Does Art Imitate Life? Or…Life Imitate Art?

fla sinkholeSpeaking of Shakespeare (as we were here recently), I had a major Shakespeare “moment” three weeks ago when a plot element from my most recent novel worked its awful insidious way into my own life.

The Devil, the Diva and the Deep Blue Sea features the devil more or less incarnate in the form of a retired Florida dermatologist. Yes. It does, really. Perversely, however, (the devil is known for that stuff, you know, perversity), he does a lot of good whilst trying his damnedest to do bad. Well, at a critical point in the action, he dispatches a beastly engine of doom to “Hades” by means of positioning it over a—watch out!!! —Florida sinkhole which conveniently caves in under the pressure at a most convenient moment.

Now I’ve had my own up close and personal sinkhole experiences aplenty, enough to last a lifetime, thank you very much, here in the Sunshine State. In fact, experiences to the tune of two freaking years of repairs on my home, repairs which cost the insurance company more than $200K in 2004-2005. Yep. It was horrible.

BUT after all of that I had assumed this place was now tantamount to the Rock of Gibraltar. Thirty-two steel cylinder piers filled with concrete support the exterior walls. They are bolted to the foundation and driven into lime rock at depths of 69-72 feet. Concrete/rebar reinforced cells were also inserted into the exterior walls at three feet intervals all the way around the house.

One would think it would take a tsunami—or more—to challenge my humble home place so bolstered, reinforced and fortified on a small Northwest Florida farm.

Not so, as I learned a few weeks ago to my most bitter chagrin. The lime rock the piers rest on is now eroding, the floors in the house are thus sinking, the walls and ceilings are cracking and doorframes and window frames are popping out with much greater speed than in the first incidence of this “natural disaster.”

Hamlet in the play to which he lends his name holds forth on the goal of “art,” speaking, it seems, for Shakespeare himself:  He says the purpose of art “was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.”

Hells bells! I had no idea I’d be dealing with a horrid sinkhole situation yet again when I wrote that scene in my novel less than a year ago. I did indeed treat of the depredations agriculture and human development have made on the Florida Aquifer and explained how it has stressed the very ground under our feet and homes—and the situation grows worse every day (as the national and local news reports every day clearly in its multiple sinkhole horror stories). Sinkholes are not one-off deals, they are not rare anymore in Florida and they are becoming a greater menacing presence in the lives of all Floridians with every passing day.

We have only our own greedy plunder of the land and its water resources to blame. The bounteous Florida Aquifer runs the length of the state and percolates the clearest sweetest spring water through porous lime rock that serves as a sort of natural aqueduct or conveyance for the best water in the world. We have pumped out billions of gallons for development and agriculture recklessly from this gift of the gods and without any reference or nod to the natural drought/flood cycles that stress it already. So perhaps we deserve this hellish situation. Look for many more hair-raising sinkhole stories from this region, for all the experts say they are coming.

Anyway, enough of that. Woe is me. Who’da thunk I’d be sunk once more and would have weirdly alluded to it in “fiction” several months ago without a clue at the time that sort of thing was coming my way again in short order? Not me, that’s who.

Prescient? Woo-woo. I’m not going there. But I may have to go somewhere soon, as in out of here—I’ll try to keep you posted.

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
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11 Responses to Does Art Imitate Life? Or…Life Imitate Art?

  1. Hope all is well and that you’re not sinking!


    • The amazing thing is how something like this trumps everything else in your life. Why is it people rarely know when they are reasonably happy and well off? Emily Dickinson said in one of her pithy dead on poems, “Perception of an Object costs/Precise an object’s loss.” If you have a roof over your head and a solid floor under your feet, celebrate! You just never know ….


  2. anotherjennifer says:

    Hope all is well and that you’re not sinking with the house!


  3. J.B. Long says:

    Yikes! I know it’s best not to think of such occurrences in these terms (I’ve had a few spooky ones myself), but perhaps it was written into existence. Wonderfully well placed quote as well, “was and is, to hold as ’twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” Sounds like I need to give that novel of yours a read through as well.


    • Funniest thing is, I had totally forgotten about sinkholes playing so large a part in the novel when I was faced once again with my own “non-fiction,” “real life” version of the same. Gawd, not trying to flog the dern novel either, for heavensake. That’s the last thing on my mind. Hope it didn’t appear that way. My biggest worries are for the welfare of my dogs, horses, chickens etc. Hard to move the whole motely crew instaneously, if you follow me. Some are very old and don’t see or hear well. Thanks for the intelligent remarks. Refreshing!


      • J.B. Long says:

        Oh not at all! It sounded interesting, and you authentically piqued my interest. Kindle makes it so easy to feed my book addiction. Good luck dealing with the sinkhole, that sounds especially difficult with the animals in tow. I really enjoy your blog entries, so I’m sure that’ll translate to your book. I don’t know if you listen, but Diane Rehm had a great show on sinkholes today; another random coincidence I suppose 🙂 Thanks for responding!


        • Sitting here waiting for the next shoe to fall, with heavy rain coming in (not a good thing for an “activating” sinkhole), I keep diddling around online to change the “subject” to something happier…AND omg, Diane Rehm? Are you kidding? Love her show. Missed it today, though. I’m sure it was great. Did she have anyone on who said anything new? We have the supposed world’s reigning sinkhole expert here in Gainesville at GeoHazards. A retired UF geologist emeritus prof. He seems to be everywhere in the news opining and shaking his finger at developers. I have to leave for the hotel soon. Hate it.

          Maybe I’ll dip into the Bard’s Alls Well That Ends Well tonight. Should be safe enough


  4. J.B. Long says:

    I’ve never read a word of that one. I’ll have to poke around it a bit when I get a chance.

    Her show is always fantastic. I especially enjoyed the episode with Debra Hicks on her book, “The Road Out: A Teacher’s Odyssey In Poor America”.

    I can’t speak to any of it being new, as I knew little about the subject to begin with. It seems the public is quick to blame directional drilling, but the science is still inconclusive. Based on their discussion, the two may be related, though it is likely a partial explanation. The most relevant content covered a sinkhole in Assumption Parish, LA. NPR covered that story in depth today as well. It involves a salt dome collapse related to brine mining. I imagine you would have a lot of empathy for those residents’ situation. Yours sounds so unfortunate. I don’t want to aid your brain in spinning around such a sad subject. I’ll keep your family in my thoughts. Good luck!


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