Just below is an article about Jim Hendrick’s presentation to Coffee & Books in Marathon a couple of weeks ago. I wrote to the journalist and said he’d truly captured the spirit of the Keys and how important our libraries are. How truly important. My dreams last night told me to write some about writing today, which follows this wonderful piece by Rob Busweiler.
Cast of characters draws attention to worthy cause
Living in the Keys, you frequently stumble upon the “only here” moments.
Two months after moving to here, I was dispatched to a 20-ton sperm whale that had beached itself off of Big Pine Key. “Only in the Keys,” I thought to myself.
Three days later I received a call, and was told the now-dead whale had broken free of its tow and washed back, this time planting itself firmly in the shallow waters near the south end of the Seven Mile Bridge. There it would stay until nature did the job the feds had paid several thousand dollars to attempt to accomplish: Disposal of the carcass. It may have taken several months, but you get the idea.
Only in the Keys.
The list goes on, but last week another one of those moments sprung up, as a former county government attorney convicted last year in federal court of obstruction, witness tampering and conspiracy, Jim Hendrick, was the featured speaker during the regular Friends of the Marathon Library lecture series.
It wasn’t so much that a convicted felon, who is currently appealing his case, was speaking about the influential books he has read during his life, but rather the scene it created.
Standing at the podium, Hendrick rattled off book after book. Sitting 15 feet away was frequent political candidate — currently running for Monroe County Commission — and blogger Sloan Bashinsky, who gave a lecture for the library series last month.
Hendrick revealed that he and Bashinsky frequently play chess. The dichotomy of their relationship seemed something that could only exist in the Keys. During his lecture, Hendrick spoke of meetings with the religious and literary luminary buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Bashinsky, on the other hand, says his blog postings are influenced by angels that speak to him during dreams.
The two couldn’t be more different, yet here they were laughing about a relationship that could only be born in the Keys. Further adding to the scene was the self-proclaimed voice of the little people, “Bicycle” Joanie Nelson. A Keys character in her own right, Nelson — who is running for a seat on the Marathon City Council, as she has every year since the City incorporated in 1999 — joked around with Hendrick before the lecture and seemed excited about the discussion. It was like a scene out of a Fellini movie.
Hendrick’s lengthy discussion about the experience of spending three weeks in a federal penitentiary certainly qualifies as uniquely Keysey, and more importantly advanced the cause of a vital Keys service.
Stories along the lines of Hendrick, Bashinsky, Nelson — and even rotting whales — help make this community what it is, for better or worse. And it’s hard to deny that the sponsor for the series, the local library system, is a vital part of our own story here in the Keys.
Next month the series will continue and another Keys character will take the stage. The library needs all the help it can get due to recent budget cuts, and hopefully the attention given to this cast of Keys characters can help that cause.
Rob Busweiler is a staff writer for the Marathon and Big Pine Free Press. Contact him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A few days ago, after pining my ears back pretty good at chess again, Jim Hendrick asked me about my writing. Did I know ahead of time what I’m going to write about? Essentially, no, I said. Although every now and then I write something the day before that ends up being published, usually, I said, I have no clue when I turn in at night what I will write the next morning. Oh, I might look back and see signs leading up to it, which I might have seen if I’d been paying attention perhaps. Which is the case with this piece today. There were signs yesterday and even before, but I didn’t see them until after the dreams last night and earlier this morning. I think I said that since I started running for the county commission against George Neugent in 2006, I had written almost non-stop. Never had it been this heavy.
I told Jim that he would write if and when he was supposed to write. The Muse would see to it. I described a time when I was asked to present at a writer’s workshop once up one a time. I was toward the end of writing the fourth book that literally forced its way out of me, like the three previous books had done, like maybe fifteen more books of different sizes, flavors and shapes would later do. Unexpectedly. I went to the workshop with what I felt was a clever agenda, which didn’t seem to strike many of the participants as clever however. On the second day, I told Jim, I was asked a question that seemed to frame the reason I was there.
The question was, “What do you do about writer’s block?”
I said I don’t get writer’s block. When I’m supposed to write, I have to write. When I’m not supposed to write, I need to be doing something else. If I try to write when it’s not there, all that comes out is garbage. Maybe I’m writing in my soul or subconscious and later it will force itself to page, but until then I should be doing something else. I told Jim that suddenly I felt horns growing out of my head, or being put there maybe by some of the people in the workshop.
No, I said, when asked if I didn’t get up and sit at my typewrite or computer for so many hours each morning. No, I don’t to that. There’s no point. If I’m to write, I have to write. I might write all day, or for a few hours, but there’s no stopping it when its there, and no making it happen when it’s not. I told Jim that I told them not everyone is a writer, that wanting to be a writer has nothing to do with it. Maybe they were artists, instead, I told them, or something else. Not the kind of thing one usually hears at writers workshops, I told Jim, and encouraged him to write when he felt it was time.
I dreamt last night of my last novel, HEAVY WAIT: A Strange Tale, which I gave to Jim before his trial began. I then found myself somewhat intrigued by how some of the latter part of HEAVY WAIT paralleled how Jim’s case went and later. Somewhat. I suppose only someone who actually had practiced law could write a book like HEAVY WAIT, which is about a very successful trial lawyer and two women mostly, who had some pretty strange experiences indeed; strange by the measure of this world, not so strange by the measure of the worlds I have come to know. Not so strange at all by those worlds’ measures.
I gave several copies to the Monroe Library last year for its various branches, and I suppose they are still in the library system. It was published by PublishAmerica, a print-to-order publisher, on their dime. Their website is PublishAmerica.com, and it’s easy to order online. The book begins with the publisher’s caveat: “At the specific preference of the author, PA allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.”
How that came about is PA offered three timelines for the book being published: fast without editorial input, medium fast with copyediting, slow with full editorial input. My early books had full editorial input, and I was an easy author for editors to work with and appreciated their input. Later books had less and less editorial input because I was publishing way far-out material and self-publishing. None of the newer writing, including the first three novels, was literature by the classic definition, and, yes, none of it was school book perfect. Nor is HEAVY WAIT. If you want classic literature and school book perfect, forget it. I was told in dreams to use the fast method of publishing, and so that’s how it ended up going that way. Just as the book itself was ignited by a dream and other strange experiences.
If you want a ride that will turn you every which a way but loose, as it turned me every which a way but loose, and the three main and most of the bit players every which a way but loose, then proceed at your own risk. And, if and as you read it, if and as you find yourself wondering just how much of it might be really true, ask yourself how someone could really make something like that up if it wasn’t really mostly true?
Yeah, it’s just a fishing story. Yeah, it just fell out of me in six weeks, ker-plop!!! Yeah, it has symbolism in it. Yeah, the author is deeply involved in it. Just as Ernest Hemingway was deeply involved in THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, even though he adamantly insisted to his editor that he was not, or that there was any symbolism in the story. The Old man was an old man, the boy was a boy, the sea was the sea and the fish was a fish, Hemingway insisted in a letter to Max Perkins, published in Carlos Baker’s compilation of Hemingway‘s correspondence. I told the people at the workshop that THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was Hemingway’s suicide note, which was the clever thing I went there to tell them. That, and there is no way to make up a story out of nowhere. Everything a writer writes is about the writer, even if the writer doesn’t know it.
As I later wrote in one of the way far-out books no editor would ever see, “Although he sometimes tries to write fiction, when the tale is done, every character is a character in himself, every plot a plot in himself. There are no surprises. Only his surprise to discover parts of himself he has lost, forgotten, thrown away or never even knew were there. In this way perhaps he and God are somewhat alike. They both create to discover just who and what they really are.”