Wednesday, March 6, 2013

At War with Myself


The last time I got into a fight, I broke the pinkie bone of my right hand. I lost that fight, which would be less humiliating if it hadn’t been with a bookcase. In my defense, the bookcase had it coming.

That and some other events and my father’s Quakerism have taught me to be a pacifist, and I lived a peaceful existence for about forty years.

Whatever you dwell on pops into your mind when you least expect it. It used to be that as a pacifist and poet when I was in the grocery or the park or work, I’d have the blissful daydreams people have when they think about philosophy and beauty all day. When I turned 40, I started writing a suspense novel. Now my interior life plays like a bad Bruce Willis movie.

A little while ago, I was at a late night poetry reading at a bar in Long Beach. Half way through it, five badly made up mimes walked into the room and stood in the middle of the bar staring at the poet. I flipped into my Bruce Willis mode, knowing that any group of people wandering the streets dressed that way must be criminals bent on dramatic robbery. This occurred to me before the obvious – that they might just be untalented performers.

Anyway, I started looking for ways to slip in the deadpan line, “Yipee Kai Yay!” After the reading, the mimes went into their badly executed routine. The part of me that always wanted to be John McClane died a little bit.

Also, I wanted to counsel those kids to find a new profession. I mean, bad bar-hopping mimery can only get you so far in life.

And that part of me died a little in my office the other day. I was the last person in when three big guys all wearing black entered the hallway, striding slowly up, full of swagger. There was a moment when I flashed on the Jason Bourne movie – the good one – you know, the first one. I knew I was going to have to launch into a series of kung fu moves that I never knew I had before to defend myself against a group of toughs the government had sent.

This made no sense, but it was late, and the thought was instinct, brought on by too much living in the world of Robert Mann, my main character.

Finally the lead tough asked, “Do you know if Professor Whalen is here?”

“No,” I said, calming down. I could feel the adrenaline seeping out of my feet.

“Well,” he said, rubbing his nose shyly, “do you think she’ll be really mad at me if I turn my paper in late?”

Instincts, it turns out, are dangerous. Don’t get me started on how I’ve been driving lately. Always the car in my rear is following me. Always the friendly police officer is watching me.

What surprises me the most, however, is how let down I am when my life isn’t an action novel. It turns out that a big part of me is at war with the pacifist side of me. My two selves are fighting right now, and the action side seems to have bigger guns.

6 comments:

Julie Luek said...

Funny article. I sometimes have my Wonder Woman alter ego too-- imagining how I would fight injustice. It's what gives us such active imaginations-- fortunately for our readers. It's probably a good thing life has yet to call upon me to belly up to the bravery bar. I'm quite sure, unless it was in defense of my children, I would lose the lasso of truth and stars and strip costume and run for hiding.

John Brantingham said...

I would follow you on your heroic journey! It sounds like you fight for all that is good!

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

This was great! Made me laugh--had no idea you had such a humorous streak.

John Brantingham said...

Thank you Marilyn!

susan furlong-bolliger said...

Great post, John. I too battle with my alter-ego who just happens to be a cracker-jack detective. However, when I'm forced to face reality, I realize the only cases I ever solve involve disappearing socks and kids' missing homework. Fortunately, I get to live out my fantasies by writing!

John Brantingham said...

Ha! Yes, but those are often deep mysteries created by strange motivations. The hardest kinds to solve.