The ripple and the rock.

September 27, 2015 § 5 Comments


Ray waved me over to see this traveling circus of a vessel tied to the dock in Apalachicola.

In the company of this lavish floating box all the other boats were suddenly homogeneous, minor stabs at individuality like signs about Goin’ Fishin’ not withstanding.

Most of us want to express our individuality. But not too much. We value our membership in collectives where we unite around shared opinions, fads, social norms, disciplines, traditions.

These norms are around us all the time, traveling like ripples on water. Most of us ride those ripples.

Short skirts are in. We wear short skirts.

Everyone in our graduating class goes to college. We go to college.

IMG_9811_edited-1Even in rebellion we rarely strike out in a totally new direction. We swim, instead, toward the leading edge of the ripple.

My daughter was the freaky girl at her high school in the Keys—a streak of blue in her hair was enough to confer that title.

When we moved to Tallahassee and she went to a high school where the rainbow-colored Mohawk set the bar she had to do some quick image enhancing to get back out to the edge of that ripple.

As a creative artist I have always practiced an edge profession. Making a living this way is darned hard, but within the disciplines of visual art, fiction writing, and music, I have honored recognized traditions, adding incrementally to what has been done by others while drawing on what has come before me.

I have even wallowed in the laziest part of the ripple. As an artist in the Keys I seriously considered questions like, does this painting match the sofa? Is it a Keys-y subject, say a fish, a bird of paradise flower, or a seascape? Does it make the viewer hum a Jimmy Buffett tune?

While most of us ride the ripple some few individuals splash down, like rocks disturbing the water unpredictably, dramatically. Think Van Gogh, Hemingway, Dylan, Eiffel (whose design for that tower was considered an abomination).

We know the names of pivotal individuals, treasured now by all of us. But what about those lone dreamers who never catch the collective imagination, who take the road less traveled and disappear into the weeds?

Think about the possessed dreamers you know whose place in the human narrative is far from secure.

As a fiction writer and teacher, I edit many fine writers. There are techniques in fiction that can be taught that shorten the journey of writers making that first blind walk into the intimidating landscape of novel writing.

But I have one writer who is too out-sized for the conventions, too unique. A fire hose of a writer everything shoots out of him at full blast. As if afflicted with flashbacks, he retells the same episode over and over.

The story possesses him and ignites his prose giving it immense power but no organization–if his story had a physical manifestation it would look like the boat at the dock in Apalach.

His gift is too huge and messy. The sentences in this fever dream amaze me. Will this man’s name enter the canon of our great writers? Who knows? He has been sick lately and I don’t know if his book will come to fruition, but he lives his story in a state of unrelenting anguish and ecstasy.

Originality of this magnitude is a dangerous gift, like holding a lit firecracker. Spectacular success is unlikely, spectacular failure almost guaranteed. Sometimes this singular vision drives its owner to the edge of madness.

Most of us are social creatures. We achieve our accomplishments by building on each other’s work. Few have a vision singular enough to bring down lightning.

Be kind to those who do, and tolerant of those whose dreams are just as impractical as they seem.

Returning to the dock the next morning, the boat was gone, and the subtle differences between the other vessels reasserted themselves–they weren’t that much alike after all.  And I wondered, what happened to that floating circus when it hit the open water?

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§ 5 Responses to The ripple and the rock.

  • carolyn says:

    the ‘ pivotal individuals, treasured now by all of us’ may not have been treasured during their lifetimes, such as Van Gogh (here a clip from one of my favorite Dr Who episodes….: )

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had included Van Gogh’s lack of success in his own lifetime in the post when I wrote it, but it was pretty long so I cut it, but maybe I shouldn’t have. Those who are truly original have a hard time finding recognition. The rest of us move along as we always have, watching our feet.

      Everybody, the clip Carolyn added is so worth watching. I don’t know how they found an actor who so closely resembles the portraits of Van Gogh, but the actor goes far beyond looking like the artist. This clip brought me to tears.


  • craig reeder says:

    Probably it would violate the special position of trust you occupy with your writer, but I’d love to see a sample of this writing. Can you as a writer, learn any valuable lessons from it, or pick up any tips?


    • I don’t think I can borrow any wisdom from his writing, his gift is so uniquely his. I am a thoughtful. considered–maybe even timid writer. He is a paintball artist. As his editor I try to weed and shape and make sense of what he has spewed across the page, neatening it so it is more accessible to the reader.


  • KM Huber says:

    Oh, that clip is stunning, and yes, it brought me to tears as well. I, too, am a fan of Dr. Who.

    In my heart, I write to splash down but mostly, I am fortunate to even be among the ripples. My heart also knows this. Still, I write because even writing in the ripples, there is an occasional swell, subdued but a flash of what is possible.



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