Friday, August 28, 2009

Heros and Anti-Heros

One of the most difficult things for me to do is write a decent hero. It is lucky the anti-hero is so popular, because I cannot seem to find a hero who is perfect. I've come into contact with many heroic men and they are hardly ever perfect (at least that is what their wives, mothers, girlfriends and teachers say). But they are still heroes nonetheless.

At Christmas, during that unusual deep snow that lasted for two weeks, I met a real live hero. I live on a steep, narrow dirt road which falls steeply into a creek on either side. Foolishly I thought I could get up to my house even though there was a snow pack and a mist of ice topping it (protagonists rarely have to be bright). I got stuck. Worse, when I tried to back down to the bottom, I slipped sideways, nearly sliding into the creek. With my heart pounding, I picked up my cell phone and prayed the sketchy Verizon coverage in the hills would pick up my call. Tim, the neighbor at the top of the hill, listened as I cut in and out over the air, and--due to the superior intelligence of heroes--figured out not only that I was in trouble, but that I was in trouble on the steepest part of our road. He tramped the quarter mile from his house swinging a flashlight back and forth until he saw me, the rear end of my car precariously teetering at the edge of the road.

He yanked my chains out of my shaking hands (he didn't need the set of instructions I had been reading by my dome light) and got them onto the wheels. Together, we spun and slid and spun and slid up the hill to the semi-level part of the road.

It was only later I found out from his wife that he had been in bed, ill, that night.

I used to have a "Hero List" when I was in my early twenties. One of my co-workers saved me from an assault and arrested the culprit. And he did it with gusto. Another co-worker came to my house on his own time and installed burglar proof sliding glass door locks after I was burglarized. Another came over and figured out the reason I was so very cold was that my pilot light was out on my heater and he lit it.

Their names were Denny, Chuck and Danny and they are still on my hero list, but they are no longer alone. Tim is there. And another neighbor, Mike, who came charging to the rescue when a tree fell on my house.

And then there is Nita, who scooped me up and drove me to the hospital when I fell and dislocated my shoulder. She is a hero too.

These are all pretty heroic acts, but in writing a hero, sometimes it is little things that make an every day man become a hero. I came across one at the PNWA Writer's conference this month. His name tag announced he was "Jason Wilson", followed by "Literary Fiction". That is all I know about him. I didn't even talk to him, but on the first day of the conference, we all crammed into a large room to hear a lecture on How to Pitch to Agents and Editors. Having never attended a conference before, I didn't know I should get to the lectures early to get a good seat. I stumbled in five minutes before it began and it was packed. There were only two vacant chairs.

"Pardon me, sir, is that chair taken?" I asked.

The gray haired man looked up. "Um...yes. I'm sorry." He gaze drifted to the door in a frantic search for his peer, before it swung back to me. He gave me a guilty, lopsided grin and shrugged apologetically.

Dang. Okay, I leaned over him and used a stage whisper to another person several chairs down. "Excuse me, is that chair taken?" We repeated the process. She told me it was, glanced nervously at the doors and gave me a sheepish grimace.

Fine. I backed up to the wall and leaned against it, preparing to stand for two hours, juggling to get out the yellow pad and pen and vowing to get to all the other classes early.

Halfway down the row, a dark-haired man in a casual polo shirt and khaki pants rested his eyes on me. I was aware of his gaze, as one is nearly always aware they are being watched, and out of the corner of my eye I saw his shoulders drop as he heaved a sigh. He reached down and gathered his lime green PNWA bag and unfolded his body, stepping over the feet of all the others in the row. With his eyes still on me he said, "Please, take my chair."

I immediately fell into hero-worship.

I protested, of course, but he insisted, so I stepped over the others and took the seat, trying not to let guilt overpower the gift. As it happens, minutes later they came in and told us they were moving the lecture to a larger room, so my hero got to have a seat after all. But he cannot escape the result of his action. The fact remains, he is heroic.

So Jason Wilson, you are on my "Hero List" if you ever happen to come across this blog.

You are right there with all the aforementioned heroes. And I'll change the name, of course, but I might use you to model my next hero. You, and my other neighbor, Dick, who saved me from the tarantula. But that is a whole other story.


  1. I remember that dark and stormy night. I believe I was the culprit who kept you out past the time people with good sense mosey toward home and felt too guilty to call and see that you made it home okay. Does that make me the anti-hero?

  2. Gosh, that's beautifully written. I almost have tears in my eyes. You're great to remember the small kindnesses.

  3. Carol, yes we stayed out until the rain started to freeze and our breaths showed white in the light through the Starbucks windows. But, as I recall, I didn't call you to see if you got home either. Perhaps we are both protagonists.

    Dale, thank you for saying it was beautifully written. Thanks for following my blog. And thanks for being such a great sister.

  4. Aye...I agree...this one is beautifully written. Good job!

  5. Thanks Karen. It is nice to have relatives.


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