Welcome to the second part of my interview with triathlete-turned-author/teacher Scott Tinley. The first part was published a week ago.
I first wanted to provide two examples of his writing style, both from a piece he wrote about having skin cancer:
This wasn’t by-choice surgery. My choice had been to play outside in the sun, all my life, mostly without a hat. Now, this was my price, no-free-lunch and all that. It wouldn’t kill me but I could end up looking, well… cut and pasted, bio-photoshopped.
The cultural ideology of youth-centrism is pervasive, a billion dollar industry. The myth of immortality has become its own political economy. Kids who’ve never heard of The Who don’t necessarily want to die before they get old. But they might consider death before looking older.
Okay, on with the interview:
Scott Butki: Is that you on the cover with your son? Or your father with you?
Tinley: That’s my dad rowing, me as first mate, early '60s, somewhere in the mountains above Southern California.
You end your preface with this statement: “Survivors get to suck the marrow, to know that as they die they will not discover that they had not lived.” Can you elaborate on that thought?
It’s a distant paraphrase from a section in Thoreau’s Walden. The worst deaths I’ve seen are with people who aren’t ready to go, who feel that they haven’t really lived. But people who’ve survived, vets in particular, count every day as a bonus and are happy to have been given what they were.
Your piece about your skin cancer really hit close to me, with my dad dying of complications from skin cancer. When did you write this one? Has the skin cancer returned? Has the experience changed what you tell others about skin cancer prevention? Was this written to help you deal with what happen or to warn others or a little bit of both?
I wrote that in 1999. I’ve been hacked up a number of times but only for basal cell carcinomas. That last episode was tough because they really did take the tip of my nose. And I thought about the cosmetic surgery “industry” for a long time. I’m still out in the sun every day but I look like kabuki theater with my white zinc. As for warning others… naw, that kind of thing can’t be taught, only experienced.
I have heard breast augmentation compared to many things but you’re the first to make me think of jellyfish. This excerpt is from that story.
I may have appreciated the outline, if not the sculpture of augmented breasts (you really can’t say, “fake tits” anymore), but when I felt them, I was taken back to my days on the beach, shoveling jelly fish into plastic bags to clear the volleyball court. (I can hear the collective sneer of men everywhere.)
If you pick up a white jelly fish and put it in a plastic bag it feels very similar to the product inserted into augmented breasts. Not very erotic but descriptive for my narrative purposes.
“Life Be Proud” is the most moving tribute I’ve read to a dead pet in year, especially this part:
Dog knew she was dying a full day before she laid down on the back deck in the sun, careful to lay her head facing away from the house so that the kids wouldn’t have to see her before my wife came home and covered her up.
The morning she died, she had the saddest look of any living creature I’ve ever seen. Her eyes were trying to capture us, pull us inside of her so that we could see the damage and pain of the poison; the way it might’ve been eating her alive, one organ at a time. It was a soundless scream for help, 'I’d love to go running with you, dad, but I’m dying and it hurts like hell. You go ahead.'
How hard was that to write? And why did your dog call you “dad”?
I started writing that piece soon after my dog died. As with all the pieces, both real and imagined, yes, it helped me to make sense of the tragedy. I hadn’t realized the Freudian slip with my dying dog calling me dad. That’s pretty obvious now.
You almost made me cry, and that’s a good thing, with your piece about the death of your father. First, can you tell me about the choice of the title: “In the Name of Our Fathers”? The part that moved me the most was this passage:
One day, when the moment was right, I told my son that my dad would have really liked him, that he might have become a hero to my father. Nine years old, he turned to me and held my shoulders between his little hands, just like I was supposed to hold his, and said, “Yeah but Dad, I bet you were kinda like his hero too.
This piece I wrote about my dad will help explain why this moved me so.
Your piece is strong. Thanks. The name has obvious biblical references but it also says something to our use of a father’s name in order to carry on a legacy. Sometimes fathers will name their kids after them, Junior, but that’s not the same as honoring a son or a grandson with the name of a great man. There is an implied responsibility there as well. And I’m not sure that it’s fair to ask kids to live up to it.
“Centering Your Self” is so good that as I was reading it I was making plans to ask others to read and to read parts of it at an open mic nite. What was the inspiration for this piece?
I used to watch that sad wisdom of compromise when my kids played soccer with the neuvo-riche, the way the moms in particular seemed so hungry for something authentic. It wasn’t Stepfordian but pathetic in a very disturbing way. It reminded me of the Janis Ian song, 'At Seventeen,' when she talks about those 'who married young and then retired.'
Is there anything you would like to add to this excerpt (below) from “Centering Your Self."
You hold out hope that there must be a wheel’s hub somewhere from which you can begin to attach stainless steel spokes; wires, roads, people and maps of truth; red bricks, yellow bricks, dirt and rocks that won’t crumble in your hand, a compass with characters; ladders, handles, lovers… life
No. It’s not easy being you after you have been you.
All you want is a path that begins at the center. That’s all, just a place to move out from, like a drop of blue/green paint on a spin art canvas. Like those concentric circles flowing from that skeptic rock thrown in a deeper pond; a wide open horizonless sea.
Writing in the second person like that is risky. Parts of that piece work when I can really connect with the feminine mystique. But other parts are too thick. I don’t know, I wrote it like I’d imagine a women going out and knowing that she was applying too much rouge but didn’t really care because even though she’d look better without it, she had lost control of what she says in the mirror and couldn’t even find a towel to wipe it off.
I’m also going to excerpt this section from “In Search Of the Last Hippy, Approximately.”
To think about resistance is to think about acceptance. Not for sale or selling out. Everything is true and nothing is true. And quantum physics never did get you that four-bedroom, three-bath in the burbs. War is hell but heaven has left earth, left the building with Elvis. What we have now is an Ipod zeitgeist, Rollerball come true, Vacuum Vile. Everything is gone but the uncertainty of some goodness. Free love replaced with free downloads, nothing but rising temps and falling forests, endangered species replaced by pocket-pets. I don’t want to live in an air-conditioned world and I’ll never learn to speak English. I’d gone to a friend’s funeral but a lot more has passed.
Can you explain to the reader what brought this story about? Your use of language is very impressive.
It’s the basic dialectic where the truth of something is found in its opposite. I’d been reading Baudrillard and Camus and Tim O’Brien and I was striving for hope in cynicism. It’s essentially a true piece where I’d attended a memorial ceremony for a friend in Berkeley and after awhile I just wandered down Telegraph Ave. looking for a beer and wondering what had happened to all that I had dreamed of in the '60s and geez, here was this great guy with six kids and a good wife and he’d died standing in line at the post office. His heart just blew up. He was in great shape, a brilliant runner and philanthropist who was doing good things for the earth. And now he was part of it.
And this part from the story is hilarious but oh so true. It reminds me of the time I left a copy of Fast Food Nation at McDonalds, my own tiny protest:
Walking back up the avenue, I was compelled to revolt at the repulsion, disgusted that I was still unable to distinguish the peace agents from the sales agent, unable to speak out against the slick genocide with a Jeffersonian air and plane old Grace. The best I could do was jaywalk into a Starbucks and take a piss without buying anything at all.
I miss the obvious ambiguity of the war.
I actually think that as far as multinationals go, Starbucks is doing some good things. I probably should’ve picked on Exxon or Shell.
What are you working on next?
I’m sitting on a completed novel about a vet who returns from war and wanders the Southwest trying to make sense of his experiences but ends up having more of an effect on those he meets that they on him. It’s a long character-driven tome, very ambitious with lots of challenging narrative vehicles. I started it before 9/11/01 and it’s become so relevant I’m afraid it will become cliché before it’s even published. Besides that I’m working on something semi-academic – how American sports explains our country’s current state of affairs.
Thanks so much for your time.
Was my pleasure, Scott. Thanks for all your support. Best of luck.