the written words.

One of the early roles I saw myself playing in literature was a Mississippi journalist fighting the powers that be via a small town newspaper.  I was dashing, aggressive, and living on the edge.  It didn't happen, and I quickly put this aside.

After a couple of years in the Army, I came home and was looking for a new hero to play.  While waiting for confirmation of acceptance into a real job, pharmaseutical salesman, I stumbled across an unexpected opportunity to become a high school English teacher in what I considered to be a small, quaint community.  Although not the hero role I relished, I thought it might be closer than pharmaseutical salesman.  After five years of this role, I was exhausted.  Time to move on.  Time to find my hero role.

After quickly running through three different jobs, it was back to the small school and my role as a high school English teacher.  At that point I made what was probably the hardest decision I had ever made.  I accepted my role as a high school English teacher.  What a comedown from dashing Mississippi reporter.  What a comedown from hero of literature.  I told myself that at least a career as a teacher had some dignity, some value, even though it was not a role for a hero of literature.

Through all those years as a teacher, I harbored deep in my soul a secret role, artist---a proper role for a literature hero.  But each year as I pulled out my art supplies for my annual checkup to see if artistic talent had slipped into my being, I was disappointed.  Nope.  After retirement, I did pursue art, but mainly as a way to fight against boredom.

The other secret role I kept at bay during my time as a teacher was writer.  You know, the smartest man in the room, the guru of wisdom, the knower of souls.

I never made any attempt to achieve this role during all those years.  I was totally committed to my mundane role as a teacher.

After retirement, as a joke for my pallbearers, I began to write essays as a way of having the last word.  I even tried a couple of pieces of fiction, but that ship had sailed---another hero role put aside.

Along my way in retirement, I accidentally got a website and started placing my essays there (Screw the pallbearers!), and I started encouraging other folks to write their own essays.  At some point in my efforts to encourage folks to write their own essays, I wrote the following, “I'm not expecting you to write great literature, just stuff with which other folks  can relate and enjoy.”

I had a tough time finishing that sentence.  It seemed like a surrender.  Surrender is not my nature.

But I finished, presented it, and now realize that I've given up my aspirations to be a hero of literature.  I'm just me.  Some time ago I wrote my first poem:

               I am mankind

                            Come from the Sea.

                            I am Man.

                            I am man.

                            I am me.

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.