Local author publishes unique life memoir

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Benjamin Busch may not have done “it all,” but he has certainly done a lot.

His list of “credits” can make other people wonder, but he himself accepts his resume rather matter-of-factly.

“It’s just what I did,” he said in his typically laid back fashion.

“I didn’t necessarily plan for things to turn out as they have. They just did.”

Busch was born in New York City and grew up in upstate New York.

He is an actor and had a standing role the HBO series “The Wire.” He also appeared in “The West Wing,” “Generation Kill,” and “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

He’s been a commentator on National Public Radio.

He is a photographer, showing in exhibitions around the country.

He is a film director with a widely acclaimed work — “Bright” — under his belt, having also written the script.

He is a decorated Marine Corps officer having served two deployments in Iraq, and being in the middle of some of the heaviest fighting in that conflict.

He is a son, a husband and father, and he’s the guy trying to bang his Osceola County farm back into shape — slowly but surely.

Busch has done a lot.

Now, he’s written a book. About all of the above. About some of the above. About ... life, and then some.

Busch will soon be setting out on an exhausting book tour, promoting his memoir ““Dust To Dust”” — described as a “profound meditation on our passage through life ...”

One more experience.

“I guess in some ways I have a strange story,” he admits. “I came out of Vassar as a studio art major, and went directly into the Marine Corps infantry.

“Some people think my going into the military was a crack in my soul. I actually think it was the spine of my soul — an expression of the duality of my life.

“Despite my artistic, individualistic side, I was always drawn to service.

“I think there was and is something noble to serving in the military.

“I also believe that what we do in life echoes — becomes a memory.

“This book is about those memories.”

At the death of first his father, then his mother within one year, Busch realized he needed to both create and pass on his version of the family record.

His father was Frederick Busch — a teacher and acclaimed author.

“Our parents keep the family record,” he explained. “They were the first ones to know what your first words were, and how you developed into the person you would become.

“When I lost them, I lost that record to some degree. I realized I had taken some aspects of their lives for granted. It was then, when they died, I knew that I needed to gather my stories — for my wife, my kids ... for whoever.”

So he did.

“I never thought I’d write a book,” Busch continued.

“I’m not really wired for this process. I’m more a visual artist — a photographer, actor, filmmaker.

“I had to create a visual process that would allow me to write as I saw things.

“As a result, this becomes something more than simply a narrative memoir. It is a progressive memoir that gets ‘leads’ through the elements that have drawn and attracted me throughout my life.”

Each chapter is based around an element — water, soil, metal, wood, bone, stone, blood, and ending with ash, (”... as do we all.”)

Each chapter begins at a point in Busch’s youth, leads to an end, and then on to the next beginning.

“It was quite a process,” noted the author. “I placed five sheets of foam insulation around my ‘office’ in an unfinished room in our farmhouse.

“I began tacking things to these boards — parts of stories I remembered, vignettes, pieces of a chapter, something I recalled but wasn’t sure of at the time. Everything went on the boards and notes were shifted, changed, removed, added, fit in, and considered over and over until a book idea began to emerge.

“For half a year, I really didn’t write. Then I had a timeline. I had to get it done and I would saturate myself in the creation process.

“As the book began to emerge, I could see where I was going.

“At the beginning, I knew I had the skeleton of a book, but I needed to flesh it out.”

“Dust To Dust” is not a memoir that offers linear progression.

Each chapter is of itself, but at the same time part of the larger whole.

There are a number of elemental memoirs within one book, progressing to a common end.

Each chapter ends, but also merge at a point pretty close to where Busch is today.

“In this book, I not only tell my story, but I think I deal with large, universal ideas,” he said. “The biggest are life, memory, and mortality.

“In writing this book, I had to really remember my childhood.

“I was all about immersing myself into the source. While writing this book, I got to live in my childhood a few hours each night. I went there. It was a wonderful thing.

“In the process of writing this book, I got to spend time with my parents again.

“The process caused me to look differently at my daughters.

“It taught me how to deal differently with the change that comes in our lives — and the ultimate end of change.”

“Dust To Dust” is completed — written, printed, bound, and will soon be on the shelves — March 20.

Now the next adventure.

Busch will be visiting 48 states during the next few months — an exhausting tour of the nation.

“I’m hitting the road,” he said. “I’ll be driving to over 100 cities in 48 states. I’ll be back in September.

“During that time, I’ll be home two weekends.

‘It’s going to be “hard-core.”

“I have to do it tough. It’s not easy to sell a book nowadays.”

Busch heads out soon, but on March 24, before the long haul away from home, he will host a reading of his work at 1 p.m. Great Lake Books in Big Rapids.

About the book

“Dust To Dust” is an extraordinary memoir about ordinary things: life and death, peace and war, the adventures of childhood and the revelations of adulthood.

Benjamin Busch has crafted a lasting book to stand with the finest work of Tim O’Brien or Annie Dillard.

In elemental-themed chapters, Busch weaves together a vivid record of a pastoral childhood in rural New York; Marine training in North Carolina, Ukraine, and California; and deployment during the worst of the war in Iraq, as seen firsthand.

But this is much more that a war memoir.

Busch writes with great poignancy about the resonance of a boyhood spent exploring rivers and woods, building forts, and testing the limits of safety.

Most of all, he brings enormous emotional power to his reflections on mortality: in a helicopter going down; wounded by shrapnel in Ramadi; dealing with the sudden death of friends in combat and of parents back home.

“Dust To Dust” is an unforgettable meditation on life and loss, and how the curious children we were remain alive in all of us.