Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : December 2005

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Life is But a Dream
By Patrick Tandy

Gunther Oakey is not a morning person. Just ask the college rowing teams whose recruiting efforts he spent years rebuffing.

"Crew people take themselves really seriously," Oakey observes with a mischievous twinkle of the eye. "Especially college [level], you know? These poor bastards are getting up at 4:30 in the morning."

Gunther Oakey
It's raining,
it's cold.
Hell, yeah-
I'm going
rowing!


Gunther Oakey

He pauses, thoughtfully. "So yeah," nods the corporate counsel for the Owings Mills-based NovaTech Process Solutions, LLC. "I would take myself seriously, too, if I had to do that."

But Gunther Oakey is nothing if not serious, even when he isn’t. So when Baltimore Rowing Club (BRC; www.baltimorerowing.org) offered the opportunity to exercise (and socialize) on a more work-friendly schedule, he was not about to miss the boat.

"I was living in D.C., working in Baltimore, and I just decided that [rowing] was something I wanted to do as both a way to get outside and a way to meet people," explains Oakey, who first joined BRC’s novice program in 2003. "The beauty of our program is [that] it’s from six to eight in the evening – Saturday mornings, eight to ten – so an actual working professional can do it. If you don’t make a practice, okay; yeah, it would be good if you made it, but we’re not going to kick you off the team.

"I find you can get stuck in repetition a lot in this job, and this is something [where] I show up [and] have no idea what’s going to happen. It could be a great day rowing; it could be a crappy day rowing. One time our coach’s launch – his engine died; we had to tow him in. There are days when you go out [and] it’s almost masochistic…like, ‘It’s raining, it’s cold. Hell, yeah – I’m going rowing!’"

From March to November, Oakey and his fellow rowers practice out of their home base on the middle branch of the Patapsco River, in South Baltimore, and periodically compete with other regional rowing clubs from Pennsylvania to Virginia. In the off-season, the crew keeps active indoors by using rowing ergometers (or rowing machines).

"I’ve put a lot of myself into it," explains Oakey, who spent the past season as one of the four-man "Team Elvis" ("We wear these big old gold, mutton-chop sunglasses."). "So many things in our society segment people and sort of isolate them. [With rowing], you’re out there with seven people sweating your butt off, [so] the fact that we’re actually doing this is really cool."

"I’m helping to organize races; we’re going to do six or seven next year – hopefully Philly, D.C.," he adds. Among the races Oakey hopes to get in on is the FISA World Masters Regatta (www.fisamasters2006.com), an annual competition that draws more than 7,000 rowers of various nationalities.

"[Next] year it’s in Princeton, New Jersey," Oakey notes. "People from all over the world come to compete in this thing. I don’t know what we’re going to get; I’m sure the serious people will do reasonably well."

After all, Oakey is nothing if not serious. Even when he isn’t.

"The rest of us" – he chuckles – "we’re going to show up, we’re going to get disqualified in the first round and we’re going to go drink the next two days."

Indeed, for some (as Henry Miller might have noted), rowing is its own reward.

For Miller, on the other hand, it was writing

♦♦♦

"Everyone says they want to write a novel someday," Oakey remarks. "A bunch of bored dot-commers in San Fran basically said, ‘Well, let’s do it. And let’s give ourselves a deadline.’"

The result: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo; www.nanowrimo.org), a non-competitive contest held each November in which participants strive to punch out that long-pondered, 50,000-word opus in just 30 days. Since its inception in 1999, the contest has grown to more than 40,000 participants.

"After college, no one’s telling you [that] you have to write something creative," Oakey notes. "So it says, ‘Okay, 50,000 words, 30 days. No rules. Go!

"It’s supposed to be fiction, but it doesn’t have to be," he continues. "The piece I wrote was creative non-fiction. I wrote a lot in law school for a magazine, The American Jurist, and had a lot of fun with it. Sort of Onion-esque type articles, and I basically took that and did it for 50,000 words.

"The working title is The Lost Art of Conversation, though I’ll probably end up changing that. The synopsis is semiautobiographical; a guy gets in a massive boating accident – he gets in a fight with a motor boat, is the way I put it…sort of a near death experience, if you will. [He] comes out of it, and during his recovery he finds that in his dreams he can speak to this one woman who just sort of shows up out of nowhere. And he’s like, ‘Who the hell are you and what are you doing in my head?’ It’s not entirely clear whether she’s a good guy or a bad guy or just sort of a freak. At one point, I actually have him chase her through other people’s dreams – you know, like sequences in movies where they’re running through doors, except that it’s through different people’s dreams. [And] he ends up in Hugh Hefner’s dream, and [Hefner’s] dreaming about doing accounting and playing golf, because…you know, if all he does all day is hang out with beautiful, scantily-clad women, what’s he going to dream about? Probably not that."

From there, Oakey prods his characters through scenarios of metaphysical absurdity to which the late Flann O’Brien would have likely raised his glass, touching, along the way, on points of social controversy.

"I wanted to deal with [the concept of] legal euthanasia," Oakey explains, revealing that one of his characters is, in fact, comatose. "It was sort of [like], ‘What if I was the guy in the coma,’ but with the fictional convention that this person can actually speak for [himself].

"I call it a light-hearted romantic comedy about euthanasia," he quips. "Which, okay, may not [make] a good poster, but really: that’s how society deals with these incredibly sticky, nasty issues."

Beyond social commentary, Oakey saw the experience as the ideal proving ground for every character, scene and narrative twist that had occurred to him and of which he’d made note over the last several years.

"It’s all in there," he admits. "And then you’re done, and you say, ‘Hey, I wrote a novel.’ It’s not the best thing, the ending’s really kind of shaky, but it’s done.

"It’s such a release. It’s funny, because the hardest thing for me in law school was learning how to not write rhythmically. I mean, [legal writing is] extremely logical. It’s like building a car engine; you have this part, and then this part and then this part. It’s all very mechanical."

Though Oakey has no intention of publishing Lost Art, he does plan to "clean it up" before showing it to his "usual audience" of family and friends.

"First draft is inherently an ugly thing," he admits. "I need to edit [it] so that I can actually show it to the 20 or 30-odd people that [know] I’m doing this."

Outside of his plans for participating in next year’s NaNoWriMo, Oakey is considering tackling a biography of his grandfather, who turns 92 next month. "He’s had a couple accidents," Oakey explains, "so it’s time to write that kind of thing if you’re going to do it."

And while he admits that, in time, having "something that I could send to a publisher would be really cool," Oakey is perfectly comfortable with writing as a hobby.

"All of my family does [artistic] stuff, but no one’s really a full-time artist necessarily," he says. "I think that’s part of the problem America struggles with: if you aren’t a full-time artist, you shouldn’t be doing creative things. And I hate that idea. People have been doing this stuff forever!"

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: December 2005

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