One spring day, John Johnson sat down to write the Great American Mid-Central States Novel, where the states in question, according to no less an authority than National Geographic, were Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. He lived in Lexington, Kentucky and mostly worried about competition from Alabama and Tennessee writers who might be thinking of doing the same. But doggedly he sat at the computer until the words came.
They didn’t come freely. He knew that you had to “write what you know” and to use the grist of daily life. So he briefly considered his world. He liked E.D. Hill of “Fox & Friends” fame though not enough to know what the “E” and “D” stood for. He'd seen co-host Brian doing finger-pushups recently on camera and was mildly amused by his energy and good-humored demeanour. But he couldn’t immediately see how to interweave E.D. & Brian and the smiling weather girl into a narrative, though he suspected novelistic gold. Still, writers read about deep things, listened to deep music and tasted exotic food and it seemed that hamburgers, Whitesnake, and Fox & Friends were thin gruel.
John liked to fly under the radar. Nothing pleased him more than obscurity, which he gathered about him like a warm cloak in deep winter. Obscurity was a fine companion because it kept demands and responsibilities at bay. The only problem with obscurity was obscurity, the lack of notice, which would seem a natural enough result but it wasn’t something he’d considered. As much as he enjoyed observing he also liked to be recognized. He wrote frequent letters to the editor of the local paper and sent submissions to Reader's Digest’s famous Life in these United States but they always went unpublished. He dated women in a serial fashion. He half-hoped people would take little notice because then he could get lost in Wagnerian operas and red wine, though the comfort of Wagner and wine would inevitably result in putting himself forward. He tended not to push himself during the summer because it was summer and the livin' was supposed to be easy. He also didn't push himself during the winter because it was a season hard enough on its own. This left remarkably little opportunity to push himself.
All that he could write of Kentucky seemed exhausted within ten minutes. Why? Oh sure there were the white fences that held beautiful race horses within, but horses never much interested him because they were “local”, in the same way that New Yorkers wouldn’t bother with visiting the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State building. Too close to home.
Yes, he would write about what he saw on television. It’s what he knew, even if he didn’t know what “E. D.” in “E.D. Hill” stood for. He pondered the sonorous voice of CNN's Lou Dobbs and felt sure there was a novel there. The very name reeked of poetry.
December 30, 2005
Posted by TS at 9:47 PM