March 16

Daydreaming

Have you ever daydreamed when riding in a car on a long road trip?

You know what I mean? It’s one of those quiet stretches. You have the radio playing some local station you picked up while passing through a small town. The driver is fixed on the road ahead while you stare out the passenger window, watching the trees and fields, the empty side roads and dilapidated barns. There are billboards advertising nearby restaurants, gas stations, and museums of specific themes: stock cars, Indian pottery, ceramic dolls. There’s also the weird signs, put up by some rancher or hermit living on the fringes of a rural town decreeing the evils of circumcision and Sharia law overtaking the US. Oh, and immigrants.

I always get caught up on those side roads, those isolated tracks of dirt or pavement that run off into some distant patch of woods or parallel the highway for miles, then end abruptly at a river’s edge.

I wonder where they would lead to. Someone’s house? A secret hideout? Maybe the lair of a madman plotting world domination. Or maybe it leads to another world, another dimension. I sometimes see it as leading to an alternate reality, a world like this one, but slightly different. You’d really have to pay attention to notice the difference. That would make an interesting story. Twilight Zone material.

You know, some guy on a road trip, decides to maybe check out a side road to break up the boredom of the trip. He ventures too far, ends up passing through some ripple in space/time, finds himself lost and tries to find his way back.

Or maybe there’s some forgotten small town, isolated since the highway diverted traffic from the old road. A town of suspicious isolationists who haven’t seen a stranger in too many years and now feel their secrets are going to be exposed.

What about the traveler stumbling upon some secret lair – maybe a mad scientist or a secret government agency up to no good? They aren’t sure if he’s a spy or just a guy who got lost, but they can’t let him leave because he might reveal their plans.

So many possibilities pop into my head when I’m on the road. What about all those fields, the manicured ones that stretch on seemingly forever without any civilization in sight? Or the huge tracts of undeveloped forest or swamp…has anyone ever set foot in there? Is this piece of land unexplored or did some forgotten tribe once call this home? What secrets lay there?

You know how it is on road trips when you aren’t the one driving. I’m not one to play mindless games on my phone or constantly change the radio stations trying to find one playing a song I like. I’d rather daydream, explore possibilities, wonder at the unknown. Rainy days only make it better, setting the mood with gray skies, raindrops streaking the windows, and deepening the shadows.

It’s been a while. I may need to get on the road again soon.

RB

March 4

Hunter S. Thompson

One of my many influences as a writer is Hunter S. Thompson, otherwise known as Doctor Gonzo. Thompson was the founder of Gonzo Journalism, a style which allowed the writer to impose him or herself into the story. There’s also an abundance of surrealistic description and drug-fueled mania. He wasn’t ever going to see one of his stories on the front page of the Washington Post or New York Times, but was the right fit for Rolling Stone magazine.

What I liked most about Thompson’s writing was his imagination, his attitude, and his ability to grab and hold my attention. He wrote from the gut, not holding back his true feelings. And while he took liberties in his work, he was always honest in how he expressed himself.

Part fact, part opinion – that was where he took journalism. It wasn’t a replacement for traditional journalism; no, it was an alternative, springing up in the midst of, or as a result of, the societal changes of the late 1960s. A new attitude, a new way to look at things, to express yourself. It was a break from the past, an avant-garde experiment that worked beautifully. He immersed himself in his subject and reported first hand not just the black and white facts, but the emotion of the events he witnessed.

As a young writer, that caught my attention. I was still trying to discover who I was as a writer, my voice. Reading The Great Shark Hunt, Hell’s Angels, The Gonzo Papers…it was like having an epiphany. I was amazed that this guy could get away with writing like this, with attitude, wit, bile, all incorporated into his transcendental musings on politics, society, life and death…I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, but once I understood I was hooked.

Of course, I could never write like Thompson. That’s not my forte. But his writing style influenced my writing by helping me to discover my own voice. I learned that no matter what is being written – a newspaper article, a blog post, a chapter of a novel – the writer must put a bit of themselves into the text. With Thompson it was blatant and in your face. Most writers are more subtle. Of course, it depends on the writer and what they are writing. You write to the material and to the audience.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Thompson taught me to be myself, to be unafraid, and to push boundaries. I keep those things in mind when I write, regardless of whether it’s an essay, a short story, or even a journal entry. It’s writing from the gut, which is sort of like writing from the heart, but with more attitude.

Thompson has been gone now for over a decade, but his influence lives on in thousands of writers who grew up reading his words and imitating his style. That’s his legacy. Knowing that would make him uncomfortably happy and he’d probably have some choice words to say on the matter. Not that he’d be ungracious. I think he’d be more confused than anything. He was a drug-fueled rage monster on occasion, but deep down he was a person who wanted to be a writer, who made it as a writer, and that’s something to be respected.

If you’d like to know more about Thompson and his work, please visit The Gonzo Foundation.

RB