Sound and Fury
Getting Right with Mr. Faulkner (with family friend Tyson Reed)
I washed my vitamins down with a wine cooler yesterday. It was that kind of week…a week of ups and downs, wins and losses, sin and redemption. It was the kind of week where I added the being to the doing and came up a little short in every department. Some weeks go like that, I guess.
Wiliam Faulkner (oh, great bastion of positivity) echoed Shakespeare when he wrote that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. He even wrote a novel from the perspective of an idiot–the trick to that one is to detect the real idiot. Now, we all know Faulkner knew a thing or two about writing and most folks can surmise that he washed his vitamins down with bourbon a time or two rather than a piddling wine cooler, but I’ve had a bone to pick with Mr. Faulkner ever since my Sewanee days sitting in the great Dr. Carlson’s lit class wrasslin’ with why on God’s green earth Faulkner would put TWO characters named Quentin in the same dang book.
Naive as I was at 18, I figured we were reading The Sound and the Fury primarily because it contains a shoutout to Sewanee’s proclivity for enjoying our tumblers neat. Thirty years later, the only thing I can choke down neat is Kahlua (in teensy sips, mind you…I’ve always been a lightweight in the adult beverage department if not on the bathroom scale), but Faulkner’s book filtered through Dr. Carlson’s perspective has stuck with me.
And here’s the thing: they were both wrong. I mean no disrespect, either to the Pulitzer Prize winning author or the best professor of my college experience, grad school included, but they’re wrong nevertheless. The jump line, Shakespeare’s bit, was the heart’s cry of an embittered old man broken by betrayal in every way you can imagine. It is both pitiful and piteous. It is wrenching, but it is not a metaphor for life as I know it.
I told the ghost of William Faulkner about it as I sat on the front porch of Rowan Oak just a few weeks back. I looked down his tree-lined front walk to the remnants of an English knot garden. I walked under his scuppernong arbor and sat on the stone patio he built for his daughter’s nuptials. Everything about that beautifully haunted place whispered a message of hope, not one of desperation.
As I type this, my Muse door is flung wide to let in the morning air. Thunder rumbles in the distance and the faintest cool breeze, laced with the promise of autumn, licks at my skin. Zeke, our old retriever, snoozes at my feet as the cattle low and a pair of hummingbirds dive-bomb the bottle brush in audible zips and tweets.
Yeah, sometimes I’m the idiot in my tale. Who, in their right mind, doesn’t recognize the oxymoron in taking your vitamins with a wine cooler chaser? Sometimes, like this week, my tale is full of sound and fury. I spin my wheels trying to get it all done, and for what? All my fretting signifies nothing. But sometimes, like right now with an overcast sky and a week looming ahead that is already busier than the last one I barely scraped through with my sanity intact, my heart becomes quiet enough to hear that still-soft voice.
That still-soft voice tells me that there is a purpose, there is a reason, there is peace. And, that, gentle reader, signifies everything.