George and Bill
[George and Bill sat on George’s back porch drinking lemonade, looking out over a Texas tank pond, surrounded by the mesquite and willow trees, late on a warm summer afternoon.]
“Question, Georgie boy.”
“They say you don’t remember what a person says, you remember how a person made you feel. What the hell does that mean, anyway?”
“It’s a cliché, Bill. It means it’s both true and false. All at the same time.”
“Speak the King’s English, George.”
“Well, the fact is you’re remembering neither what the person said nor how the person made you feel. You’re remembering the person him or herself.
“You see, we don’t remember feelings, Bill, we have feelings. What we remember are people, places and things. The feelings flow from the memory of the thing. Remembering a person can be just like meeting them. We put them back in our mind and the feeling flows from that. Our minds are awful powerful.”
“Ha! You can say that again, Georgie.”
“Bill, people are complete. They are, as the French say, ‘petite mondes’—little worlds. They are true phenomena; universal; Godlike, with free will and everything. Bill, that produces feeling, regardless of what is said or done.
“Ask yourself this question Billie boy: If you were going to describe how someone made you feel would you describe the feeling, or would you describe the person? Friend, I submit to you that if you wanted to be effective, you would describe the person.
“We remember the person and the feeling flows from that. Being human is an act—short for action—and acts trigger emotion in us. Human existence has meaning and purpose, in and of itself. At least as much purpose as life can have, anyway. People feel that, especially when they’ve forgotten it about themselves. Consider the movie industry.”
Bill was looking at George, biting his lower lip, and grinning.
“Now I know what you’re thinking Bill.” George started again. “‘King George has lost his marbles!’ Well, hear me out, amigo, to leave a lasting impression you must focus, not on the impression you want to leave, but on the act of being human. It’s the only shot you’ve got of making an impact. Life is nothing if not counterintuitive. And don’t worry about being good or bad. This goes beyond good and evil.”
“Georgie, Georgie …. pass the pitcher.”
[A pair of mallards lit on the tank pond in front of them]
“…. I try to paint that way.” George went on. “A painting does not describe. A painting simply is. A painting is not a reflection of nature, a painting is nature. It’s what was in my mind and my mind is a part of nature, grew right out of nature, just as yours did. A painting, if done truly, will make at least one person on the planet cry.”
“George, you never fail to surprise me. I think I’ve had this same conversation with myself before.”
“Well that’s what a friend is, Bill. It’s the friend who helps you have that conversation with yourself. They allow that conversation to flow more freely and they do it without judgement.
“A few people can have this conversation with themselves. We call those people writers. Anyone can write. Most people just don’t bother to. They have friends. But, sharing ideas is like stacking wood on a campfire. To grow the fire, you have to stack on the wood.
“You can’t be afraid of smothering it. Friends aren’t afraid of smothering your fire. They find it an acceptable risk. That is human nature. And thank God for it. If you wait for a flame big enough to handle the extra wood you’ll never grow the fire. You’ll grow old and this has nothing to do with age.
“As a young woodsman starting my campfires I used to fear I’d smother my fires when trying to start them. Then my brother came along and started stacking wood on the trickle of a flame I had. I thought I needed a large flame to build a bigger fire. I had the ‘cart before the horse’, since you like clichés so much.
“That’s the value of a friend.” George went on. “They stack wood on your fire before you would have the courage to do it yourself for fear of smothering what you’ve got. They see what you have before you do. It’s like playing with the house money. A writer is someone dense enough to play with his own money and get away with it.”
“I see,” said Bill. “I think we tell stories for that reason. It’s stacking wood. People are creators, in the image of their creator. What is the act of creation? It is bravery. It’s going ahead when you don’t know exactly what’s going where. It is leadership. It’s not about you and me.
“It’s: did I do things I can be proud of? This being human is an act, you say. We create the events we think should be in the world. Our little worlds, where we are as God. To put the action in the mind of people is an act of creation. And you’re presence is, itself, an act, unavoidable.”
“Exactly,” said George. “The world is in our minds. Novels are ‘new’ worlds. Novels are new creations. Nature is always combining anew in our hearts. People are one-part God and one-part nature, and one part bull-shit. That’s the part we make up since we’re really throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks.”
“George, I’m a writer and I’ve never written a word. Picture a dog running through six inches of water in a flooded field on a frosty morning. She’s chasing a downed mallard whose green head sparkles in the sun, barely cracking on the horizon. The water rolls over her as she proceeds apace, with steady, satisfying, relentless locomotion, through the breaking sheen of smooth water, chasing down her fleeing object.
“Her relative speed closes the gap. The bird’s predicament was moments ago unforeseen. Like you and I, it did not live its entire life with the expectation of this final chase. And thank God for that. When God comes, it is a total surprise.”
“Amen, compadre,” said George.