John M. Williams
I teach at LaGrange College–a small, pleasant island in the ocean, Academia. My colleagues are my friends; we are collegial. I deal with creatures of inexhaustible charm, a foot on either side of that just beginning to widen crack which will force them shortly to leap one way, or fall the other. They have vastly more promise than ignorance, but are rich in both.
I’ve been here so long I’m beginning to suspect some sorceress is playing a joke. How did I get here? Circuitously.
I was riding a stick horse in the pecan tree filled yard of a flat-roofed house in Auburn, Alabama–that much is vivid. Then, it all begins to blur. All my grammar school teachers were old (perfectly lovely) women; my children’s grammar school teachers were all hot babes. Why is that? The main thing I remember about high school is Mr. Goff. Him, and a handful of friends (you know who you are). I think everything I learned in high school could have been easily condensed into one strenuous afternoon. Then college, where I was rejected by calculus and attracted to letters, my favorites being M and G. The eras of my life have all been covered, one way or another, in my scribblings. My childhood is encoded most accurately and completely in my story “In the Beginning Was Kitto.” That gripping tale is not included here because it’s in a collection called Snake Dreams that I’m trying to sell!
After college, travel–then grad school, then travel, then five years in the printing business, then aimlessness, then LaGrange, grad school again, marriage, children, and a series of red felt-tipped pens. Here, the birthdays have become like cards being fanned in a deck. Like I said, a blur. Blur blur blur. You have to fight the blur! Speak truth to blur! You have to nail little exertions of precision to the shadowy walls of life’s dubious corridor.To those of you in other trenches who hear this faint tapping–tap back!
Number of posts: 10
Email address: email
By John M. Williams:
knew the oldest secret
Several years ago, I read an article about a personality type that resonated so strongly with me I never forgot it. Except, I did—the title of the article, that is, along with its author, and the name of the type it described. The consequence of this memory lapse is that recently, when curiosity led me on a search for the article I never forgot, I had no means to find it. So there is a valid function for names after all. The personality type the article featured was this: a person, usually a woman, who is the more or less unwitting hub of a vast wheel of human relationships.
off season football
I haven’t exactly been an avid watcher of Super Bowls. But I did make it through some of this year’s, and thought I saw clearly one phase of football giving way to another. Maybe Denver just had a bad game, but those two teams play five times, I don’t like Denver’s chances in any of the five. Peyton Manning, in the right landscape, was a great quarterback. He hasn’t changed, but the landscape has: some new element has come into the game. The athleticism — the pace and nature of the game — have jumped to a higher level, college and pro. Football evolves like everything else.
what crawled up your drawers?
Oh, I love it and I hate it,
Every now and then berate it,
The sweet and sunny south where I was born.
— Gina Forsyth
Image in my head: a tour bus arriving in the republic of Biblestan, disgorging a file of daytrippers, like poverty tourists in a Rio slum, at some ramshackle barbecue joint, hiply-shod, fanny-pack-wearing gawkers shocked at the absence of recycling bins by the dumpsters, saying “Gee whilikers!” and “You betcha!”, having their barbecue not too spicy! then waddling off to the Gift Shop for some outrageous corncob art.
he had soul
Mr. Goff. Not “Tommy Goff” or “Tommy” or some dorky nickname — Mr. Goff didn’t have nicknames. A bandmate once made the mistake of calling him Mr. Goof — nobody ever said that again. No, there was nothing else really conceivable: he was Mr. Goff. He was the best teacher I ever had, and one of the handful of truly extraordinary people I’ve met in life — and a legion of former students scattered over the world would say the same.
Another synchronicity. I came across a recent National Geographic piece on the “teenage brain” just as I was reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant. The convergence of article and novel—catalyzed by the fact that I have a seventeen and thirteen year old in the house—got me to thinking about adolescence.
I’m a college teacher and a few years ago I was a regular chaperone on January trips to Beech Mountain with the skiing class. Along with three or four days of free skiing I would drive a van. I remember very clearly on one of those long Sunday drives home an epiphany. I tuned in to the chatter from the back and noted that its theme was the future: plans for the weekend, the spring, the summer, internships, travel abroad, graduate school, one’s twenties, thirties. A simmering stew of exuberant potential. And there I had been, combing through past eras in my own behind-the-wheel reveries. It was the moment I officially realized I was middle-aged—a distasteful pang. Everything about their lives was yet to be. An accumulating snowdrift of mine had already been.
Thoughts on Writing
It all happened on the same day. A post I wrote about my first e-book, Special Forces, appeared on this blog, a friend suggested I look into producing my own audio book, and I received a visit from a charming retired Japanese journalist, Shoichi Nasu. Mr. Nasu, making a series of pilgrimages to American literary sites for a book he is writing, had stumbled onto me, seeking an answer to the question: why is Gone With the Wind not considered a great work of literature?
Okay, I caved. After all the years of putting my stories into envelopes, going to the north rim of the Grand Canyon and throwing them in, of listening to the crickets in the silence that follows any petition to any theater, I decided to go electronic.
I didn’t do it cold. I was helped and encouraged by my friend Harvey Stanbrough in Arizona who, after a long career in the Marines, has made himself an expert in e-publishing and knows as much about writing as anybody around. And I had been watching for some time my playwriting partner Ken Clark’s juking of the middle man in selling his songs on CD Baby—and of course one periodically hears these self-publishing miracle stories.
I’ve been to two fortune-tellers, though naturally they eschewed that term, preferring “psychic” or “spiritual adviser,” and have been twice disappointed. The first was such a transparent quack it was embarrassing. She actually had an assistant ask to see my driver’s license before the session, so she could rub a quartz crystal and tell me I was from somewhere in Georgia and that I was, she was sensing strongly, a Leo. The second just didn’t get me at all, and failed in the fundamental skill of her trade: finding out what I wanted to hear and telling it to me. Not that she didn’t try. She probed me for material and took such obvious baits, deriving from them such obvious and irrelevant conclusions, I was not embarrassed, just disappointed. Being at the time in the state of spiritual disarray I’m still in, I longed for an encouraging word from Beyond. I longed for the real thing. I wanted, it’s clear enough now, a Rena Teel.
My father died in 1993. It was an event which created not a, but the, chasm in my life—the one separating Parts I and II. Part I seems somehow more real to me—as I stand here in Part II where the ego is losing its muscle tone, dissolving into my past selves and the people I love. Daddy, a mild temperament stretched over a steel frame, was aware of Lynn Curtis, and like all his power company, gas, telephone-type buddies, and everybody else I knew in Auburn, accepted him. I’m sure I don’t know the half of it, but I was never aware of anyone harassing him, or making an issue of him. He was just part of Auburn …
I don’t know when Lynn Curtis came to Auburn, and that he had come was a given—rumor had it, from New York where he had been a dancer in his youth. Nor do I know why he had come here. Doubtless there are people who know these answers—not I—I do not claim to have known him well. I offer only this peripheral view.
I grew up in Auburn, Alabama, and when I was eleven and twelve I delivered the Atlanta Journal … I would ride my bike downtown after school to the derelict, gaping-roofed building where we rolled our papers, load up my bike, and disemburden myself, one Journal at a time, home … Catercorner to this spot stood the portal to the University (just recently promoted from Alabama Polytechnic Institute), flanked by two oak trees, which, as always with oak trees in a normal world, I never conceived of taking any way but for granted. Back then, the tradition of rolling those trees with toilet tissue after Auburn victories had yet to evolve, and so the trees, dating to the 1800s, I think, just stood there in their indifferent venerability.