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| Category: || Commentary and Philosophy Non-Fiction |
Posted:|| February 7, 2021 Views: 198|
an 81-Year Romp in a Tutu
"What the Hell's a Jay Squires"
by Jay Squires
Contrary to what Saint Leonard so famously asserted in his song, “Everybody Knows”:
I want you to know that the captain of this boat ain’t gonna lie to ya. He’ll tell you that the boat is not even sea-worthy. Not unless you are in it!
“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied”
— “Everybody Knows,” Leonard Cohen
I love the Flagship Fanstory. All you Fanstorian readers, and especially you Fanstorian writers—all of you together—are the nails, the bolts, and the tar that hold this scabby vessel together and keep it afloat.
I am merely the 81-year-old, knobby-kneed cheerleader, shaking my pom-poms on the poopdeck. (Try to unthink that image!)
As your cheerleader, it’s only fair that you know something about me.
Most recent history
My dog, Sirius, and I live in a modest home in an immodest century. The town we live in is Bakersfield, which is in southern California. My town is the origin of the Bakersfield Sound, known also as Nashville West. Buck Owens was born here. He and Dwight Yoakam teamed up with Streets of Bakersfield. Buck’s rival was Merle Haggard, who was also born here. You might remember Mama Tried one of his prison songs or Okie from Muskogee.
I’ve lived here for some forty years, y’all, so I barely have a country accent.
For thirty of those forty years, until I retired, I sold insurance for Allstate Insurance Company. I had my own office with a fancy desk, and because I was a horrible salesman, I had few customers to interrupt my thirty years of writing.
During those thirty years, I wrote and Amazon-published (which is to say I self-published) a mystery-thriller called RSVP: Invitation to a Chumash Massacre. I also wrote a sci-fi/fantasy trilogy called, The Trining, the first two books of which I hope to publish in the Fall. I also had two short stories published in literary journals.
The story I’m most proud of is The Uneven Zen of Time which was not only published in a literary journal, but accumulated over 30 reader comments, which, the Editor confided in me, was unheard of in the history of that journal. (What I didn’t tell him was that one comment was written by my daughter and the rest from writers here on FanStory.)
The Uneven Zen of Time was included in an anthology of the best short stories of 2017, as well as the Fabula Argentea 5th Aniversary Anthology.
I am peacock-proud of both of those achievements. Listen, I don’t have much opportunity to brag about them, so at least indulge me, if you can’t forgive me.
The long tail of my writing career
I began to pursue a writing career in earnest when I was a sophomore in high school. I wrote a short story called Isaac Finkle’s Other World which was horribly derivative of James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. But it won first prize in our high school’s creative writing contest, and that gave me my first taste of fame.
I distinctly remember at that time writing in my school notebook that I would someday be a famous writer or actor. Now, James Dean was the final word in Hollywood then and I wore my red windbreaker with the collar turned up in the back, just like he did in Rebel Without a Cause, and I sighed with his same unappreciated despair.
So, along with pronouncing in my notebook my ultimate life goal, I also laid out a plan for its accomplishment. I still had two more years of high school, but after I graduated, I would “check myself into an insane asylum.” Yep, you read that right. See, I realized I lacked life experience, and where else, my nimble mind reasoned, could I acquire it more quickly than in an insane asylum.
Guinness Record Book for the youngest publisher?
The winning of that contest in high school may have solidified my desire, but my first experience of publication came when I was ten-years-old. I wrote a story called “Sawdust and Glory” about a boy’s journey to win a blue ribbon in a track meet.
One day, my uncle, Jimmy Duncan, was visiting with my parents. Now, I was admittedly a pest, and to keep me from pestering them, Jimmy (with a wink to my folks), told me if I provided him five copies of my story he would sell them for me in front of Woolworth Five and Dime.
That was all the promise I needed.
For the next two days—with Uncle Jimmy gone, and his promise a fading memory, I’m sure, in his mind—I was a paragon of industry. I hand-printed my seven-page story five separate times, putting them in neat stacks. Then, I traced the outline of the page on cardboard, cut it out, and used it as the pattern for nine more.
That done, I printed “Sawdust and Glory” as neatly as I could in the center of the five rectangles of cardboard. And below the title, I printed “by” and with great pride, celebrated my accomplishment with my name: Junie Squires—Junie, the cross I would bear until I informally changed it to Jay, my freshman year in high school.
With the seven pages of printed text sandwiched between the two slices of cardboard, my beloved mother helped me bind the book together with pieces of yarn, top, middle, and bottom, all the while telling me that Jimmy wasn’t going to sell them for me. “He was drunk when he made the promise, Junie, and he’s not going to remember.”
A promise is a promise
A few days later when he returned for a visit, I reminded him of his promise and sure enough, he denied it. But to this day, I can remember the look in his eyes.
He did remember.
And that 10-year-old was determined and had a screech that could be heard blocks away, which, I know now, didn’t sit well on his blistering hangover.
The short version is that Uncle Jimmy ended up standing on the street corner in front of Woolworth Five and Dime, in the rain as it were, and hawked my five books at the rate of a nickel apiece.
A whole quarter. Hey, this was 1949!
My most important lesson as a writer
I never had myself committed to an asylum (though some would say it was a missed opportunity, and perhaps not too late). I joined the U.S. Air Force, instead. Two years of my life were spent in Tripoli, North Africa where most Airmen wasted themselves on booze, drugs, sex, and V.D.
Instead, I wrote.
I don’t know what it was about the times. James Dean, already dead for two years, left a gaping hole in the lives of millions of teens. I’m not being dramatic. In fact, Wikipedia describes him as “a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement.” And he was all of that. And more.
But here’s the point I want to make:
The nonconformist, disillusioned spirit that was James Dean became somehow enmeshed and entangled in my idealized vision of what it meant to become a writer.
I was dead-set against taking an easy path. I would make it on my own, with help from no one. My mental set was not far removed, when you think about it, from choosing to be self-committed in an asylum rather than study the mind of the troubled and insane from books written by those who treated them, Freud, Jung, Adler, and the rest.
Here is how my personal vision translated into my apprenticeship as a writer.
And I learned. I have no doubt about that. I learned a great deal. I believe I developed an inner awareness of what worked and what didn’t. And in doing so, I slowly, incrementally, developed a voice that was uniquely mine.
- I decided to leave the Air Force after only one tour of duty because I was convinced that the military produced no great writers; that was because the writer was restricted in what he could say owing to military regulation.
- I refused to pursue a college education after the military because I would be restricted by the curriculum.
- I forbade myself to even take a college creative writing course because they were taught by those who failed in their pursuit of greatness.
- I would not even read books or magazine articles on the “how-to’s” of writing. Their “how-to’s” were written by and for those who didn’t have the spark of greatness in them.
- I would learn solely by writing daily, huge amounts of content, and by voraciously reading the great writers I admired because life was the only classroom. I would take their stories apart, put them back together again. I’d reconfigure sentences to try and make them more powerful.
But here’s what I also learned.
I was insufferably vain.
I was wasteful—incredibly wasteful. I was the jealous tiller of my own garden. I refused to study how other gardeners tended theirs. Some of those gardeners were producing bumper crops while mine were desiccated, lacking in the juices that made writing great. What I mean is that I was insular in my knowledge of the gears and working parts of the world I inhabited. I was really naive. I was living the definition of the self-proclaimed expert.
Through my writing and reading regimen … I was
“learning more and more about less and less.”—William Warde Fowler
At some Socratic point in my life, I realized my ignorance. I enrolled in college, and I became a model student. I applied myself. As a result, I expanded the scope, the breadth of my education. I wouldn’t trade the time I spent on my formal education for anything.
When I see the place that personal vanity played in my life, I am saddened beyond words by the precious time I lost.
I truly hope the reader, and especially the writer can learn from my shortsightedness.
With 65+ years under my belt, I can say without too much boasting, that I developed into a good writer—not great—but decent. There are not too many tools available to the writer that I don’t have in my toolbox.
However, what I’ve slowly, painfully, accumulated up to my eighty-first year, I could have forged in my forties or fifties—if personal vanity hadn’t clouded my vision.
The Glory of Now
But that was then, and this is now. Today I have a new mission. I have prepared for my mission with months of endurance training on my Tony Little Gazelle (available at Amazon, Walmart, QVC, and other fine outlets). I’ve sculpted my ass and my thighs. I’ve perfected my moves only after hours of diligent study of the Dallas Cowgirls' clips on Youtube.
And now, gang o' mine, I’m ready.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta get back up on the poopdeck of the Flagship Fanstory, to deliver my high kicks and to shake my pom-poms.
1. Streets of Bakersfield, by Buck Owens: https://tinyurl.com/y5avuu4m
2. Mama Tried, by Merle Haggard: https://tinyurl.com/y2x2lupk
3. Okie from Muskogee, by Merle Haggard: https://tinyurl.com/jjjv6dq
4. The Uneven Zen of Time, by Jay Squires: https://tinyurl.com/yyjytbzl
5. Rebel Without a Cause, Wikipedia: https://tinyurl.com/y2wwgz7p
6. James Dean, Wikipedia: https://tinyurl.com/nvg5k55
Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry
Thanks to Pixabay for the artwork
and 2 member cents.
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has granted FanStory.com, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.
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