Running to the Guru

“Four miles down, two to go.”

It seemed like the third time I’d told myself that very count. Mileage wasn’t passing. People were, not mileage. A short six miles was turning into a torturous climb under the sweltering Georgia sun.

And then, I saw him!

He came toward me walking confidently with both hands shoved in his pockets. His dark hair with streaks of gray hung well below his shoulders – unkempt, but not messy. Although there was no breeze, it seemed to wave behind him majestically like a flag in a hurricane.

In the brief moment he stood before me, I saw in his eyes a certain combination of peace, sagacity, and happiness uncommon to this world. He smiled slightly, but not at me. No, he radiated carefree joy – I was just a party to it. His turned up mouth revealed lines chiseled by years and somehow, if possible, even his eyes smiled.

He wore nothing special – wrinkled khaki pants, dirty sandals, and a grey t-shirt far too big for him that simply said, “Whistler”. I sensed he was above making clothing choices and didn’t consider what his appearance told others.

I must remark that I typically don’t notice much about others on my runs. I wave and say hello to fellow runners. I try to smile, but I don’t really look at them. That said, I was mesmerized by this gentleman.

When we passed each other, I realized that I had finally broken into my last mile. How? What propelled me? I had been running in quicksand all this time, never making progress and suddenly a mile ticked off! How did that happen?

The heat became stifling at 5.5 miles, but with the finish in sight, I soldiered on. Plodding, pushing, slogging until I nearly fell out with two tenths of a mile to go. And there he was again. Seated at the bench that marked my final turn. How he got in front of me I have no idea, but there he sat – smiling at me. This time I was certain he was smiling at me… For ME!

I collapsed ten feet from him and crawled on my hands and knees toward his bench, ready to thank him for helping me through the tough part of the run and hoping to learn something… anything at his feet. Just when I began to speak, he held up a finger. At his command, nature seemed to come to a stop. Birds didn’t chirp, frogs hushed, and rabbits ceased their noisy hopping.

When the time was right, he began to laugh – a slow, deliberate, infectious chuckle that I felt contained a slight mocking tone.800px-Guru_rimpoche_at_samdruptse

“Why do you laugh, Guru?” I asked, my voice taking the tone of Grasshopper.

He cocked his head back and roared. “You have not completed your run,” he mocked.

“Yes, yes,” I pleaded. “I have gone six miles.”

“Observe your watch,” He instructed between peals of mirth. “You are precisely 1/10th of a mile short.”

I frantically searched the screen of my GPS watch. “NOOOOOOOOOOO!”

He was right. How did he know? I looked up, only to find he was no longer there. His laughter still hung in the air and haunted me – but he was gone. Where he went, I know not. I both hated him and wanted to be his best friend at the same time – I’ve never been so conflicted.

I wonder if I’ll ever see the guru again. I want to, and then again, I don’t.

Next week, I’ll run a tenth over my goal and show him!

 

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This was a  little writing exercise I concocted, built around an interesting man I saw on my Sunday run. Can you picture him?

The Name Collector

Names

My mother recently asked me where I come up with the character names in my books.  I’ll be honest and confess that this has been one of the most challenging and interesting part of my journey into writing.  I spend more time deliberating, changing, and tweaking the names of some of my characters than I probably should.  As a lover of Dickens, the names mean a lot to me.  I would NEVER be so bold as to compare my writing to his.  But I can say we share an infatuation with odd names.

Who can forget his characters Ebenezer Scrooge, Uriah Heep, Daniel Quilp, Wilkins Micawber, or Pip.  Each name is forever associated with the traits he wrote into the character – so much so that Scrooge became a recognized word!

With my town of Portsong being set in rural Georgia, I have an advantage of pulling from the colorful language of the Deep South.  There is a distinct line between Southern and Redneck.  I am careful to avoid the latter.  Whenever I hear a name with possibilities, I jot it down in my little Moleskine, which shows everyone just how much of a nerd I am.  I’ve scribbled dozens in there over the past few years.  In Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, I used only the first few pages.  There are many more to come in Virgil’s further adventures.  Here are just a few examples.

In the Creech family, besides Virgil, there are his brothers:  Lomas, Wendell, Stanley, Tanner, Webster, Dalton, Eustis, and Roscoe.  You will meet some of them in varying degrees if you stick with me.  The parents of the Creech family are Abner and Henrietta.

Colonel Clarence J. Birdwhistle came when I was looking for vintage sounding British names.  I found it on a list of surnames that are dying out.  Shame – he’s a good sort.

The rascal, Burton Perry is actually the name of my brother-in-law’s grandfather (used with permission, of course.)  You won’t find him in this first book, but he will give you a laugh in time.

I hope my preacher sounds formal and stuffy:  Reverend Josiah Crane.  The mayor, Earnest Shambley, is a fussbudget and typical politician.  I drew a contradiction between first and last names.  Ms. Louise Prattlematt, the chairperson of the Ladies Historical Society, just sounds like a busybody to me.  Our grocer, Harland Gentry, struggles with pride.  The list goes on.

In my name-giving journey, one surprising thing actually happened.  I named the sheriff of Portsong Hub Whitaker, with no particular meaning assigned to his first name.  As I wove a story around him, there was good cause to use a more formal name that he hated, thus Hub became a shortened form of Hubert.  I can honestly say I had no intention of going that route when I named him.

So now you know.  If I ever meet you and I reach for my Moleskine, you probably have an odd name.  Please, consider it a compliment.

What are some odd names you’ve come across in literature or real life?

Virgil Creech