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I signed using my full name, Styles Stillwell Stylechoice, and even the law clerks brought in to mark my competence couldn't tell I was attending to a loud rain pounding on the roof. Maybe they were interested, like me, only in getting home to watch Judge Alito's hearings on TV or, with their husbands, to see my Seahawks training to meet the Washington Redskins Saturday. I mean, after twenty-three days of rain, who can endure on a dark and stormy afternoon signing "boilerplate" wills and testaments in law offices?

So what's the word today, you ask? Well, water — though maybe not quite as viewed, "thereunto," in Better Than It Ever Gets. That needs even some fine grain "brewing" in the sun to take. So I've thought to offer my own unlegal boilerplate on death and taxes — those in light of a theme I thought to mark in terms of a question, "How have stylish literary artists used water 'symbolically'?"

At least thematically, Martin Luther best answers this question. "For all our life should be baptism," he writes, "and the fulfilling of the sign, or sacrament, of baptism; we have been set free from all else and wholly given over to baptism alone, that is, to death and resurrection." Although I offer this sentence without sectarian pleading, I find it suggestively resonant. Charles Schulz's memorable Peanuts strip of January 2, 2000, renders its theme with some well-drawn water. In ten reiterating panels of pouring rain, Mr. Schulz plays with his own then-acknowledged leave-taking, not only of life but of art. To begin, Peppermint Patty says: · Peppermint Patty Signing Her Will and Testament · "Hey, Chuck, it's a great game isn't it? . . . We're having fun, aren't we, Chuck? . . . It's still your ball . . . Fourth down . . . What are you gonna do, Chuck . . . You gonna run or pass? . . ." Then under an umbrella, Marcie says: "Everybody's gone home, sir . . . You should go home too . . . It's getting dark." To which Peppermint Patty replies: "We had fun, didn't we, Marcie?" And Marcie, "Yes, sir . . . we had fun." And Patty, "Nobody shook hands and said, 'Good game.'"

From that vale of tears we call life, Schultz suggestively distills for us the essence of the old art of "singing" in the rain — of smiling, playfully, in the face of death. Great or good, every artist of course plays the game well. In his Moby-Dick, Melville plays it perfectly in his chapter entitled "The Grand Armada." "But even so," he writes, "amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mild calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy." So does Thoreau in Walden. When he buys in imagination "all the farms," as he says in "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," he aims to die by water first, "so," as he says, "it may please me the more at last." These artists seem to say, "Come on in, the water's fine. But, please, 'Don't kick the bucket.'"

Of course, these "Waters of Separation," as Annie Dillard calls them in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, haven't much to do with size, as one can drown as easily in a backyard spore as in a small pond, in a nasty virus as in a vast, vacant sea. But for artists herein lies the fascination of rivers — for they always run in medias res. And from small to large — from "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" to Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi — their watery message is ever the same: the snag of death downstream and the current song of life. Think here of Walt Whitman's East River in "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," or of the gentle-cycling "embrace" of the River Liffey in James Joyce's Finnigans Wake (wherein his "riverrun" goes "round and round").

And of course, that's our own recurring theme. And I hope we all drown in it — joyfully and sadly — maybe along with Norman MacLean, whose A River Runs Through It ends with this arresting sentence: "I am haunted by waters." Just think about it. In a strictly non-sectarian sense, it's like Luther's, especially as our theme "passes away" and our new one "runs" — but doesn't "punt" — now into eternity. I'm here for the plunge.

That Redskin who goes down in Moby-Dick at last — Tashtego is his name — is not quite taking another Seahawk with him. Care to bet on that? For win or lose, there's always-already, folks, another game, or year, or life to look forward to.


When it rains, it pours — Seahawks 20 - Redskins 10.

Posted by
Styles on January 14, 2006 04:40 PM

Lovely, just lovely, despite the chavinistic NFL touch. But do tell us, Styles — To what were you signing your name on that rainy day? A will? A won't? A what?

Posted by Mary Lee on January 20, 2006 12:57 PM

A will, naturally.

My boilerplate, though, is more stylish.

Meanwhile, and on Seattle's gridiron Sunday, Go Seahawks!

Posted by Styles on January 20, 2006 02:57 PM

Here in Styleland on our 36th day of rain — Seahawks 34 - Panthers 14.

Now, Super Bowl Forty!

Posted by Styles on January 22, 2006 07:01 PM

My father passed away last Wednesday of lung cancer. Today I found among his things, locked up in his little metal box in the closet which held everything from passports to his will to slides from his 1958 exchange summer to Finland, a cut-out Peanuts comic strip — the same one you quoted. I googled the phrase, "We had fun, didn't we Marcie?" and found this web page. I don't know why my father had clipped out this comic — it wasn't like him to ever do things like that. All I can figure is my mother was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension right around that time, and maybe it struck him for that reason. Maybe it expressed his fear that time had run too short for them — she died not long afterwards in August 2001. I only know that today, I, too, wish I'd had the chance to shake his hand and say, "Good game," while he still could hear me.

I don't know why I felt compelled to send this to you . . . I just liked your musings, I guess, and thought I'd send a little bit of my father out into cyberspace . . .

Posted by Diana on February 22, 2006 04:05 PM

What a fitting tribute to your father and mother.

I hope my entry lent some added poignancy to Schulz's theme.

My double thanks today for your comment.

Posted by Styles on February 22, 2006 04:31 PM

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