A few thoughts … On becoming a real character

By Sandy Compton
Reader Contributor

You may have heard someone say, “That person is a real character,” generally in reference to a guy or gal who is somewhat, or very — ummm — unique. Some folks achieve status as a real character without even thinking about it, but should you yourself ever want to become a real character, several qualities are required. Some are inborn and some are acquired. Which are which, I’ve not determined, and I’m not sure it matters. To become a real character, one needs luck, a talent, a passion for something, the ability to live on air and an initial lack of self-discipline.

The initial lack of discipline is very important. Strong self-discipline may be developed later in life, but if it happens too soon, you end up a civil engineer, an MBA or, heaven forbid, a hotel manager, making more money than you know what to do with. If there’s anything that will ruin a real character, it’s money. At least, that’s what my grandma used to tell me. And, she was a real character.

The ability to live on air develops directly out of that initial lack of discipline. Air is about the only thing that’s free anymore and, without the MBA, air is all a budding character can afford.

The character-quashing effect of money is best avoided early, but money is like self-discipline. Once you become a character, it’s fine to have money, especially as a direct result of being a character. 

If a character gets enough money, they become an eccentric — in other words, somewhat out of balance. The quality that gets a character out of balance is often a passion for something. Some characters collect marbles, some collect rocks. Some collect rocks until they lose their marbles. Some become enamored of something as well known as baseball. Others develop an interest in something as obscure as the habits of badgers at elevations over 12,000 feet in the American West. 

Combine a passion with a talent and a little luck and what you have is a real character. The talent may or may not be real. We all know someone like Barney Fife, who can’t carry a tune in a bucket but thinks they are Pavarotti. These characters can be painful to be around, but they are mostly harmless. (Not to be confused with the musical duo, Mostly Harmless, which does have real talent.)

Talents can include all varieties of art, music and hand crafts, plus skills like cooking, sewing, design, navigation, carpentry, computer programming, masonry and studying badgers.

A person who loves rock, understands dry-stack masonry and has the luck to live where there are large supplies of stone will almost surely become a real character, perhaps even a local legend. 

A talent that may be applied to becoming a real character is writing. A self-recognized talent for such — real or not —and a passion for something, even if it’s simply the act of writing, is as sure a way to become a real character that I can think of. 

A writing talent gives its possessor wonderful license to drop everything, sell the car, write the wife a quick note, quit the job at Burger King and run off to study the living habits of badgers in elevations over 12,000 feet in the American West. And then write about it. 

A real character will never be deterred by the fact that not much happens with badgers above 12,000 feet in the American West. Reality has nothing to do with anything. A real character will simply write about not finding any badgers, about the disillusionment experienced, and the subsequent search for badgers at increasingly lower elevations until they are searching for badgers on a beach in Mexico. Later, they will write a book about the pain of divorce and personal bankruptcy. This is truly a real character. 

My character-qualifying passions are the natural world and telling stories. If I had a spouse — which I don’t, currently — she might define my passions as goofing off outdoors and telling lies about it. And I would argue that they just sound like lies. Some pretty interesting things can happen to a character out in the natural world, especially above 12,000 feet. 

If a character is going to be married, it’s probably best for characters to travel in pairs. A real character’s only other hope is to find a saintly partner with no homicidal tendencies whatsoever. A single character can pretty much go where they want when they want without having long, drawn-out discussions about their ancestry, attitude and earning abilities. 

Being currently without another character to travel with, I miss some of the advantages. And, in my defense, it never occurred to me that badgers might not live above 12,000 feet in the American West. 

Sandy Compton is taking a summer break from writing about politics and cultural craziness. His newest book is 34 Poems. That and his other books, occasional rants and other writing can be found at bluecreekpress.com and local bookstores.

While we have you ...

... if you appreciate that access to the news, opinion, humor, entertainment and cultural reporting in the Sandpoint Reader is freely available in our print newspaper as well as here on our website, we have a favor to ask. The Reader is locally owned and free of the large corporate, big-money influence that affects so much of the media today. We're supported entirely by our valued advertisers and readers. We're committed to continued free access to our paper and our website here with NO PAYWALL - period. But of course, it does cost money to produce the Reader. If you're a reader who appreciates the value of an independent, local news source, we hope you'll consider a voluntary contribution. You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.

You can contribute at either Paypal or Patreon.

Contribute at Patreon Contribute at Paypal

You may also like...

Close [x]

Want to support independent local journalism?

The Sandpoint Reader is our town's local, independent weekly newspaper. "Independent" means that the Reader is locally owned, in a partnership between Publisher Ben Olson and Keokee Co. Publishing, the media company owned by Chris Bessler that also publishes Sandpoint Magazine and Sandpoint Online. Sandpoint Reader LLC is a completely independent business unit; no big newspaper group or corporate conglomerate or billionaire owner dictates our editorial policy. And we want the news, opinion and lifestyle stories we report to be freely available to all interested readers - so unlike many other newspapers and media websites, we have NO PAYWALL on our website. The Reader relies wholly on the support of our valued advertisers, as well as readers who voluntarily contribute. Want to ensure that local, independent journalism survives in our town? You can help support the Reader for as little as $1.