Thursday, July 1, 2010

Pushing past the ennui with Lt. Col. Strong (a list of excuses and an excerpt)

There comes a time in the life of every blog when the blogkeeper must offer up an excuse for the lack of recent updates ("I've been in a funk of ennui;" "I met this guy, got married in Vega$ and just got back from our honeymoon in the Azores;" "The test results came back and it's official: I have leukemia;" etc.).

In my case, the excuses are vanilla-flavored and lack validity:
a)  I started a new diet
b)  I started a new strength-conditioning workout routine
c)  I tore the cartilage in my ribcage (see Excuse b above)
d)  I rearranged and re-alphabetized all 6,207 of my books
e)  I went on a whitewater rafting trip
f)  I mowed the lawn
g)  I fell into a funk of ennui

What-ever.  The trouble with my blog absence is that it's also a signpost to my stalled writing.  Not writer's block, just writer's lackadaisicalness.  I've getting up as per the morning routine, working out with my new exercises (barrelling through the torn-cartilage pain), then coming in to my computer, William Faulkner mug in hand, sitting down and....staring at the screen, trying to will the words into motion.  Oh, I've pecked a few sentences here and there, but nothing that would even amount to a Hemingway fart.  All the while, I've been hearing the ticking of the clock--the stopwatch I set for myself to finish this second draft and, if it's satisfactory, release it to the world (i.e. my agent) by the end of summer.  The second hand ticks and tocks, the sweat erupts on my forehead, I stare at the words until they blur and congeal.

Until today.

This morning, I flailed away on the elliptical machine while watching the 1947 movie of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby, and suddenly a phrase popped into my head, which then elongated into a sentence:   He had a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Dakota, he had the warm wishes of his professors (“Go forth and write good things, young man”), and he had a box full of his term papers (“James Fenimore Cooper: American Prophet?” and “Bestest Friends: The Erotic Subtext Between Nicholas Nickleby and Smike” chief among them).  It was a jolt of linguistic caffeine.  Maybe it was too clever by half, but it was enough to jar the brain and dislodge the barnacles from the imagination.

And so, I approached the skittish horse, whispered in its ear, threw the bridle over its head, and swung myself back into the saddle.  I won't say I galloped, exactly.  More like a canter.  But I was content (which is the next best thing to "happy") with what I wrote.

Here's just a small portion of what I accomplished this morning:
When Lieutenant Colonel Strong arrived on the scene, there was already a barren ring around the gas station, as if the suicide bomber had already pulled the det cord and cleared his own radius.
Strong gagged on the ridiculous redundancy of his time here in Iraq.  Another Day, Another Bomb.  Maybe it’s a Swiss-Syrian halfway up the ass of an Abrams tank….or maybe it’s a pair of Sunni teenagers crouched behind a berm waiting for a U.S. convoy to roll past….or maybe it’s a disgruntled Republican Guard holdout pedaling into a crowd of police recruits on his bike, the frame packed with ball bearings, the explosives triggered by a bell on the handle which the hajji fucker thumbed pleasantly at the police candidates one second before taking himself and 19 others skyward to Allah.  Only the locations and body parts changed.  No, scratch that—there was always an arm.  A charred, blood-ooze stump, sometimes in a knot-hard rigor-mortis fist, sometimes splayed in a five-finger starfish hand releasing all responsibility for the act just performed.  Stupid stupid stupid.  These hajji martyrs were speed-bumping the brigade’s real work in and around Baghdad: the nation rebuilding which was, in itself, a constant struggle, suicide bombers or no suicide bombers.  There were sewer lines to patch, electric substations to re-wire, schools to build, backpacks to distribute among puzzle-faced boys and girls, local sheiks to convince that what America brought to the table really was better than anything Saddam had offered during his decades of tyrannical rule.  That was the mission which was supposed to consume the larger percentage of his time, according to the Division’s Tactical Ops Blueprint which had been so dearly cherished before they all left Fort Stewart and headed into the Great Unknown.
But no, Strong and his men spent their days running from one molehill to the other, whacking anything that moved with their amusement-park mallets.  He’d picked that up from his soldiers—Whack-a-Mole—and soon was letting it slip into his daily reports, much to the grunting, frowning consternation of his brigade commander, Colonel Quinner.  But Quinner could go choke himself with all his esprit de corps Thoughts for the Day, as far as Strong was concerned.  Quinner wasn’t out here running around with a hammer, was he?  No, that would mean leaving the security of air-conditioning and neatly-patterned workdays.  And Colonel Quentin P. Quinner was, despite all his bluster and blather to the contrary, nothing but another card-carrying member of the Fobbit Club.
Vaughn Strong stopped himself, took a yoga breath through his nostrils, and swallowed back against the throb building at the base of his skull.  He couldn’t afford to get worked up over the assclowns in the command group.  He refused to be paralyzed by another headache.  Not now, not today, not in this heat.  He had a mole to whack at this gas station.

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