Reading and writing

Christopher Shaw reflects on his longtime friendship in “The Crazy Wisdom”

Some friendships have a way of staying with you no matter the distance or the years.

In “The Crazy Wisdom: Memoir of a Friendship”, author Christopher Shaw explores one of these relationships with Jon Cody, from Niskayuna, who died in 2015.

“Jon had an oversized influence in my life for reasons that I never really understood as he was an infuriating, frustrating, and flawed character for all of his attractive qualities,” Shaw said.

The friendship began miles and miles from where it would have made sense to begin: with a chance encounter at the Stony Creek Inn in the early 1970s. Their lives had paralleled before that; their families knew each other and they had grown up next to each other; Shaw in Schenectady and Cody in Niskayuna.

“He was sitting on a stool, half turned towards me in his twisted way, his hair a long blonde mane cascading down his back, his beard equally blonde and full. His left arm hung limp beside him. He was just under six feet tall, lightly built but strong, ”Shaw wrote of that first encounter.

It caused something that feels like déjà vu for Shaw.

“It was also a little weird, Howdy-Doody-ish, a little too awkward and vaguely familiar in a way I could never place or describe exactly,” Shaw writes.

At the time, Shaw had dropped out of the University of Toronto with the intention of devoting himself to writing. Cody was a bit older, a sturdy character, who lived in the backcountry, owned and operated leather goods stores, and often engaged in the sale of cannabis.

“I showed up in the woods, I dropped out of college, with the firm intention of going to live in a cabin and write. . . And there he was a real character but I didn’t have the job, I didn’t have the distance at the time, the perspective for really [write about him]Shaw said.

Some time after this first meeting, Shaw went to visit Cody, who lived in a cabin in West Stony Creek and was greeted by a sign that said “Free beer and go-go girls.” The first was provided, the second was more of a joke, but this sign set the tone for the freewheeling tour, filled with sprawling tales and smoking.

“Nothing in the story made any sense. But I knew my universe had just doubled in size, like when ice comes out of a northern lake, ”Shaw wrote.

Shaw eventually became a keeper of Cody’s cabin and stopped by whenever he wanted, often encountering some of the more unusual characters in Cody’s circle: “… petty criminals, drug dealers, aid fraudsters social, resort owners and restaurateurs who supplied the thriving drug market next door, various eccentrics with whom he had deep histories that I never fully unraveled, as well as social matrons and their daughters, lawyers and judges, local agents, newbies from Albany to Lake Placid and down to ski country Vermont, ”Shaw wrote.

Cody later hired Shaw to work in his leather goods store and after work Shaw read aloud to Cody, often Jack London novels and other classic works. Shaw reflects on how these stories are and the experience of reading them aloud with Cody: and I still do. But reading to Cody has granted my ear a new way of writing as speech, music of phrases and montage of concrete things, places, names and images.

In the years that followed, as the book details, the two started and aborted an outdoor outfitting service after an ill-fated canoe trip and managed to run into bikers and other creepy characters. It also details Shaw’s journey to getting sober, publishing books, becoming a father, and getting a stable job.

The story is incredibly personal, but it’s also rooted in the dialects, culture, and geography of the Adirondacks, with flashes of Schenectady’s references and memories. It’s similar to “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean, the pace picks up and he is careful not to exceed his welcome.

Shaw began writing it shortly after Cody’s death in 2015, the cause of which has never been officially identified, although friends and guardians have theories, as Shaw explores in the book.

By this point in Shaw’s career, he had had the years of writing and life experience to capture the character Cody was and the twists and turns of their friendship.

Of course, in doing so, he had to be honest not just about his past failures and Cody’s.

“If you want to tell the story, you kind of have to go. I’ve done enough work on myself over the past 30 years that I almost have the insight, skill and vocabulary to do it, ”Shaw said.

“The point of the book is to show these two men trying to evolve into a state of an acceptable sort of masculinity, out of ignorance and impulse. It was difficult, not completely successful, but you can’t say that we weren’t trying and supporting each other in this effort to some extent.

“The Crazy Wisdom: Memoir of a Friendship” was published earlier this year by Miller Pond Books. For more information, visit

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