Friday, November 21, 2008

A Relic From the Past

I was going through a box of old manuscripts the other day, recovered last week from our storage bin in Glendale, when I came across the manuscript of the first novel I ever wrote, nearly fifty years ago.

I was living in Germany at the time, having escaped from my first teaching job at a grammar school in Wimbledon--I was never cut out to be a teacher--to write my breakthrough novel while teaching evenings at a Berlitz language school. Chapter I starts out: "Angela stared up at the face of the immense clock set in the facade of the building across from the cafe."

An auspicious start. I'm not sure who Angela was any more, nor what adventure this encounter with a giant clock might have led her to. Browsing through the pages, though, I have discovered that it involved two men, one named Willi [!] and another named Werner, and a woman named Helena. Oh, and there's a Kurt, too. I suspect he may have been a waiter at that same cafe. Here he is: "The casualness of his gesture as he threw the napkin over the rack was exaggerated by his self-consciousness. (Was that right, he wondered? Was that how I usually do it?) He told himself that no one was watching..."

There are an awful lot of brittle, yellowing pages of this stuff, all painstakingly hand-typed (with carbon copies) on a little green portable machine that I remember better than the story that I wrote on it. However, the opus seems--perhaps mercifully--unfinished. Arriving at page 6 of Chapter VIII, I read that "Kurt left the room in silence, and was followed after a brief pause by Bruski [!]" The final paragraph starts thus: "After half an hour, she [Angela? Helena?] flet [sic] more peaceful, and took down her case from the top of the wardrobe, working slowly and steadily at her task, carefully depriving herselfxxxx of any feeling, she..."

We'll never know what she did or where she went, of course. It's easy to laugh at my youthful self, but my dreams for literary fame and fortune were real, and it's poignant to go back to a time when I devoted many hours, days and weeks on end, hunt-and-pecking out this verbiage which was never to be published. Kurt's self-consciousness was of course my own, as was his nervous tic of seeing himself as if in others' eyes.

I think I will not consign this particular heap of paper to the trash, along with all the rest. I think it has a place somewhere until, I hope at a reasonably future date, my daughter finds it tucked away and wonders what on earth to do with it. I hope she has better sense than I, and chucks it out.


roger said...

so that's how brewski is spelled auf deutsch. you were surprisingly modern, if a bit teutonic.

mandt said...

It just shows that your karma put you on the 'write' path.....good for us anyway..LOL a treasure to be kept!!

PeterAtLarge said...

Roger, my two years there must have counted for something! Good to hear from you...

mandt, yes, in fact I knew at age 12 that all I ever wanted to be was a writer. I just got side-tracked by teaching/academic administration, earning money for some thirty-five years.

Tom said...

Edit it! Finish it! It doesn't sound bad, at all. It is just your making fun of it that makes it sound like it might be bad.

I am sure there is the perfume of you all over it. It has your insights and ways of saying things -- if not character names you would choose if writing it today.

Tim said...

It was a dark and stormy night....LOL
My first few lines contained within my first full length novel states; "Two quarters, a few pennies and a dime sat beneath three inches of urine in the bus station urinal. Afraid to flush and risk losing them, Nigel leaned over and stared into the grin of the broken porcelain grate and despised himself for wanting to cry."
You think something with so intriguing a start has a chance?

carly said...

Back from the land of Buddha. Learned a few things in SE Asia recently. Was at street level with the Thai and Cambodian masses... village and hill people. Rode an elephant to get back up in the hills. Also stepped foot into Laos.

What is one to think of the psyche of the human mind with regard to the following?:

Both in the island world of Indonesia and on the Indo-China mainland the people who inhabited these lands in the pre-Christian era were largely Animists. The geographical distribution of Animism today would include the village and rural communities of certain T'ai hill tribes in the mountainous parts of northern Burma, Thailand, Laos, Viet Nam and Cambodia as well as the rice growing and agricultural communities in the Indonesian island world. Animism today has been assimilated into the mainstream script religions of Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. There are no exclusive symbols representing Animism. The belief is that even inanimate objects have spirits, spirits in trees, rocks, mountains as well as people, which can affect the well-being of those around them. Animism entails worship of ancestors. In modern Thailand, both in the cities and in rural areas, a common feature is the spirit house which can be made of various materials and in various styles. Each home will have erected in the corner of the garden, a spirit house (in Thai called Phra Pume). Though Animism is said to be more obviously part of village life rather than town life, Phra Pumes may be seen in many town and city home gardens, especially in Thailand.

Animism is very predominant in agricultural, rice-growing areas, among the often nomadic rural, hill tribes peoples, both on the mainland and in the island world. Spirit worship in these communities gave rise to a body of social and religious responsibilities which in Indonesia came to be called the Adat. Spirit worship is often accompanied by ritual chants and dances, special folk drama or masques such as the shadow play. Burial mounds usually include special items to honour the dead or assist them in their next life such as the bracelets and utensils found in the prehistoric site of Ban Chiang in North East Thailand, a site which goes back, it is thought to around 3,000 BC. Simple gates erected near villages, allow spirits to come and go from the village, especially those spirits which are not wanted in the villages and for entry of those which are.

The social and religious beliefs originating in Animism have persisted since ancient times and have become part of the syncretic system of SE Asian cultures. Two thousand years of penetration by Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and both Catholic and Protestant Christianity have not annihilated Animistic beliefs and practices from the normal, everyday world of SE Asian peoples, whether they live in the Indonesian world or on the Indo-China peninsula..Almost all practising Buddhist, Islamic, Hindu and Christian devotees of present day SE Asian societies also include in their belief systems elements of Animism.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

How wonderful that you still have your first effort!

Mine, a play, was mercifully lost, but I still remember it well. It was written when I was in drama school and the characters, of course, were actors.

It ends with the rather appalling line, "Sometimes it's hard to tell who the actors are, isn't it, Ray?"