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  • One of the first books I read all the way through after coming to Cowbird was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I believe Alex Noble recommended it, or referenced it in one of her stories, and I downloaded it to my kindle. That story really made me think.

    The narrator of the story was a guy who’d kind of settled in to a mid-life, somewhat conventional existence, a very practical-minded fellow who talked a lot about the difference between people who liked to tinker and work on their bikes as they travel, and people who would never touch a wrench, who’d rather take it to the shop to have it fixed “properly”.

    It went a lot deeper than that, but that was sort of how he introduced us to his theories and philosophy, which would lead us much deeper into this divide of types of people, and would delve deeply into the concept of quality. How does one define it, and how do you recognize something as having quality versus something that does not?

    As he takes the reader on this motorcycle journey across the country with he and his teenaged son, a troubled lad whose vague sickness seems to be important to the narration, and initially another couple, he alternates between describing the journey, and the interactions between the different parties on the journey, while periodically describing the important aspects of motorcycle maintenance. Each day of the journey, he spends time on what he calls a Chautauqua, where he explores his philosophies with the reader, slowly unveiling and revealing a mind that really thinks deeply about things.
  • It’s an interesting read, even in those early segments of the journey, because you keep getting this sense that it is all going to lead somewhere really interesting. There’s something going on, on another level, that you sense from the very opening. There’s also something about the kid that makes you think there’s a lot more going on there than is being said.

    About a quarter or a third of the way through the story, we become aware of a ghost-like character who the narrator believes is haunting them. The way he is introduced, and slowly reveals himself to the narrator, is simply some of the best writing I’ve read. The ghost has a name – Phaedrus.

    It turns out that the narrator, when a young man, was a highly intelligent teacher who went crazy seeking an ulitmate truth. He got so wrapped around the axle of a theory he was trying to prove, he got totally sucked up into his mind, to the point of becoming a danger to himself, incapable of being a responsible member of society, a husband, or a father to his then 6 year old son, he is so singularly focused on this theory.

    He was given some form of shock treatment that was designed to wipe out his memories of all the insanity, and give him an entirely different personality and persona. This is the narrator that we met and got to know through the first third of the story, only it’s now years after he went crazy. The journey is taking him into the part of the country where he lived when he went crazy. He refers to this earlier person that he was, as Phaedrus.

    What’s happening is, he’s been slowly becoming aware of this person that he was. Apparently, the treatment he received was designed to keep this from happening, but being human, he has a deep, inner drive to reconcile these different personas that are a part of who he is. He’s discovered a lot of Phaedrus’ files, and has been studying them, and realizing that, in his healthier frame of mind, with a lot more common sense now part of his make-up, he might be able to pick Phaedrus’ work up where he got stuck when he was younger and crazier, and prove the theory that drove Phaedrus nuts trying to prove years before. It’s a great book, one that really resonated with me.
  • I, too, went a little crazy when I was younger. The source of my insanity was much different than Phaedrus’, but I did have to have an experience that helped me to leave those things that made me crazy behind, and find some things that were more sustainable for living, and embrace those. However, part of what I left behind was my creativity. I had gotten really crazy behind it, at times, and I needed sanity in my life. I associated the writing and creativity with the insanity, for many years, and just avoided it altogether, for a long time.

    By the time I came to Cowbird, I was experiencing a powerful need to revisit some of my earlier journeys, to plumb some lessons that I felt were there for me to learn, that I had missed in my younger days of insanity. I also was developing a fearlessness about my previous worry of slipping back into insanity if I unleashed my creativity, and let the writing flow again.

    Another book that I read, during that first year here, also recommended by Alex, was Stephen Levine’s “A Year to Live”, which, among other things, encouraged one to engage in a life review, to go back and revisit times in ones life where things were left uncompleted, to tie up the loose ends, and to reconcile ones spirit with those events. I took Levine’s challenge and set a date, living the following year as if it were my last.

    When my year was coming to a close, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do to mark my “death”. It had to be something significant. My date was August 20th. At the time, I had done a little bit of bargaining, and toyed with the idea of extending my expiration date into September. However, on the original “day of my death”, I knew in my heart that I needed to stick to the original date.

    As I began writing my story for that day, I really didn’t know where it was leading, but as I wrote, I came to the decision that it would be my last story as Hawkeye Pete. I decided to kill the persona that had built up around me on Cowbird. I had no intention of no longer telling stories. I just needed a break from being Hawkeye. I was having some ego-based issues with it, and trouble sorting it all out. It seemed like a reasonable thing to do.

    In order to have a way to continue writing and posting stories on Cowbird after “I died”, I created a new account, and eventually came up with the moniker of Phaedrus. Before too long, I figured out I could just use my regular account, and just drop the Hawkeye moniker, simply using my real name. That worked, and my Phaedrus account became my “ghost” account. I did eventually re-adopt the Hawkeye Pete Egan B. moniker for my regular account, a couple months later. It had all served a purpose, as life, and Cowbird storytelling, went on.
  • I’d developed a healthy following of readers outside of Cowbird, including a lot of my family, and a number of colleagues at work. As work began to get a little weird, and I found myself needing to periodically write about sensitive work issues, that I didn’t really want work colleagues reading, I began using the Phaedrus account for those stories. I was glad I had it, because writing those stories was really helpful for me to make sense of those situations, and to sort through them.

    I didn’t use it for much beyond that, but I do feel the need to bring some closure to my Phaedrus persona, here. I will say, the whole exercise of the life review stories, which I wound up writing quite a few of, did help me to reconnect with my younger self, and to reconcile parts of myself that had been closed off ever since I had gotten away from my destructive years of active addiction. The end result was, I felt more whole as a human being. If some tragedy befell me tomorrow, I don’t think I would necessarily feel my life flash before my eyes – I’ve already done my life review, and haven’t left anything unexamined. I left it all out on the fields of life. I’ll be good to go when my time comes.

    Phaedrus was a pretty cool alternate persona, or alter ego, if you will. He served me well. Not too shabby, for a ghost. He got me through a few tough spots. I’m not sure if he will follow me to Medium or not.

    Probably not. I think I’ll leave him here, to haunt the hollowed halls of Cowbird, to keep some semblance of life in this vacated joint, once the rest of us fly off to Medium, MeWe, WordPress, and beyond. Phaedrus will keep a little soul going here.

    So long, Phaedrus, old friend. It was good being you.
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