Monday, March 30, 2015

My "Family Tree" - The Douglas Adams Branch

Michael Salsbury
As I've probably mentioned before, I've become a big fan of Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist. The book describes itself as the author's advice he'd go back in time and give himself at age 19.  I've read and re-read the book several times.  In terms of words and pages, it's a light read.  The ideas and concepts it covers, however, are anything but light.

In the section entitled, "Climb Your Own Family Tree" the author tells you to:
...chew on one thinker - writer, artist, activist, role model - you really love.  Study everything there is to know about that thinker.  Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them.  Repeat this as many times as you can.
Kleon suggests that seeing yourself as "part of a creative lineage" will help you feel less alone as you work.  Hanging their pictures in your work space is like having "friendly ghosts" helping you along.

That advice in hand, I realized that one writer whose work I really loved is the late Douglas Adams.  The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, and Last Chance to See are all very excellent works.  They're imaginative, loaded with humor, and a joy to read.

Here are some things I learned about Adams that I found interesting:
  • He wanted to be a performer, like the Monty Python group.  In fact, he went to Cambridge and tried to get into Footlights because that's what most of the Pythons had done.
  • He actually worked with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, and Terry Jones during his career, so he achieved that dream before he died.  He even has a writing credit in a Python episode and appears in a couple of their sketches.
  • Adams loved science and technology, and was often "tech support" for his friends.
  • To get into a peer group in school, he was forced to write a poem about a candle.  His was actually quite amusing and well written for a boy of 17.
  • He wrote spoof articles for his school newspaper.  (I did that sometimes, too, though one of mine wound up with me in the principal's office because it offended a literature teacher.)
  • Adams spent a period as a hospital porter, barn builder, chicken shed cleaner, and bodyguard to a Qatari family.
  • Adams was known for missing writing deadlines, once quipping that he loved the "wooshing sound they make" as the fly past.
  • He wrote three serials for Doctor Who (The Pirate Planet, City of Death, and Shada) during the Tom Baker era.
  • Adams played the guitar, which is something I've long wanted to be able to do (and Adams played it left-handed).
  • Adams had musical taste that included Pink Floyd, Procol Harum, and Bach.
  • In 2013, on what would have been Adams' 61st birthday, Google celebrated with a doodle showing the Hitchhiker's Guide, and other elements of the Hitchhiker's universe.
This gives me the next level of the family tree to investigate:
  • Monty Python
  • The Doctor Who episodes he helped write
  • Pink Floyd's music
  • Procol Harum's music
  • Bach's music
  • William Blake - a poet, painter, and printmaker that Adams got recognition for writing about
  • The Burkiss Way - a BBC Radio 4 sketch comedy show he wrote for
  • John Lloyd - a television producer and writer who roomed with Adams, and wrote with him
  • PG Wodehouse - described as one of Adams' "heroes"
I am familiar with Monty Python, but should look at them more from a writing standpoint than from their actual comedy work.

More on this investigation as it continues.

About the Author

Michael Salsbury / Author & Editor

In his day job, Michael Salsbury helps administer over 1,800 Windows desktop computers for a Central Ohio non-profit. When he's not working, he's writing, blogging, podcasting, home brewing, or playing "warm furniture" to his two Bengal cats.


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