The Gunslinger and My Grandfather


11/8-11/14
The Drawing
of the Three
The Pusher,
1.iii-4.xvii

Plan Not To Have A Plan

My grandfather had a phrase that he taught my mother and her brothers. It’s nothing fancy, just four simple words of simple advice. But somehow this phrase became my grandfather’s mantra, applicable to a myriad of circumstances. To this day, whenever I’m headed into a pitch meeting, I repeat the four words over and over in my head: “Stay loose and concentrate.”

It’s good advice, and based on this week’s chapters, I think it’s safe to say that Roland would agree. He has a similar mantra, after all: “Improvise.” (p. 393). That was the word.” (p. 389). The two phrases don’t mean exactly the same thing, but they boil down to the same basic idea: don’t be too rigid, but keep your wits about you.

Improvise. That was the word.” – The Drawing of the Three, p. 389

In these chapters we see two different types of strategists: planners and improvisers. Do Bees and Don’t Bees. However, as the climax of the book plays out, we see that it’s the Do Bees who find their careful plans shattered, and it’s the Don’t Bee who survives the fluctuating fortunes of Ka.

Schemers & Schedulers

Two types of planners are on display in this portion of the series. Detta Walker and Jack Mort; The Lady of Shadows and The Pusher; a schemer and a scheduler.

Detta is the schemer, coming up with her whole plan all at once, while hiding from Eddie. Just like a gunslinger shoots with their mind, so too does Detta plan. She plays everything out in her head like a chess player envisioning the board three, four, ten moves ahead.

Be ready, be prepared, be a Do-Bee. – The Drawing of the Three, p. 365

Jack Mort on the other hand, is the scheduler. He’s clever enough to not be clever. Instead of trusting his own intelligence to deduce how events will unfold, he takes every measure to reduce risk and make sure things unfold in his favor no matter what. His plans are carefully prepared and perfected. He does dry runs, he does recon, and he has everything mapped out and scheduled so that he only has to wait a minute at the bus stop before the bus comes.

But despite their different approaches to planning, they are both planners, and they share the same fatal flaw. They both learn the hard way that there’s no way to plan for everything. There are always unknowns, and therefore, no plan is foolproof.

The Improv-slinger

The gunslinger’s mantra while inside Jack Mort’s head is improvise. “When you planned rough,” King writes, “you allowed room for improvisation. And improvisation at short notice had always been one of Roland’s strong points.” (p. 385-386). Of course he’s an improviser; he’s all about Ka, and what is improvisation but the total embrace of Ka?

Roland acknowledges that he has no idea what will happen. He schemes as much as he can, but he knows there’s a limit to how many chess moves a person can predict before they lose track of the pieces. He has no time to plan and schedule everything out like Jack Mort, and he seems to prefer it that way, trusting his own instincts over his ability to plan ahead.

The plan he made was rough, but rough was often better than smooth. When it came to planning, there were no creatures in the universe more different than Roland and Jack Mort. – The Drawing of the Three, p. 385

And so Roland stays loose, he concentrates, and in the end his Ka prevails. His ability to think on his feet ends up saving himself, Eddie, and Susannah. Meanwhile, Detta and Jack Mort learn that no matter how clever your scheme is, you can’t plan to have your psyche ripped apart. And no matter how airtight your schedule is, you can never plan to have your brain hijacked by an inter-dimensional cowboy.

Plan Accordingly

As plot-driven as these chapters are (some of the most exciting pages in the series in my opinion), I think there’s a lot a person can learn from Roland’s adventure in the Mort-Mobile.

In an example from my own life, my wife and I are currently planning to sell our house and move from Los Angeles to Barbados, where we plan to spend the next year. The anxiety of all the moving parts and potential pitfalls has been a heavy weight on my shoulders these past few weeks. But after reading these chapters and ruminating on Roland’s strategy, I feel better. Now, instead of worrying about what might go wrong and trying to predict everything as it may unfold, I’m focusing on what I can control, and trusting that when an obstacle appears, I’ll remember my grandfather’s adage.

He would know what he needed when—if—he saw it. – The Drawing of the Three, p. 390

Trusting yourself to improvise when the chips are down is not easy. It’s scary to know that you haven’t planned for everything—that you can’t plan for everything—but it’s better than wasting all your energy trying, only to be blindsided by something you never could have anticipated. Just control what you can, forget the rest, and then wait to see what Ka has in store for you.

Normally I wouldn’t advise people to model their behavior after the gunslinger. He’s not exactly the best role model. However, when it comes to planning and strategizing, I think his motto, like my grandfather’s, is sage advice.

Next Week’s Reading
The Drawing of the Three:
Final Shuffle
& The Wastelands:
Book One 1.i-1.xxiii

Published by Joe Rechtman

Screenwriter/watcher. Constant Reader & Dark Tower Junkie.

5 thoughts on “The Gunslinger and My Grandfather

  1. Good luck on your move. Having spent most of my life living in foreign countries I have definitely learned to just embrace the uncertainty that accompanies moves, and even just a weekend trip. My best memories, in fact, come from times when the general plan went a bit off the rails and I had to improvise.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much. It’s funny because I wrote this post weeks and weeks ago, when this was all just a “plan” and now you’re commenting on it the night before we leave for the island. Good advice, to embrace the uncertainty, i think that’s one of the things I’m most looking forward to.

      Liked by 1 person

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