Why do I write, and why do I curse Johnie?



DO YOU REMEMBER the first line of fiction you ever wrote?

I do.

I wish I didn’t.

I was in the eighth grade at the time, and I had a mind has blank as the paper in front of me.

I knew I wanted to be a writer.

I just wondered how you sold words.

I still don’t know.

I had this great fantasy running amuck in my mind and wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it.

It had something to do with Africa.

It had something to do with the jungle.

It had something to do with a giant ape.

I don’t know if the ape was good or bad.

I never got that far.

But I did begin working on a novel.

It lasted a few hand-written pages.

And I started the narrative this way:

The story you are fixing to read is incredible but true.

Fixing to read.

That’s pure Texan.

I think I still remember it for one reason.

It was that bad.

The Muse won’t let me forget it.

The Muse wants me to do better.

The Muse thinks it may be a useless endeavor.

So I wrote two pages.

Maybe it was three.

And my best friend, Johnie Wright, read it and, for some reason, thought it had all sorts of merit.

Eighth graders in New London hadn’t been exposed to a lot of literature.

We were one step up from the inglorious Dick and Jane, Puff and Spot stories.

Johnie, I’m sure, didn’t think much of the writing.

He was simply surprised, shocked, and stunned that I knew a word with as many syllables as incredible.

I had no doubt stolen it from something I read by flashlight late at night in some Men’s Adventure Magazine. I had smuggled the copy into my room because my parents had forbidden me to read such trash.

I might learn things I wasn’t supposed to know.

I did.

I learned the word incredible.

I stole it.

Writer’s always do.

Johnie took the pages to my English teacher, she read the story to the class, and she told me: “It would be better if you wrote the first sentence this way: The story you are about to read is incredible but true.”

I never used the word fixing again.

When I hear someone saying it even now, I flinch and begin feeling nauseous.

Johnie believed I could write.

We would sit on the steps of the junior high building at lunch, munching on Baby Ruth candy bars, and I would pitch him story ideas.

He told me what he liked.

He told me what he didn’t.

I wrote then as I write now simply because once upon a time Johnie Wright told me I could.

So my days are always the same.

I write a sentence.

I curse Johnie.

I write a paragraph.

I curse Johnie.

I write a story.

I curse Johnie.

I might as well.

Once upon a time, he placed the curse on me, and I’ve not yet been able to escape it.

Thanks, Johnie.

I’m forever indebted to you.

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  • Caleb, that was a brilliant post! It brought back memories of my childhood writing days with friends and teachers encouraging me.

    My friends and I used to have such fun with my stories, sometimes even acting them out. Of course, the stories were painfully awful, but it was the beginning of a lifelong passion. I don’t remember the first line I ever wrote, but I do remember the first story I wrote of any length called The Night Dog. I was 8 years old and wrote it on purple loose leaf paper. It was 7 or 8 pages. I was so proud of myself because (like a “grown up” writer) I used quotation marks with dialogue. Never mind that I put the quotation marks around the sentences instead of the dialogue tags, LOL.

    I think we all had Johnies in our lives and words like “incredible” that we fell in love with. Personally, I fell in love with this post!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thanks, Mae. And you’re so right, the day we dared use quotation marks and write dialogue was the day our lives forever changes. From then on, we were addicted to writing stories, not just telling them. Of course, some mastered the beauty and rhythm of poetry, and you were at the top of the list.

      • I love the poetry of words and can tell that you do, too. Your posts are so easy/breezy to read no matter the topic. Thank you kindly for the nice words and also for your enjoyable posts on Venture Galleries!

  • Caleb Pirtle

    All writer, somewhere in their background, has a friend like Johnie Wright who encouraged them to keep writing. It was both a blessing and a curse. We can never thank them enough.

    • I have a bunch of family and friends who watch me, semi-anxiously, but nobody (except the lovely people I’ve met online) has ever encouraged me to keep writing. Odd, isn’t it?

      It may have some small connection with me having been ill for 26 years, and nobody ever having expectations that their physicist oddball would turn into a writer. Maybe they just don’t want to discourage me from doing something that is hard. Or that I might not finish. Or…?

      It is something I do because I can’t NOT do it; I always expected to write – as a retired person, some day. I’m sure there are many of those same people (if any one of them is even thinking about me) who think I probably should have put all that energy into something more useful, such as organizing the basement (a mess), the garage (a mess – is there a pattern there?), my photographs (ditto), and possibly do something useful like quilting.

      When you only have energy for ONE thing, it matters what you choose. But I do miss the ability, taken from me every time I get that basement organized and someone (not to be mentioned here – several of them) puts THEIR disorganized stuff over my nice tidy gym equipment, to go down to the basement and get bits of exercise as the energy presents itself: by the time I dress and get to a gym outside the house, I pretty much have to turn around and come home – energy back account empty.

      Writing is MY choice for using MY time.

      Curious: do the guys have the same problem?

      • Caleb Pirtle

        Alicia, no one who knows me cares that write, and a lot of them don’t even know that I write. Strangers are impressed. Friends think: “Well, if old Pirtle can do it, writing can’t be that hard.”

  • I think you should put ‘fixing to’ back in – it’s your most authentic voice.

    Teachers ‘correct’ things – not very good for fiction.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      I think you’re right, Alicia. I’m fixing to do that the first chance I have.

  • jack43

    When I entered the Army in 1966 America was rich in local dialects and I immersed myself in the joy of them living in a barracks with the youth of many diverse regions. Not much later, sometime around 1990 I drove a Uhaul truck across America as I moved my father from Maryland to California where I was living and could better assist him in his failing years. As I drove I recorded a narrative of the trip as though speaking to my young daughter Kaili. I well remember at one point observing how much the various American dialects had been homogenized into one seamless language by the effects of mass communication and mass migration. It saddened me. So, you go right ahead (or write ahead) and keep on “fixing”. It seems a breath of fresh air to me…

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Jack, as you know, you can cut across the midsection of America, and the dialect changes about every two hundred miles. I love to go to these little towns, sit for a spell at the downtown cafe and listen to folks talk. It is the best entertainment in town. You can also leave with a handful of stories in your pocket.

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