The following is the entry from my personal journal, dated Sunday, August 26, 1990. In it I discussed the need to be “freer and truer to nature,” as O. Henry described in his short story “Friends in San Rosario.” It’s one of my favorite journal passages.
My attempts at formal, respectable writing reminds me of the way I go to work: in a nice neat tie and suit, terribly business-like, terribly acceptable, terribly boring. In the early part of my accounting career I actually enjoyed this dress-up game, as it made me feel accomplished and important, a genuine cog in the great engine of industry and commerce.
But over the years I have grown to know that it is on weekends and after work that I am most comfortable, in cotton pants, a cotton tea shirt (and in winter, a soft, worn sweatshirt) and sneakers. Not the super-technological footwear of giant basketball players, like Nike and Reeboks, but plain old canvass shoes with rubber soles (I like the so-called crew shoes best, the low-tops without laces). It is this apparel that makes me feel most natural and unconstrained, when the clothing is designed more for physical comfort than for ego, “dressing for success” and mental manipulation.
Thinking back to my first semester at San Jose City College, I dressed and emulated not Dobie Gillis so much as his sidekick, Maynard G. Krebbs, the beatnik who always wore a sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. While others of his generation were striving for peer acceptance and high SAT scores, he was experiencing life in its most elemental forms. Maynard reminds me of the Texas banker, Major Kingman, in O. Henry’s short story, Friends In San Rosario, so different from his antagonist, J.F.C. Nettlewick, the very proper bank examiner. Henry describes the examiner:
He [had] closely trimmed hair, smooth and determined face, and aggressive, gold-rimmed nose glasses. He was well dressed in the prevailing Eastern style. His air denoted a quiet but conscious reserve force, if not actual authority…
There was something so icy and swift, so impersonal and uncompromising about this man that his very presence seemed an accusation. He looked to be a man who would never make nor overlook an error.
The entire crux of the short story is about the meeting of two very different kinds of men, with perhaps the implied question: what kind of man shall the reader choose to be? The essence of the story’s conflict unfolds in the passage where the old, gray and grizzled Texan, Major Kingman, the president of the bank, meets the bank examiner:
Two men of very different types shook hands. One was a finished product of the world of straight lines, conventional methods, and formal affairs. The other was something freer, wider, and nearer to nature.
I love those words: “something freer, wider, and nearer to nature.” The description applies to Maynard G. Krebbs as well as to Major Kingman. How odd that in my youth I chose to emulate the “freer and closer to nature” individual, and yet ended up as a Certified Public Accountant and auditor, in pinstriped suit, button-down collar and wingtip shoes, much closer to Nettlewick, the bank examiner, than to Maynard or Major Kingman. The dichotomy in personal appearance and behavior is more than superficial; it also describes the battle for my soul that has long unrolled in the hemispheres of my cranium, the left brain firmly in control with its propensity to analyze, calculate, reduce all of life’s input to logical and linear evaluation. The left brain is the man of “straight lines, conventional methods, and formal affairs.”
The right brain is the Maynard G. Krebbs, the beatnik in the grey sweatshirt, the man who is able to cut through the conventional layers of experience, whose perceptions are more multi-dimensional, more abstract, and non-linear. He does not analyze experience; he just experiences. He does not plot and plan his life; he just lives. Somehow, I need to reconcile the Maynard G. Krebbs of my soul with the Nettlewick; I need to escape from the constraining necktie of my dry existence and relearn what it is like to eat bagels in a funky coffee shop with whirling ceiling fans, plain, uncovered tables, and unlimited quantities of espresso. Natalie Goldberg [a favorite author of mine] describes this process as “peeling the away the layers of the heart.”
I have a long way to go to get rid of my wing-tips. This journal entry only further proves it. What I have just written is an expository essay, a critical analysis; it has a logical beginning, body, and a conclusion. It provides understanding, but at a very conscious, left-brain level. Nettlewick is still at the controls, and I am still balancing the ledger, still carefully putting the debits on the left and the credits on the right. I want to be a writer, damn it, not an accountant who groups words instead of shekels. I am sick, sick, sick of myself, and the boring, logical, analytical computer that I have become. I don’t want to be Spock anymore; I want to be Bones, emotional, feeling, illogical, and thoroughly human.