Monday, January 08, 2007

innerduckshuns of buddy don: the author


i been promissin a feller i wood innerduce im n let im have a say, witch he holds to the mistuck bleef that he runs thangs here. he claims he is the author of this here blog, witch that dont hardly make no cents on a counta tiz clear i have dun writ everthang thats yet been writ on this here blog, ceptn them thangs i quoted.

but hes a verr insistent feller, witch we kin call im stubb on a counta hes so stubborn he wood argue with a fence post n blame it fer not upholdin fer itself. i am sick of his arguin over the keybird, so without futher do-do, here he is, the author:
One of the many odd things about my creation of buddy don duncan, a vehicle I created in order to tell a long story, is how he became an almost independent "person." My original plan was to work out his use of the hillbilly dialect I grew up around. I wanted to make sure it had a fairly consistent grammar and spelling.

My plan was not to do scholarship, to attempt to claim I could speak for all speakers of the dialect. As far as I can tell, there are regional differences between New River and Wartburg, much more between Lake City (once known as Coal Creek) and Oak Ridge. So my plan was simply to codify as well as I could the form of speech used by my family when they gathered for events such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. No matter what the context of the family's gathering, the high point was the telling of tales from the family history.

Though my grandparents' generation and my father's were educated, when it came time to tell tales, they always slipped into the folksy dialect of the hills. In some cases, this was deliberate, but there were several non-standard usages that were believed to be correct: Vick's Vapor Rub was always called "Vicks Save," meaning "Vicks Salve" with "salve" pronounced as "Save." As a sickly child, I believed that it was something meant to "save" the patient, and it helped me breathe through many sick nights. That's a small example, but there were many: "Vie-eenna" sausages, "putt" for "put," "tuck" for "took," "skillet" for "pan," "vittles" for "food," "uphold for yourself" for "defend your position," use of double-negatives to increase the degree of negativity (not to negate it) among others.

When I studied the philosophy of language in West Germany in the 1970s, I learned that English usage in the mountains of East Tennessee more closely resembles that of the English used during Shakespeare's time than English usage anywhere else in the world. Because of its isolation, East Tennessee's moutain communities continued such usage long past the time that English elsewhere in America was becoming more homogenized.

Once I began practicing this dialect using buddy don as my mouthpiece, I was surprised to find I'd begun a novel. I'd originally planned the writing of such a novel, but I always thought of it as something I would turn to someday. My habit of writing was well-established, and I figured once I had a better handle on life and truth and beauty, I would be able to take the raw material of my life and the stories I learned from other people and the stories from their lives and mix them all into a huge cauldron of the life and times of our country during the latter quarter of the 20th century.

But instead, the novel was what happened to me while I was busy practicing the language of the novel I was someday planning to write: the novel you write is what happens to you while you're busy making plans to write a different novel.

Once the novel broke out, it amazed me, the author, as much as it could have amazed anyone else. A lot of that had to do with the dialect I hoped to have buddy don use to tell his tale.

I have been fortunate enough in my life to learn two languages in addition to English: German and Spanish. I learned the former the "proper" way by studying at the university and then spending time living in a German-speaking country. I learned the latter the better way (but not "proper" way, according to language experts at universities) by meeting someone who spoke Spanish and learning it by using it as often as possible.

In each case, as I did so, I began to feel as if I had dug new deep ruts in my mind, ruts where German is spoken and where Spanish is spoken, both of them off the beaten track of English. When I say ruts, I am referring to the kind of ruts that develop in the backwoods, where there are deep tire tracks for the road and it's hard to drive anywhere but in the ruts. Once in the rut of Spanish, it's very difficult to steer the verbal vehicle out of the Spanish rut to speak German: all of the common terms want to come out in Spanish.

What most amazed me from this exercise was that I discovered a rut for buddy don's dialect that was as deep as any I'd dug for either of the non-English languages I had learned (not mastered, but I can "uphold for myself" in each of them fairly well).

And that led to a different and very pleasant surprise: writing as buddy don, using the rut I'd run through the wilderness of my creative mind to move my story along, led to better writing. When writing as buddy don, I don't have have the luxury of over-explaining things, which is a tendency I fight unsuccessfully in my usual writing.

It got to the point that I almost felt – Strike that, I should be more honest: I almost feel as if buddy don is a separate creature from me. My wife (buddy don's "miz bd") and I often speculate about what buddy don will write on a given morning.

But I also discovered more than that. Through the vehicle of buddy don and his dialect rut, I found myself reliving much of my life, looking at it as if through the eyes of a stranger, even though I am myself that stranger, or at least his "creator" or "author." Still, it has led to a lot of work on myself and re-evaluation of what I have done with my life and what I believe.

In addition, it's taken its toll in health matters. I haven't written a chapter on life n pinions of buddy don, hillbilly since life of buddy don, chaptur 145: puzzles of the hart. The day after posting that chapter I got a migraine attack and remained under its spell for 17 days. That led to a period of two and a half months of short-term disability, during which some of my doctors suggested I face reality and prepare to accept long-term disability. (I am much too young to consider that!)

But I have since found myself a little gun shy about picking up the story again. I have written the final chapter of the entire thing, have it all "outlined" in my mind, know what I have left to do with the novel, but I greatly fear the possibility that messing with such topics as honestly as I have been trying to do via the voice of buddy don, I am risking further misery. I truly don't know if there is a relation between my writing and my migraines, but every time I prepare to write the next chapter, I find myself flinching, as if to avoid the blow I know is likely to follow.

Despite that, I know I have to continue if I am to do what I am on this earth to do (insofar as any of us can know what we are here to accomplish, I know that writing this huge novel is part of my reason for being). It would be easy if I had lived the life of a saint, but I haven't even come close to that. The next chapters begin taking me through a long and shameful part of my life, which though fictionalized and changed to make a better story, to get closer to "truth" than I believe "non-fiction" can do, will still be hard for me to confront as honestly as I need to do to reach my goal for this work.

In addition to that, as the story gets closer to the present (and it's still 24 years in the past at the moment), more and more of the characters can be mistaken by readers for historical people. I am taking the grist of history and using the mill of creativity to make something new. Any resemlance to the originals is pure luck on my part, if not lack of talent or just lazy writing. Even so, some of the people I know might mot realize what I am doing and want to "correct the record," as it were. But there is no record to correct: I am not trying to record the history of my world but to create a new world to illustrate the truths and morals that do not come from an accurate accounting of the non-fictional record.

So there are many risks involved with writing the next chapter, and for that reason, it has been almost a year since I attempted one (the draft of the last being completed on January 27, 2006). Despite those risks, for me the greater risks are in not completing what I have begun, in not having the courage to face all my demons, living and dead, real and imagined, threats to personal health or not.

To do that, I have to be able to quit chasing the will o'the wisp of politics. The little poems I write on topical subjects have very temporary worth, going out of date almost as soon as they are written. Commentary on politics only gives the amen chorus what they need to continue shouting "Amen!" But I truly do not believe anyone has a change of belief or viewpoint on the basis of reading what buddy don duncan has to say about any issue.

Enough of that! I hope from now on to devote myself to that, giving myself days off to do politics and such since I can't write a chapter every single day. But I must get back to writing that. I'm about to be on the planet for the 55th time it has circled the sun since I was born: there is no time to waste!
(ifn ye wonta make a comment, ye gut to click on 'link' below.)

3 comments:

red molly said...

from one of your greatest fans, i look forward to reading more of "life n pinions of buddy don, hillbilly". good luck!

and Happy Birthday!!

Deb said...

Ditto what Red Molly said, Buddy Don, although I hate to think that your migraine episodes are related to your writing and can understand why you'd be fearful to continue. I'm glad you've made the commitment and look so very forward to reading what's in store!
Happy Birthday, Buddy Don :)

fletch said...

Wow. I had some difficulty with the dialect in this post but I think I understand it. As far as political persuasion, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write to change the hearts of those on the dark side without their conscious knowledge, not their minds in a frontal attack. Their minds are so conditioned to darkness that even the tiniest ray of light sends them into fits of reactionary rage. It's a difficult mission, and one that I've hoped to accomplish thru imagery in some small way. I believe it's only thru the willing suspension of belief when one embarks on reading good fiction or contemplating true art that can break thru the back door and reveal truth to those who have closed the front door of their minds. Best wishes on your new adventures.