According to Borges, “. . . the mere fact of existing is so prodigious that no misfortune should exempt us from a kind of cosmic gratitude.” Some men finally learn this for themselves, they tell us, as they sit in wheel chairs on porches, recovering from heart attacks. Stressed at last into awareness, they discover that commonplace things trees, twilights, cracks in. sidewalks are . suddenly worth looking at, powerful tokens of being. They would make good readers of Bode, who has found existence prodigious since about the age of two. Many of his sketches celebrate such ordinary things as five o’clock shadows, or walking in a pasture on an autumn day. “There is no heirarchy of things in life,” he says. “Everything is of value simply because it is.” Existence is the central marvel. His steady effort at the typewriter is to r’ar back and pass this miracle himself, to give things a second, intensified existence on a page. Though he reads and sometimes admires other people’s fiction, Bode is so hooked on reality that it bars him from writing fiction himself. The French used to call newsreels les actualiths, suggestthe movie which followed them as something of a different, lesser order. Bode too seems to feel that reality is sovereign. If he turns away from it, if he starts to invent, he gets into a region of malaise and malfunction that only artists know about: disloyalty to one’s creative impulse. A year or two ago there was a “big” movie about the Texas Panhandle from which Texas and the Panhandle were entirely missing. The producers, apparently believing that if you’ve seen one wheat field you’ve seen them all, filmed it in Canada with hills and the wrong trees beside the wrong river. Bode will not play such games of Let’s Pretend, or the prose writer’s version of them. He can’t apply fictitious names to real characters, he says, and involve them in plots that he made up himself. They would be dummies, “sweated into action from my brain.” Most of what he writes is short because it would be a form of dishonesty to “blow up a thought into something more than it really is.” Yet he doesn’t disapprove when other writers do these things. It isn’t a question of morality or even aesthetics, it’s a question of what you know your territory to be. Nelson Algren couldn’t leave Chicago, he told somebody, because his material was there. Bode’s territory is not a place, it’s actuality. He can write, and has written, about almost anything anywhere so long as he saw it, didn’t make it up. Almost every line of his work is, in addition to being what it is, a jigsaw piece of autobiography. HIS CHILDHOOD was something more than happy. By the evidence of his writing it was damn near perfect. Born in Kerrville in 1931, he grew up there in the days of radio, movies, and two-lane highways. His father owned a grain and feed store. His brother was more than seven years his senior, so that he was at times the younger son, at oth-, ers the only child. Twenty miles out from town lay his maternal grandparents’ ranch, where there was not a living creature, a sight, a smell, or a blade of grass that didn’t supply him with delight and wonder. It was a notable example of a privileged life, of the right boy growing up in the right place. Some of this is recorded directly. In After The Parade, a teen-age Bode walks home from town in his band uniform. His mother has something for him to eat. He plays Stan Kenton records, then reads a book by the kitchen window at an oilcloth-covererd table. His mother gets supper ready, waters her flowers in the yard. From these bits of normality, almost banality, he constructs something fundamental that you envy: why was I never allowed to be that secure, that confident, that content? At seventeen, at the University of Texas, he “walked, flat-footed and whistling, into a brick wall called life.” The college years were not golden. Probably nothing could have topped the childhood and youth that were already past. He graduated from the university with highest honors; became an Air Force officer; taught for a year or two in Sinton and Kingsville; and worked for awhile in Dallas. For twenty years he has taught high-school English in El Paso, which, along with Juarez, has supplied him with many kinds of material. The fifth volume of Bode’s work, Alone In The World Looking, is a notebook of some 700 entries. It records, along with much else, his efforts over many years to figure out what life is and what to do with it. Fairly early, he concluded that he wasn’t going to crack the big code either. “God, order, truth such finalities may exist, but they cannot be dealt with by any of the human resources.” Still, he went on, and produced a set of reflections notable for their idiosyncrasy, their occasional originality, and their many different moods, from glad to grim: “Why must children first know joy equate joy with life and then learn afterwards that they are supposed to do without it?” Good books in every field JENKINS PUBLISHING CO. The Pemberton Press John H. Jenkins, Publisher WATSON & COMPANY OKS OPEN TUES -SAT 10-6, SUNDAYS 10-4 Elroy Bode’s latest… TO BE ALIVE $10 “The work of Elroy Bode is wonderful, luminous.” Ronnie Dugger “I’ hope Texas knows who it has in Elroy Bode.” Willie Morris Other books by Bode: Home and Other Moments Alone, in the World, Looking $8 each Texas residents add 5% tax. Postage and handling 75st Texas Western Press University of Texas at El Paso El Paso, Texas 79968 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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