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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