Saturday, July 26, 2014

Hopped in a One-Legged Circle

Given my experiences in small Georgia towns, where the proselytizing pious pursue long distance cyclists with the ferocity of a lion after an impala, I should have known better than to take a break in the town square. In my defense, it was 11:00 on a Sunday morning and I figured the population was either in church or at home cursing honky tonk hangovers.

I sat on a concrete bench in front of a fountain, ate a handful of gorp and warily surveyed my surroundings. Saw empty roads and empty sidewalks, no one coming in and out of the faded buildings that framed the square, nothing to indicate my solitude was an illusion.

That's when I noticed the pit bull in the landscaped bushes on the other side of the fountain. I stared at the dog, trying to decide if it was a statue. Something moved behind a potted azalea, and I shifted so I had a view of the corner of Main Street and 1st Avenue. A man wearing the overalls of the overworked farmer brought a fiddle to his chin, drew his bow across the strings. He played a fast tune and hopped in a one-legged circle, slow at first, then faster and faster as though he was trying to catch up to his music.

I grinned.

I couldn't help myself.

Writers live for this kind of thing.

I ate more gorp, relished the burst of peanuts, raisins, and chocolate on my tongue, listened to the music and watched the dog for movement. A triangular ear dipped ever so slightly, and I grinned even wider.

Another man appeared and I couldn't make up my mind what was more striking about him, his seven-foot stature, the lime-green suit, or the stout staff that thudded the sidewalk. My preacher alarm went off and I looked down and away, hoped my show of disinterest would discourage interaction. The thudding grew louder, and shoes large enough to stomp Tokyo planted themselves in my vision. A shadow fell over me, the giant was blocking the sun, and I had no choice but to look up and acknowledge his presence. I pondered why he wasn't in church, realized he was in his seventies and probably long retired. He dragged his fingers though his black hair. Peered down at me with curious brown eyes. His voice had the rumble of a big man, a confident bass that no doubt had kept his congregation awake in the pews.

"I prefer grits without butter, but I don't mind them with a little Tabasco and salt," he said.

I had no idea what to say to that and didn't attempt a response. He brought his staff down hard—thud—and I scooted my feet back a couple of inches.

"Been here twenty years and started three churches," he said. "Got kicked out of every damn one of them because I couldn't stay on the wagon. Wine, it's the devil's own drink."

"Um, I—"

"The Lord has told me to pray for you. Will you accept his goodness and mercy?"

He smiled and extended his hand. Although my first inclination was to say no, I reminded myself that I had decided to become more open to what came my way during this cycling trip and that included interactions with religious fanatics. I tucked my hand into his and he closed his eyes and began the singsong prayer of the southern preacher, a language not totally unfamiliar to me, and I was able to make out "Holy Ghost," "praise Jesus," and "this here sinner," thought I heard more than one "Do I hear an amen?"

The preacher thumped his staff in cadence with his chants, and I swung my feet even farther to the rear. I wondered if any bystanders were watching this scene unfold, saw only the gigantic Leprechaun, the pit bull, and the fiddler on the street corner. Although I was in heaven—holding back a smile while I watched the staff go up and down—I grew weary after the first five minutes  . . . wearier still after the next five. In an awkward position, feet thrust so far under the bench my thighs ached, I squeezed my benefactor's hand hoping he would understand the gesture as a wish for finality and not a believer's fervor.

His voice grew louder and deeper, and he latched onto me so hard there was no chance of withdrawal. I don't know how long I sat on that bench—hoping he would wind down—but the staff finally stopped thumping and his grip relaxed enough for me to reclaim my fingers.

I winced a smile and thanked him for his kindness, got on my bike and pedaled out of town knowing I'd had an experience I wouldn't soon forget.

Tips for Beginning Writers

Unlike my first cycling trip, which was so forgettable I can't remember anything of substance, my second trip was filled with adventures that will undoubtedly help shape my future novels. The difference between the two trips—the reason I had the eclectic exchange with the preacher in the lime-green suit—was because I had embraced whatever came my way.
  • A writer is the sum of his experiences.
The well inside him, the hollow space that contains his creativity, empties as he writes each novel, and is only replenished when he allows himself to engage the world. So, my advice to the beginning writer is to crawl out of the desert and spend at least as much time living life as you do reading and writing. Taste forbidden fruit, talk to the homeless, listen to the giggling child, get out of the coffee shop and steer a motorcycle around tight curves, throw an apple when no one is looking, throw two or three if there's a crowd, and above all, simply caress the fabric of life as it glides through your hands. These experiences will merge with your soul, turn you into something new, and your writing will become better for it.

What about you?

Does your creative well ever empty? Do you have any tips on how to refill?

Photo by Steve Jurvetson from Menlo Park, USA

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