Thursday

Nov. 13, 2008

The League of Minor Characters

by Kathleen Flenniken

The main character sits on his childhood bed
naming everything that's gone—ex-job, ex-wife,
ex-best friend-and finally apprehends

the breakdown we've felt coming since chapter five.
When his doctor calls with test results, most of us
decide to remain minor characters

like the quixotic neighbor growing
bonsai sequoias, or the waitress with thick
glasses and a passion for chess,

because the main character, in the thrall
of a relentless plot, can't help hurtling toward
the crumbling cliff edge. And who needs that?

Some inherit genes from generations
of minor players, some must learn to guard
those sunny Sundays with the paper

full of heroes in distant gunfire. And some of us
who've gotten smug over the years turn another page,
turn on the football game, until one day

the doorbell rings. We close our books,
adjust our eyes, and the protagonist
sweeps in insisting himself into our lives

with his entourage of lust and language,
sorrow, brio. Hero, anti-hero, it hardly matters
with the lights this bright. The music crests

and it's time to speak.

"The League of Minor Characters" by Kathleen Flenniken from Famous. © University of Nebraska Press, 2006. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of Saint Augustine, (books by this author) born in 354 A.D. in Tagaste, Numidia, a part of North Africa that is now Algeria. He converted to Christianity as an adult and wanted to settle down to a quiet life, thinking about theology and writing books. But when he moved to the port town of Hippo to set up a monastery, he was forced to take over the duties of the local bishop, and he regretted that he had to spend so much of his time delivering sermons and running a parish, when he could spent that time writing.

During his life, Augustine wasn't taken very seriously by other theologians, because he couldn't read or write in Greek, which was the language of intellectuals, and he lived in a backwater part of the Roman Empire.

His city of Hippo was besieged by Vandals and destroyed soon after his death. But somehow Augustine's library survived, and all his ideas about resisting pagan influences became doctrine within the Church. It is partially due to his writings that the Catholic Church held together during the medieval period.

It's the birthday of Robert Louis Stevenson, (books by this author) born in Edinburgh, Scotland (1850). He was a sickly, moderately successful essayist and travel writer, living in France, when he fell in love with a woman after one look at her. The woman was Fanny Osbourne, an American, and she was unhappily married. After a few months in Europe, she returned to California, and Stevenson decided to drop everything and go persuade her to divorce her husband and marry him. He collapsed on Fanny Osbourne's doorstep. She divorced her husband, and they got married and moved back to Scotland.

One rainy summer afternoon, Stevenson painted a map of an imaginary island to entertain his new stepson, and in a single month, he wrote his first great novel, Treasure Island (1883). It's been in print for 125 years.

Around the time that Treasure Island was published, Stevenson woke up one morning and told his family that he did not want to be disturbed until he had finished writing a story that had come to him in a dream. It took him three days to write it, and then he did some editing, and by the end of the week he was happy with the result, which he called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885). It's about a scientist who invents a chemical that changes his personality from a mild-mannered gentleman to a savage criminal.

Those two books made Stevenson rich and famous. He spent the rest of his life traveling from one place to the next, and he finally settled on the island of Samoa. He died from a stroke at the age of 44.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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