Should you write what you know or what somebody else knows?

How can you write what you know when life is usually spent alone?
How can you write what you know when life is usually spent alone?

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.

That’s what they told him.

He sat back, closed his eyes, and thought back over his years on earth.

There had been forty-seven of them, three good ones if you pieced all of the better moments together.

So what was life anyway?

A wife.

Two children.

Both boys.

One played football.

One sang in the school choir.

Both were gone now.

So was the wife.

Three jobs, and the last one had lasted for the past nine years.

He was a lawyer.

Civil law.

He read fine print and shuffled paper.

He connected numbers or disconnected them – depending, of course, on the whim of the client.

Vacations had been boring.

Walking a beach.

Climbing a mountain.

Fishing among the lily pads of Reelfoot Lake.

Write what you know.

That’s what they told him.

He knew about being alone.

That’s all.

NOW ANDREW WAS DIFFERENT.

Andrew had fought in Vietnam.

He took a bullet in the Mekong Delta, then walked eight miles through the swamp water until he found his base camp.

The Army gave him a silver star.

Said he had cleared out a hillside of Viet Cong guerrillas so his platoon could escape.

He killed the enemy.

No doubt about it.

His platoon, however, was already gone.

It had run off and left him.

He fought back for one reason.

He had no other choice.

He stuck the Star in the bottom of his trunk and only talked about it once.

Good story.

Andrew had one.

The writer didn’t.

BADGER LIVED in a small community outside of Clarksville.

He was a volunteer fireman.

Drove an old red pickup truck with a long water hose coiled up in the bed.

He covered them all.

One phone call, day or night, and Badger was on the road.

Sometimes other volunteers showed up.

Mostly they didn’t.

He whipped fires with a bucket of water, if necessary, and beat out flames with wet blankets and even his hands, which was almost always necessary.

His hair was always scorched.

His skin had patches of white skin where the tongues of fire had licked him.

His eyebrows were singed.

Men shook his hand when Badger walked down the street.

Lonely housewives invited him over for dessert and sometimes had cake and pie but not often.

He had been citizen of the year three times and elected honorary mayor twice.

The annual Labor Day picnic was named in his honor.

Those who kept up with such things counted, and figured out that, during the past twelve years, Harold Constantine Badger had personally and by himself put out seven hundred and forty-three fires.

The ovation was loud.

And long.

Over a glass of Jack Daniel and Coke one night, Badger admitted he had started all but sixty-four of them himself.

Need to keep the old pickup running, he said.

Hate to see the battery go down, he said.

Good story.

That’s what the writer thought.

Badger had one.

The writer didn’t.

And that’s when the thought finally struck him.

Someone had lied.

Write what you know, they said.

They were wrong.

His life was dull.

He didn’t know anything about anything.

But write what somebody else knows.

Now that was the answer.

So he did.

Andrew was dishonorably discharged from the Army last week.

He would have given back the Silver Star, but he couldn’t find it.

And Badger was serving two to ten.

He had owned one match too many.

The writer grinned and cashed his checks.

Life wasn’t so bad after all, he said.

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