Her name is Virginia. She is interviewing me. She is fourteen, and wants to go into journalism one day.
Virginia wanted to interview a real writer. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get in touch with any, so she called me.
Her first question: What is being a writer all about?
Jeez. That’s a tough one. I have no idea how to answer it.
I was expecting something more along the lines of: “How long does it take you to learn how to spell ‘receive’ without making mistakes?”
The truth is, Virginia, my writing career all started in a sixteen-foot camper with a bloodhound asleep on my feet. The camper was junk, parked outside Pensacola. The dog was a purebred.
I was there for work. I had just quit construction, and I had finished community college—which had taken me eleven years.
So the world was my oyster. And naturally, I took the next logical step on the ladder of academia to further my professional career. I played music in beer joints.
I’m embarrassed to admit this. I know this isn’t what real writers do, but that’s what I did.
In the daytimes, to occupy my empty hours in the camper, I would read books. That’s when the idea hit me.
Early one morning, I was reading a book entitled—I’m not making this up—“44 Best Ever Fart Jokes and Poems.” The thought hit me like a shock of electricity.
I slammed the book shut and decided: “I’m going to become a writer! I am going to write a novel! A Western novel!
And I meant it, too. I ran the idea past my bloodhound. She wasn’t crazy about it.
“You don’t think I should write a Western?” I clarified.
She licked herself then fell asleep.
“How about a joke book?”
“Big help you are,” I said.
So I didn’t write a Western, nor a joke book, but I DID begin writing a novel. And in that camper my life changed.
You could say I sort of grew up during those years. Over time, I exchanged writing on a legal pad for a laptop, I started thinking in complete sentences, I began a column that turned into a few books, and I finally learned to spell recieev the rite weigh.
Last week, a publisher sent me a stack of papers in a manila envelope. The envelope weighed nearly fourteen hundred pounds.
I held the stack in my hands and I began to feel prickles in my chest. My novel. I finally finished it after all these years.
And I felt small, Virginia. So infinitesimally small. I don’t know why.
You’d think holding your own novel would make you feel giddy, and proud, but it doesn’t. Instead, you are reminded of how short life is.
I am so small. It’s scary how easily a person like me will be forgotten when they die. One day, my obituary will be in the newspaper; the next day, nobody will remember my name.
I have so many questions. What does my life mean? Am I just a spark from a campfire, glowing for a millisecond? When life disappears, who will remember me? What hair-color do they put on the the driver’s licenses of bald men? Why do hot dogs come in packs of twelve, but buns only come in packs of eight? Who really shot J.R.?
But, oh, Virginia, when you write.
You don’t have have to answer any questions. All you have to do is leave your footprint on this earth. A little piece of yourself. A retelling of your joys, and your pathetic failures, in paragraph form.
You can make saints out of the ordinary, and bring beauty to a dismal childhood. You can paint gold all over your saddest moments, and put them in pretty boxes.
And if a writer is lucky, Virginia, perhaps a century after he dies, a fourteen-year-old will find his words on a dusty shelf.
Maybe the kid will read them, and think, “Hey, I’m not alone in this world.”
That would make it all worth it. Because on that day, the things suffered, the minor triumphs, the colossal embarrassments, the ugly campers, the old dogs, the little things will all make sense. And meaningless moments will finally mean something.
I don’t know. Maybe that’s what being a writer is about.
I want to thank you Andy Jones, whoever you are, for writing that book about farts.