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So, of course I had to think of more writers who have influenced my writing, and my life. Once I get on a roll it’s hard to stop.


I don’t know what possessed me in my youth to pick up a small volume of the essays of Michel De Montaigne. It was a stuffy little book written by a guy whose name I couldn’t really pronounce. He generally wrote about things that were going on in his head, or things he had read. In that way he was a sort of proto-blogger from the 16th century. Regardless, I fell in love with the mind of that rather dour man, one of the writers who pioneered the form of the personal essay.

He came up with some pretty stinging little epigrams that have stayed with us through the centuries. Things like:

“We must think quite highly of our convictions to have other men burned at the stake for them.”


“The key to happiness is to not value anything you can’t carry with you as you swim to shore after a shipwreck.”


“I think no more of him for having emerged from the same hole as did I.”

The last was about his brother.

Pardon me if some of these are a little off. I’m doing this from memory.

Montaigne knew solitude, and making the best of it. When we think of the solitary essayist staring out of his window on the grey world during an overcast day, jotting things down with a quill pen in a fit of deep cogitation as the thoughts finally emerge fully-formed, we are thinking of Montaigne and his various spirutal descendants.

But you’re probably not thinking of me. I’m one of his goofy spiritual descendants. I didn’t quite read all of the memo. Something shiny distracted me. All told, I’d probably rather be riding a motorcycle, etching my thoughts into the earth as invisible traces along a moebius-like strip of asphalt somewhere in Western Colorado. Maybe that’s what Montaigne would be doing today as well. I dunno. He’d probably ride a BMW mainly because it seems he could handle being stranded alone in the wilderness better than most.

Another influence on me was Thomas Mann. Mann was hot at one time, but like so many other greats who were read obsessively in the mid-20th century, he’s no longer much in fashion. That’s too bad because the emotional distance and moral confusion of his protagonists play very well against the modern way of seeing heroes. Read Death in Venice or Doctor Faustus and tell me if the narrators aren’t describing the empty hollowness of a world that has lost its grounding. They do this in everything they say and do. More people today should read Mann, especially the part in Faustus where the title character sits down at a piano and starts tinkling away, playing whatever his ear tells him to play. One of his churchly colleagues from the university asks him what it is he’s playing. He says “nothing”. His friend is not satisfied. What was it and where did it come from? Faustus didn’t know. It was just a thing–just a thing he was doing. His more literal-minded contemporary couldn’t grasp how such a thing was possible. It couldn’t possibly exist that way. And there, in that dialogue, you have the way that most people encounter creativity in themselves and in others. The creative don’t know where it comes from, the non-creative can’t imagine how that’s possible. It seems to count as a sort of possession by the devil. In some ways, that’s not a bad way of looking at it.

Then there’s Anthony Burgess, who is best known for A Clockwork Orange,  but also wrote a series of dark comedic novels based on the Enderby character. It’s hard not to see these as semi-autobiographical. Enderby is a gifted and underappreciated poet who is constantly self-defeating. He’s butted along from one situation to another, his talents used and abused by others while he just wants to be alone making the beast with one back. There are multiple efforts to “cure” him and make him a functioning member of society. Doctors try, his bosses and coworkers at his various horrible jobs try, his uptight and worldly literary agent marries him in an effort to make him fit-in. He just bounces along, always a stranger in the world he writes about. There are laugh-out-loud moments in Enderby, but we’re laughing with a certain sadness. One great thing about the book is that it starts with the reader knowing that he achieved what he was after, albeit posthumously. He achieved the immortality he sought, though it’s the lot of poets and other artists to never know whether they have gotten there or not while they are living.

So those are a few other authors who have influenced me through my life. I suppose I should read happier things. Can you suggest any?

Words and Image ©2014 Bill LaBrie

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