Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Gift of Stupidity

Zestful Blog Post #113

As an author, I’ve long been a student of the human condition. Actually, I commenced being a student of the human condition in my earliest sandbox days, then turned to writing as a form of self-defense.

Mainly, I’m fascinated with one question: What makes people do what they do? A major sub-category of this question is: What makes criminals do the crazy shit they do? Or, perhaps more accurately, what makes a person do crazy shit for which they get caught and slapped with humiliating criminal charges?

I remember reading Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson, in which there’s a mention of some guy who broke into a dentist’s office for the nitrous oxide, which he inhaled for the high while masturbating. He quickly died after getting too hypoxic. The incident was just a mention and not part of the plot; I think Guterson put it in mainly to help establish atmosphere. But it stuck in my mind. That novel was set in and around Forks, Washington, a remote, poverty-mauled outpost in the Olympic rainforest later made much more famous by Stephenie (yes, that’s the right spelling) Meyer in her Twilight series.

[A river runs through Forks, more or less. Photo by M. Burrows.]

At the time, I was living on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, not far from Forks. And I happened to know the mayor of Forks (we were both Area Musicians), who also happened to be a counselor to a whole lot of messed-up Forkians who had run afoul of the law in one dumbass way or another. I asked him if he’d ever heard of a nitrous-oxide incident like the one in Guterson’s story, and he said he didn’t know if it had really happened, but he could easily believe it, given what he handled on a daily basis.

I asked him WHY people get into such messes, and he answered, “Bad decisions.”

Well, yeah.

My friend is a compassionate man. But I mean, we’re talking stupidity, right? Can we call a dolt a dolt here? I know substance abuse can rob people of their common sense. But it seems there are lots of stone-sober idiots out there as well. But, too, not every dumbass does stuff they can get arrested for, drunk or not. Mostly they just wind up in emergency rooms.

The mystery of stupidity is something I wonder and wonder about. What would authors do without characters who make bad decisions?

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  1. I guess it is perspective. The idea of dying while on a high, although not naturally induced , while reaching orgasm (one hopes for the hapless victim) would be one of the ultimate ways of leaving this mortal coil.

  2. To read more about bad decisions in the Pacific Northwest I recommend ON LOCATION by Elizabeth Sims. It's even better than the Guterson (which I enjoyed very much and think is his best.) As the PW review of ON LOCATION put it, "Sims orchestrates the action--and occasional comic relief--for maximum impact, with characters you hope will survive to enjoy another day."

  3. LOL, Rose! I think there's a religion or two oriented in that direction. And Marcia, gosh, thank you! And you're not prejudiced or ANYTHING.

  4. One of our clients, a dentist, od'd on "laughing gas". His own tank! Talk about stupid!

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  7. I was wondering, what if we writers did the opposite, instead of creating characters who make dumb decisions, have a character who makes the right decision, time and again, but is tempted throughout to do the dumb thing. The character watches as others do the dumb thing and is thankful he/she did the right thing. For a laugh, the character could do one dumb thing at the end of the novel, for a twist ending!


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