My life is a series of circles waiting to be closed and strange coincidences that complete the loop. It’s as if it’s all a Symphony by van Beethoven, carefully orchestrated and pitching and rolling, but in the end it comes back to the same simple theme. Three eights and a half, “Freude, schoene, Goetterfunken”, they’re all the same. My life runs this way.
If you are a regular reader, you’ll know that I have been contemplating a memoir for a few months. There are so many bits of me that need to be explained which have to develop at their own pace. I don’t expect people to really understand where I’m coming from, but I can at least tell you a story that gets you close. Yet there’s a problem with memoirs – they require you to organize your own life into themes and an overall story. It has to make sense. Writing a memoir became far too painful as I thought about all the people I’ve seen leave us, some violently, and having to make sense of it all. My life never make sense but the loops do close, if at random.
I hit upon a way to use some of these memories that take up space in my head in a novel about … well, actually, one of the main characters is the personification of Reality. Can you see how a memoir was a problem? I planned to start work with an excellent writing coach and join the group sessions he leads, which are just a bit like the group therapy on “Bob Newhart”.
Making the commitment to write a real, publishable novel meant that I was becoming an artist of some kind, however. When I was very young, I realized that van Beethoven and I shared more than a birthday (or nearly so). I can be just as petulant, stubborn, and generally a big pain in the ass as he was. I make a point of not letting that happen, and unless you talk to my ex-wife I usually do allright. One of the ways I’ve tried to stay far away from the dark side of my personality is by not being an artist. After all, that was always van Beethoven’s excuse for his shitty behavior.
When I agreed to be coached into writing a novel, something interesting happened. I caught a cold and went completely deaf. I’d like to make it clear that going deaf will not improve anyone’s attitude, but in my case it was devastating. I was sure I was being punished, and the most likely culprit was that I was doing it to myself (you didn’t expect me to blame a ghost, did you?). Well. I tried to write what I had to for coaching, but it came out awful and I begged off the whole thing. That was that, I can’t do this, I suck, the end.
The next day I took my daughter to choir camp at the University of Saint Thomas. There, on the bulletin board just inside the door, without any explanation at all, was a picture of van Beethoven. He was tacked up alongside notices for bands and practice halls in the music lab, completely without context for anyone but me. I walked over to him, touched his nose, and called him a bastard. The next day, my ears started to clear and I could hear. I was talked into being coached and, since my hearing and attitude were improving, I thought I’d try again. I re-wrote my synopsis and ideas and joined the group.
The writing workshop has been fun, and I like my developing idea. My coach suggested I underpin the whole thing with ideas from “The Queen of Spades” by Pushkin, which I’m interested in getting to know. You see, of all the more popular operettas by Franz von Suppé, only one is never played anymore. I know them all, first through their use in Bugs Bunny cartoons (the wascally wabbit) but later because I studied them carefully. The only one that I’ve never heard is “The Queen of Spades”, based on Pushkin’s story.
What’s up with von Suppé? When I visited Vienna, I wanted to stop at van Beethoven’s grave in the Central Cemetery on my way into town. He’s been with me so long I thought I should at least visit. It was hard to find the small section where the composers were all buried, but wandering down the long aisle I first knew I had found the right place when I stumbled upon the grave of von Suppé. There behind him was van Beethoven and Brahms and the whole Strauss family, and I paid my respects. But von Suppé led the way for me.
Underpinning a novel with “The Queen of Spades” is just another loop closing. I can do this. But that’s how my life goes. A memoir? Not a good idea. You know how embarrassing it would be to have the only bidder for your memoir’s film rights be a cartoonist?