Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Living With and Writing an Honorable Character

This past weekend two men in my life collided and I didn’t even see it coming.  See, there’s this honorable man I live with every day – that would be my husband Steven. Then there’s this other man who lives in my head every day – that would be the honorable man of my writing.  I suppose it was inevitable they would meet; I just wasn’t prepared for what I learned about our little triangle. 

Steve on the big night.
On Saturday, Steve was honored by DeMolay International with the Legion of Honor; the highest honor given by them.  It’s conferred on a Senior DeMolay not only for outstanding leadership in some field of endeavor, but also for service to God, to country and to humanity, including adult service to DeMolay.  I couldn’t be prouder and there’s no one I know more deserving. 

For Steve, it started in 1975 when he joined Isle Chapter, Order of DeMolay and began to live a life based on what is taught in DeMolay as the seven cardinal virtues: Filial love, Reverence for sacred things, Courtesy, Comradeship, Fidelity, Cleanness and Patriotism. He never looked back and the lessons he learned became a way of life that’s permeated every facet of his life privately, professionally and with his community since.  I came on the scene in 1977, so I’ve been around him for most of the journey.

I thought a lot this weekend about honor, what it means and how it relates to Steve.  A look in the dictionary defines it as “honest, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions”.    Another definition brings it a little sharper focus with “a keen sense of ethical conduct”.  Wikipedia gives a nod to the abstract concept and my favorite line from their definition: “honour is adherence to what is right”.  Eureka! I’d hit on it.  Steve is a blending of all those things and the key for me is in the consistent adherence of them in his life. 

Don’t get me wrong, he’s no saint.  I don’t see him that way and he certainly doesn’t see himself that way.  His friends, coworkers, fellow Masons, DeMolay brothers and family wouldn’t describe him that way either.  And yet, there’s just something about Steve.  I don’t know anyone else who lives every day of their life with an adherence to what is right.  Ironically, that same quality can be very exasperating at times as well and is why we wouldn’t call him a saint.  He’s one of the most open minded people I know, and willing to admit when he’s wrong, but the standards he places on himself in following the lines of what he views as right and wrong are very black and white.  Something is either right or it’s wrong.  There’s no gray area. 

Over the years as I’ve written the man that lives in my head, he’s always fallen short of how I envision him.  And I now realize it’s because I’m trying to write Steve.  And frankly, I’m just too close to do it justice. When I draw on his humor, honor, positive outlook and giving nature, the character is just downright unbelievable – too good to be true.  When I write about a rigid stance in the belief of what’s right or an inflexible personality trait, he’s just not likable.  I’ve not been able to find the right blend. 

And yet, Steve is that blend.  Most days I look at him and can’t fathom what it’s like to have that honor so ingrained that it is just a part of who he is and how he lives every day.  The list of what he’s done for others is too long to write, but boils down to the fact he doesn’t think “that would be a nice, or the right thing to do” ~ he just does it because it IS the nice or right thing to do.  And hence, he is this person that I totally admire, and at the same time can be so terribly exasperated with when his black and white world clashes with my very shaded gray one. 

Writing a character, blending the honor and the black and white is like exposing Steve. It feels like a betrayal of the knowledge and the trust of intimacy afforded to me as his wife, lover and best friend that lets me understand how the two parts of him find a balance.   

So now they’ve collided, and I need to find a way to have the two men actively in my life while also finding a way to be faithful to both of them. It should make for a very interesting journey.


  1. You know, it was so much easier to speak my mind when I was single; I rarely write antedotes about my husband. I write about my kids and my mother, but can't bring myself to do that. And if he cropped up as a character in my next novel....he would recognize himself. I'm almost unsure how to write a male character now that I'm married and not feel self conscious about it!

  2. Sandra,
    It was odd to have it hit me (really, like a light bulb going off!) that I was trying to write "Steve" all these years. Talk about not seeing the forest through the trees. I am excited to go back and do a couple rewrites and see what happens now that I am more aware of what I am doing and see what happens when I mix things up a bit. With your talent, I bet you'd write awesome male characters!

  3. My husband's name is also Steve--and he is very much an honorable man. He does the right thing because he wants to and because it is like almost automatic. Everyone thinks he is so wonderful--including me--but like you, I know he is not perfect. Anyway--I never thought of what might happen if my husband met the characters I wrote about and if he would see himself in them. I'd love to know how your journey goes from here!!

    Cheers, Jenn.

  4. What a wonderful honor for your husband and what a revelation that you have been trying to bring your own husband alive in your writing.


  5. Thanks Jenn. I'm sure ti will be part of future blogs. Maybe it's something about the name Steve? :)

  6. i am sure this meant the world to your husband!

  7. Thanks Kathy, it sure was on both counts. And yes Lynn, it did - a lot!

  8. Congratulations to your husband. The people in our lives affect our writing for better or for worse.