Category Archives: Fiction

Fiction and Truth

I was in a writer’s group some years ago, an extraordinary group because except for me it was composed entirely of women–and they were elderly, seventy, eighty, ninety years old. At first I thought, “What am I doing with this bunch of old ladies?” But I quickly changed my tune.

They were tremendously talented and clever, sharp, and knowledgeable, and taken all together had hundreds of years of Typewriter, paper, glasses, pen, book on a wooden surfaceprofessional or amateur experience. It was a great, exciting group, the most pleasant and worthwhile I’ve known. The atmosphere every time was warm, radiant, cordial, and safe–a most productive creative environment. I often think of them fondly. At a session I read aloud a short story I’d written.  When I was reading I heard one woman–an award-winning journalist–say to her friend with a tone of discovery, “This really happened. You can tell.”

Well it had really happened. I hadn’t changed a single thing from the actual events and the actual setting and mood and people, except the names.  Even then I used their correct initials–“Wayne Collins” became “William Carruthers,” etc. In writing it I had to make everything accurate. If I wrote, “She had grey eyes,” I wouldn’t let myself get away with it. I just had to change it back to the real color, blue. Then the group turned to the question everyone seemed interested in that my reading had raised: “Can obviously autobiographical material–meaning it had really happened, the detail told you that–qualify as fiction?”

The eight people in the group were evenly divided. Four said, “Fiction is fiction and non-fiction is non-fiction. There’s a big difference.” I once asked my wife, an excellent writing teacher, “What is a short story these days,” and she replied “Currently, a short story is anything you want it to be.” That liberal view was basically the attitude of the other four members of the group, including me, so in our minds my strictly and admittedly autobiographical story more than held its own as fiction.

It goes without saying that when they are creating, all writers–all people in the arts–depend heavily on their own past experiences. But while most writers create characters and plots using their imagination as the dominant shaper of the work, some writers–such as those cited in this post–adhere slavishly to their own experiences and knowledge.

Truth is what the writer, painter, actor sincerely believes in his/her own heart. Everything in the work of art must be convincing for the artist and for the audience. The artist is often not striving for literal truth, but is inventing too, saying to the reader, “I’m trying to convince you that if this were happening, this is how it would be. If characters were people, this is how they would feel, talk, and behave.” But some writers invent far less than remember.

In college and in graduate school I was trained in “The New Criticism” that says all that matters when studying a literary work is the work itself: the author’s personality should not enter into it. I had a knack for sticking to the text and ferreting out patterns of images and symbols.

But I am a writer of fiction and poetry and I know from my own long experience and that of many other writers that the author’s personality and experiences are everywhere present in the creative process and permeate the content of everything the writer commits to the page, every feature, major or minor. Critics may not know that or may act as though they don’t, but every writer does. A writer can look at a passage in her work and say, “That character sounds so bitter because I had a bad tooth ache that day and so I was in the perfect mood to write that dialogue.”

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

There is a long precedence for obviously autobiographical content being put into fictional form and being accepted as fiction even though it really happened. Short story master/playwright, Russian Anton Chekhov, said “Art has this one great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood…There is absolutely no lying in art,” and in a letter to his brother, “Don’t write about anything you haven’t experienced yourself.”

That’s much easier to do when you are writing about yourself because you know yourself better than you know any character you can imagine and you know better than anyone else what happened to you if you have a clear and accurate memory. Autobiographical fiction writers obviously need exceptional memories–and most have one. Their most important creative routine is to stimulate their memory. I may look at photo albums as a way of doing this.  I’ve said about myself–hopefully not bragging–that I can remember every blade of grass on the street I lived on when I was eight.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge advised to “write from recollection; [but} trust more to your imagination than to your memory.” Most writers are liars–they invent. But some writers write their best fiction, poetry, drama, and screenplays when they are writing the literal truth–or almost the literal truth–and not lying.

American Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, for example, said,  “I have never written anything which did not come directly or indirectly from some event or impression of my own,” and “I shall never be influenced by any consideration but one; Is it the truth as I know it, or better still, feel it,” and “I am a dramatist. What I see everywhere in life is drama. I just set down what I feel in terms of life and let the facts speak whatever language they may to an audience,” and “Writing plays was the easiest thing in the world for me. I wasn’t making anything up.”

Some famous autobiographical authors who could be obsessive about not lying or writing about things they hadn’t experienced themselves include:

Katherine Anne Porter

Saul Bellow

Ernest Hemingway

Sherwood Anderson

Marcel Proust

Thomas Wolfe

Eugene O’ Neill

Henry Miller

Anton Chekhov

James Joyce

D.H. Lawrence

Sylvia Plath

Malcolm Lowry

Scott Fitzgerald

Raymond Carver

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, another Nobel Prize winner, could invent with the best of imaginative writers, but was obsessed with telling the truth, the importance of telling the truth, in his words, “the straight statement without moralizing or elaborating or decoration”–what “is not messed with.” He was asked what the job of the artist is, and he said it is to put down what you see and what you feel in the best and simplest way you can. What he had personally done and knew most about was what he was interested in telling about. “His standard of truth-telling remained…so high and so rigorous that he was ordinarily unwilling to admit secondary evidence…picked up from other sources than his own experience” (Carlos Baker.) Whenever I read the wonderful Hemingway short story “Indian Camp” I know that boy sitting in the rowboat was once the real Hemingway and the man with him was his real father just as in the boy in the story I read to the group was my best recollection of how I was as a boy.

Thomas Wolfe had an enormously retentive memory, as autobiographical writers generally do, and engaged in exhausting, sustained, many-hours-long periods of writing. (Research shows that the most productive writers and painters usually work in long, protracted bouts of creation and not in brief, choppy spurts. For maximum effectiveness you would preferably have or develop the ability to concentrate your attention for long periods, and if possible, find long uninterrupted, unimpeded periods of time for work.)  The artist’s highest goal is to make conflict-free, habitual use of the urge to create that dominates him or her, with no one and nothing interfering. It is not just interference that so aggravates the creator, but even the threat of interference.

Wolfe’s aspiration was to put into his writing precise descriptions of every experience and every impression and every sight and sound he had ever known. He wanted to put all the experiences in his life into written language, and had every confidence that was possible. His life had to be “looted clean.” “Everything had to be used; nothing could be implied” (The Norton Anthology of American Literature).

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe, Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Like many creatives whether in the arts or the sciences, Wolfe was governed almost wholly by the compulsion to work, to be as productive as he could possibly be. Words came out of him straight from his memory as water comes from a spigot–hundreds of thousands of words, thousands every night, manuscripts of a million words, his never having any concept of the requirements of a publishable book. Whenever he was deterred from working, this tall, handsome, tremendously gifted man from North Carolina would fall into a black mood. Then he would brood, drink, and pace the streets all night until he was able to work again, starting in the evening and working past the break of dawn.

Malcolm Lowry was the English author of the wonderful virtuoso-performance novel Under the Volcano. It’s generally considered one of the great works of the twentieth century. It is possibly the most accurate description of a man’s alcoholism ever written. (He wrote, “One dreaded the arrival of anyone unless they were bringing alcohol.”). Lowry almost never tried to invent characters or events because he didn’t know enough about any other person to be able to do that. His subject was himself and he could not focus on anybody outside himself. When he tried to, the writing went flat. He didn’t know anything about world events or anything else either. Everything revolved around his thoughts.

James Joyce

James Joyce

James Joyce had such a need for authenticity and accuracy that he believed he didn’t possess an imagination at all: he couldn’t make things up. When writing Ulysses he sent a letter home to Dublin asking a friend to go see if it was possible for a man in average physical condition to jump from this place to another at a specific address, or was it impossible. He had to know or he couldn’t finish the book. He was depressed when after the book was published a retired sea captain wrote him telling there was a mistake in the book in that with wind blowing the way he described, the boat wouldn’t have behaved in the way he had it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with Hemingway, is arguably the most dramatic example in American literary history of an author whose private life is reflected consciously or otherwise in virtually everything he wrote. Fitzgerald’s language, his prose, his voice, tell us what he was going through at any given moment in his career, from his early extraordinary successes through his crack-up. Saul Bellow’s fiction is strongly biographical fiction. Its focus on the workings of a brilliant mind help explain why his writings are in essence long monologues. Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar is also strongly autobiographical.

T.S. Eliot said, “We all have to choose whatever subject matter allows us the most powerful and most secret release; and that is a personal affair.” Literary critic Gilbert Murray wrote, “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings.” It is not a random choice, but a discriminating, highly selective instinct, a particular order of things that has an outstanding appeal to that particular writer. Painter Julian Levi said, “It seems to me that almost every artist finds some subdivision of nature or experience more congenial to his temperament than any other.” The subject matter, the subdivision of experience that all these writers mentioned here found, and that autobiographical writers today find, is not what they can imagine, but themselves and the recollection of the lives they’ve lived.

It’s generally thought among critics that Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past were the two greatest novels of the twentieth century. The subject of Proust’s book was Proust as much as the subject of Lowry’s works was Lowry. Wolfe’s subject was Wolfe, Fitzgerald’s was Fitzgerald, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller, Plath’s was Plath, Hemingway’s was Hemingway, etc.

The answer to the question, “Can a true story be communicated as fiction?” is “Of course.”

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under creativity, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Literature, Malcom Lowry, Memory, Thomas Wolfe, Work Production, Writers, writing

20 Tips on Writing Like a Nobel Prize Winner

Writer Flannery O’Connor thought that any idiot with some talent can be taught to write a competent story, and something on that order may be true of all the arts. But a quest all creators aiming beyond mere competence are engaged in—writers, artists, actors, architects, dancers– or should be engaged in is discovering and refining a style which expresses exactly their unique vision and their unique skills and their unique selves.

old-1130735_640When they settle on that style their work leaps up in quality and they are whole.  But until they find it–it may take years– they cannot possibly come into their own and fully bloom and realize their highest creative potential. Style is the constant form in the creator’s work, the never-changing elements or qualities and expression of the person—his or her manner of communicating what is communicated.

Finding THE style that suits you supremely well is no small matter. A distinctive style that’s your own is the first sign of artistic greatness. There are styles that are okay for you and more styles that are wrong for you. And one style that is best. And the best may not be the style you’re writing in currently.

Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison wrote that “getting a style is about all there is to writing fiction.”  And the most influential literary stylist on earth in the last 100 years was American Ernest Hemingway whose Nobel Prize citation reads, “For his mastery of the art of narrative…and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style.” Hemingway’s techniques “have profoundly influenced generations of writers across all boundaries of nationality, gender, race, ideology, sexual orientation, class, religion, and artistic temperament” (Robert Paul Lamb). Critic Alfred Kazin:  Hemingway “gave a whole new dimension to English prose by making it almost as exact as poetry.” Joan Didion said about Hemingway’s style: “I mean they’re perfect sentences.”

ernest-hemingway-401493_640Probably no fiction writer before or since worked so hard for so long or prepared so thoroughly to create a personal manner of writing that was so perfectly suited to the writing he wanted to do. If you’re looking for a model of how a writer should develop skills you can do no better than hard-working Hemingway.

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and  we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves” (First paragraph of A Farewell to Arms).

Until you perfect your own style and are satisfied with it, you may wish to pick out from the style of Ernest Hemingway whatever might be useful to you. If you want to improve your writing by learning from the master—and what serious writer wouldn’t–here are 20 practical tips on writing like a Nobel Prize winner:

* To cause the most powerful emotional responses in the reader always understate, never overstate. Don’t lay it on thick. Write prose that’s always less emotional than the events seem to call for. No emotional excess. Reject sentimentality. Hemingway doesn’t state characters’ emotional responses at all except in the simplest way. He might say the character “felt lousy” or felt “bad.” The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint you should use in writing about it. And then the result will be emotionally powerful. Flannery O’ Connor said the fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create emotions with emotion. If you want the reader to feel pity, be somewhat cold. Write in a subdued, unemotional voice. Make your prose cool and dispassionate.

* Don’t make the reader aware of your style. When you’re reading Hemingway you’re reading an extraordinary style. But you’re unaware of it.

* Have an intense awareness of the world of the senses. No one renders the physical world with more vividness than Hemingway. His descriptions of mountains, hills, plains, and valleys are beautiful and unrivaled.

* Base your paragraphs on simple sequences—the Hemingway character does this, then does that, then does something else—gets up from the table, crosses the room, goes down the stairs, and  then steps outside where the sun is shining and the flowers are red and yellow.

* Avoid describing the mental state of characters. Show it in the action.

* Simplify in every way you can.  Willa Cather said, “The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.” “To write simply is as difficult as to be good” (Somerset Maugham). Fiction these days has shifted more and more toward greater conciseness and simplicity.

* Be completely objective. The more objective you are the stronger will be the impression your writing will make on the reader. State the facts.

* Tell the truth.  “A writer’s job is to tell the truth…Do not describe scenes you have not witnessed yourself” (Hemingway). Write down what you see and feel in the simplest way you can. Anton Chekhov: “One must never lie. Art has this great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood…there is absolutely no lying in art.” Hemingway’s works are generally autobiographical and stamped with authenticity.  He never wrote about anything he hadn’t first experienced himself.  He said, “I can only write from memory.” That creates trust in the reader.

* Show absolute sincerity. The particularly effective writer will develop a relationship with readers that goes beyond liking to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity the reader finds in the work. Hemingway is the sincerest of writers.

* Do no moralizing, no moral judgments—have no “messages.” Don’t preach.

* Eliminate long words or use them sparingly. But always use the mot just, the single best and most accurate word to convey exactly what you’re trying to say.  “I have never used a word without first considering if it is replaceable” (Hemingway). Put the right words in the right order to do the subject the most justice.

* When writing short stories make the stories simple—simple plots. The more elaborate the plot of a short story, the less effective as a work of art it tends to be. In many Hemingway stories very little happens.  In fact some of them aren’t even stories, but sketches that are only a few pages long. The same is true of Chekhov, and he and Hemingway, along with Guy de Maupassant, were the three greatest short story writers in the history of literature.

* Be brief, condensed, maximally concise. Not a single word should be unnecessary or superfluous.  A minimum number of words selected with care.

* Provide few details and make them precise and concrete. Too much detail exhausts the readers and takes their mind off the action—and that’s where it should always be.

* Stress clarity at all times.

* It’s not necessary to state everything. Rely on suggestion.  Leave some things for the reader to figure out.

* Write in a style that’s easy and flowing and has simple rhythms—a tremendously appealing sensual style.

* Keep sentences short and simple–a series of short declarative simple sentences, generally not complex or compound. No ornamental rhetoric. Write forceful and direct prose. There is hardly a single simile or metaphor in all the works of Hemingway. Dialogue sentences especially should be short.

* Severely limit adjectives and adverbs. Emphasize nouns and verbs. If Hemingway used adjectives they were inexact and common—“The trees were big and the foliage thick, but it was not gloomy.”  The colors were “bright.” “Hemingway certainly helped bury the notion…that the more you pile on the adjectives the closer you get to describing the thing” (Tom Stoppard).

* Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.  No explanations, discussion, analysis, and comments. Eliminate the frame. It’s not necessary. Jump right into the action.

stockholm-952497_640Having found your right style you’ll be equipped to achieve the writer’s objective “to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader” (Hemingway). Everything with brevity, economy, simplicity, intensity. It isn’t possible to overstate the influence of Hemingway on the way Americans speak or on how writers everywhere write fiction.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Literature, Motivation, Preparation, The Writer's Path, Work Production, Writers, Writing Style

A Centenarian—Most of the Time

headstone-312540_640I don’t remember ever coming across the ubiquitous Rayburn Stoddard’s name until five years ago last April, but a lot has happened to him since. Although as far as I know I have never met the man, I would certainly like to and have read or heard about him at intervals during the last half-decade in various cities I have visited on business, and now I feel familiar enough with him to call him by his Christian name. Rayburn has witnessed the cavalcade of American history, and in fact, as you’ll see, has been an active and significant part of it. The following is a record of what I currently know about the man. I’m hoping you can add to it.

I have made every effort to assemble as much pertinent information as I am aware of about this extraordinary man and to paint as complete picture of him as I am able. Although I have tried to eliminate any information of a dubious nature, unfortunately I cannot vouch for the veracity of my sources, their being newspaper features and television broadcasts which as you know tend to have a rather cavalier attitude toward factual truth and accuracy and are prone to pilfering stories from one another and then trying to top each other by puffing them up with embellishments so they have a more sensational ring to them. On average, a Rayburn Stoddard story in itself can be counted on to boost ratings or readership by four per cent.

Early that stormy spring evening five years ago, I was in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport browsing through the Chicago Tribune when I saw the following obituary:

Rayburn Stoddard–died peacefully in his sleep in his home in Skokie at the young age of 104. In perfect health at his untimely demise, Mr. Stoddard was seen racing a half block in just three and a half hours the day before on his way to a 7-Eleven for a pack of cigarettes. A bugle prodigy, Mr. Stoddard played that instrument at the inauguration of Warren G. Harding at the age of ten. He fought in many battles and distinguished himself as a tank commander under George S. Patton in World War II and found great enjoyment listening to Jack Benny on the radio some years ago. An amateur historian of note, Mr. Stoddard was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for what is universally considered the definitive biography of George Armstrong Custer called Wake Me Up In Time For The Attack. He is the same man who last winter at a youthful 103 was sighted in his yard tossing a snowball at his shadow.

Why this obituary struck me as remarkable I don’t know. But I had a hunch there was more to this story than meets the eye so I tore the clipping out, put it in my wallet, and boarded a flight to St. Louis. It seemed odd to me at the time that the following day as described in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Rayburn–now a resident of Missouri–was alive again and had aged three years overnight.

 OLD MAN LAUGHS IT UP

Prize winning author Rayburn Stoddard, formerly of Skokie, Illinois, now a resident of University City in perfect health, celebrated his 107th birthday last night at a party given for him at the Improvisational Comedy Club in downtown St. Louis where he played “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling” on the bugle and had an audience of well-wishers in stitches with his hilarious “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine. Asked to what he attributed his longevity, he replied, “I like throwing snowballs a lot.” Mr. Stoddard fought in many famous WW I battles, and was present at the swearing in of President William McKinley. He fancied listening to The Shadow, a popular radio show some years ago.

Being an experienced business traveler who reads as many newspapers as menus, I was certainly not surprised by the obvious discrepancies between the two reports, although it seemed apparent to me that the man was either alive or dead, and was probably not 104 and 107 both.

In the days to follow those news features would ring a bell, for some months later while lying in bed in a hotel room in Dayton, Ohio I watched a human interest story on the ten o’clock news about this same Rayburn Stoddard–although his name was given as Stoddard Rayburn. He was still alive, but was now a long-time resident of Dayton. More youthful now at 99, he was in robust health, vividly recalled attending the inaugurations of Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln, and Herbert Hoover, had helped out his Dayton buddies the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, was a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor and a literary prize, had commanded General George S. Patton in World War II, and spent countless hours running down streets, practicing his bugle, and tossing snowballs. For years he had worked with his friend Jack Benny on the radio and in vaudeville, and was the originator of the role of Lamont Cranston on The Shadow, a popular radio show some years ago, but now held a job at a 7-Eleven where he sold cigarettes.

Business was going well, and frankly, although my curiosity about Rayburn had been piqued, I was too busy to have much time for the media. I temporarily lost track of the man, but could only assume that he was alive and well in twenty-five or thirty other cities my travels would eventually take me to, and that as he approached 110 or 120 or stayed in his nineties or went back to his seventies or eighties I would have the great pleasure of coming across him again, unless, that is, he had passed from this earth again–and it turns out he had–at least temporarily.

I was on the west coast to attend a Laugh-A-Minute-Funny-Business-Sales-Seminar when I saw a feature on the morning Los Angeles news that caught my attention. It began, “Legendary movie producer, historian, musician, aviator, and former vaudevillian Rayburn Stoddard, one-time resident of Dayton, Ohio, died in Hollywood yesterday afternoon at the young age of one hundred and thirteen, and the film industry is in deep mourning. His companion, super-model Cinderella Baudelaire, was at his bedside.” It continued, “This close adviser to many presidents, and the producer of such gems as Gone with the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane, and Zombies on Broadway was in perfect health at the time of his untimely passing.” The report was quite complete, referring to Rayburn’s renown as a snowball marksman, his having been present at the Little Big Horn with General George Armstrong Custer where he had died valiantly fighting off the Indians with his bugle, his other past deaths, and his famous, “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine that he had performed for President Chester A. Arthur and all the crowned heads of Europe.

I was not saddened by the report since I had the feeling Rayburn would spring to life again in the foreseeable future. I was not, however, prepared for his next death which occurred in Virginia approximately a year later and was reported in all the major news services:

 WITNESS TO HISTORY LAID TO REST

Died peacefully in his home in Williamsburg, Virginia on Tuesday last, a youthful 427, Nobel Prize laureate Dr. Stoddard Rayburn (nee Rayburn Stoddard), the lone survivor of the Mayflower crossing. Dr. Rayburn was in perfect health at the time of his unfortunate demise. His mind, a rich storehouse of historical reminiscences, was sharp and clear to the end. After serving as governor of the Bay Colony, Dr. Rayburn next appeared as a delegate to the Continental Congress. As a personal favor to his boyhood chum, Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Rayburn provided leadership to the Lewis and Clark westward expedition. He was particularly handy with the tomahawk, which he invented, and taught that skill along with playing the bugle to the plains Indians. It was while on the Missouri River–which he nicknamed “Big Mo”–that Rayburn developed his side-splitting, “Drunken Plumber on the Moon” comedy routine that was a particular favorite of the Shoshone tribe. Following a stint as a Civil War cavalry major with his West Point roommate George Armstrong Custer,  Rayburn passed away at The Little Big Horn and then emigrated to New York City with his literary mentor Mark Twain at the turn of the twentieth century where he invented the movie projector, refined his proficiency with snowballs, authored the Encyclopedia Britannica, teamed with W.C. Fields in vaudeville’s Ziegfeld Follies, and like millions before and since disappeared into oblivion. When it was pointed out to him that he had lived a remarkably long life, Dr. Rayburn replied, “Methuselah was older.”

I was surprised that Rayburn had aged from 113 to 427 in a matter of months, and at first had doubts that such a feat was possible. 427 years old! How could a person possibly live to 427? But then it struck me that he would have to have been approximately 400 or he could not have arrived on the Mayflower, so I concluded that here was one newspaper report that was accurate.

Months of hard work passed and I lost track of Rayburn. Then while stopping for a cup of coffee at a diner in Cambridge, Massachusetts I saw in a Boston Globe article entitled “Celebrated Patriot Returns,” that this “well-traveled former super model, famed movie producer, historian, comedian, airplane pilot, and one-time resident of Skokie, Illinois, University City, Missouri, Dayton, Ohio, Beverly Hills, California, and the Bay Colony” had sprung to life again. He was in perfect health, this existence residing in a boarding house in East Patchogue, New York, but had been in town the day before to commemorate the Boston Tea Party which he had engineered and led. He was now a robust and more reasonable 275, having decreased in age by 150 years since his untimely Jamestown death. At the Boston commemorative ceremony he reportedly talked about his experiences with drunken plumbers and sang “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling.” with the Righteous Brothers. He carried a tomahawk for the event and was dressed in the authentic Indian garb which he had worn in the raid of the colonists on the British tea ship, and which had hung in his closet in mothballs for more than two centuries.

The last I heard of Rayburn was a feature on Topeka, Kansas TV where it was stated that “a young 122 and in perfect health, this founder of the 7-Eleven convenience store empire” had left this life in a suburb of Kansas City, where he had long resided after relocating there from Skokie, Illinois where he worked as a plumber. He had also passed away three months earlier in Waco, Texas at a youthful 97 while in perfect health and on location producing a documentary film about the Lewis and Clark westward expedition. But judging from his history I am confident that Rayburn has not left this life permanently and irrevocably, but will reappear between the ages of 90 and 500 in some American city in the near future. All that we can say for certain is that we have seen the last of Mr. Rayburn Stoddard–Stoddard Rayburn–until he turns up again.

If you or a family member or acquaintance have news of other lives and deaths of this elusive man I would appreciate you contacting me care of this blog. I’m hopeful that in that way, working together, with contributors from across the globe, eventually we will be able to piece together a satisfying and complete biography of the man. I am particularly interested in learning about Rayburn’s first nine years on earth, about which at present I know zilch. And frankly I have my doubts that throwing snowballs increases longevity, although that’s what the man said. And who should know better than Rayburn?

© 2014 David J. Rogers

 

 

 

 

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