Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Guest Blogger: John Jeter

First the Olympics. Then the political conventions. Watching Michael Phelps dolphinize his way into the history books was nearly as much fun as watching Mark Spitz do the same thing and—yes, let’s hear it for gray hair—watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon the same night Dad arrived home from Vietnam. Watching an American black man—that is, an African-American politician—accept the nomination for the highest office in the land … why, that was way more fun than the night my grandmother dragged me to a friend’s house—when we wanted to be swimming in the waterin’ hole—to witness the watershed moment that Richard Nixon resigned the highest office in the land.

So much for an essay on How I Spent My Summer Vacation.

Now, after all these fireworks, if your brain is anything like mine, it may do what analog TV does come February: It’ll shut down. By then, our collective minds should be obliterated by all the summer/fall data, too oversaturated and overwhelmed to process any more of the sensory overload that we high-definition Americans have been generating in all of these history-defining moments.

The time has come, then, to simply retreat to the comparatively quiet and easy task of writing.

I love to write. I love to read, too. Writing teachers, gurus, seminar leaders and fellow writers all chant the same relentless mantra: to read well is to write well.

Well, yeah, here’s a roundabout way of explaining how that can really mess you up.

I’m co-owner of a really cool concert venue, The Handlebar, in Greenville, SC, http://www.handlebar-online.com/ , and I’m not afraid to come right out and say how proud I am of it; after all, Mom always said, If you don’t toot your own tuba, somebody’ll pee in it. (Guess I won’t be using that in my Party’s nomination-acceptance speech.) The point on the way to the point is that since 1994, we’ve put on some 2,000 shows, with artists including John Mayer and Joan Baez and David Sanborn and Maynard Ferguson and Tower of Power and Nils Lofgren, who I last saw playing at an arena in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. That is to say, I’ve watched some talented musicians. Among the greats have been mind-boggling guitar players. Keyboard great and British blues legend John Mayall has played our room several times with his band, The Bluesbreakers. Since the early 1960s, John has mentored in his band the likes of Eric Clapton, Coco Montoya and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac. John will tell you that while his protégés have been gifted (y’think?), the guitar (specifically the BLUES guitar) is still a uniquely American instrument. Here I’m nearing the point: Patrons come to see these performers, often with their sons, and they have ecstatic, visceral, even life-changing experiences. Then we see them leave, their faces often long, their countenances sad, depressed.

“What’s wrong?” I may ask, fearing the worst. Was the concert hall too hot? Did their seats suck? Was somebody in front of them, behind them, too loud or obnoxious?

“No,” they usually say, “I have no idea what that guitar ever did to that guy, but I’m going to go straight home and throw mine into the fire . . .”

And so it was this summer and spring. I read, for no particular reason and not quite in this order: Moby Dick; The Once & Future King; Elizabeth Cox’s pithy and beguiling The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love; nonfiction: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey; Alexandra Fuller’s powerful Don’t Let’s Go To the Dogs Tonight, about growing up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe; and now, Junot Diaz’s surrealistically too-incredible The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

How many times have I looked at my keyboard and said, Let’s just toss that Toshiba into the heap with the busted-up Fenders, Telecasters and Martins?

But then Michael Phelps kept on swimming and Barack on kept orating and the heartbeat of the country keeps thumping and …

Just the other day, a little spark hit just the right time.
Joshilyn Jackson, the bestselling Southern writer who needs to figure out how to bottle That Stuff and mass market it, told a room full of people who paid a lot of money to see her talk about what makes for great Web-marketing, said something really nifty and inspirational:

Only YOU, she said, can write the book you’re supposed to write.

Which, she went on to explain in a much more eloquent way, means that we’ve effectively wiped out the competition.

Basically, the way I heard that is this: If reading is supposed to help your writing, then reading should be sort of like watching the Olympics knowing that the next time you go for a dip in the pool, you really don’t have to feel compelled to swim your 100 meters in under a minute (I think I can do 100 meters in about 2 minutes, but that’s when I’m in considerably better shape than I am now). Likewise, watching Barack Obama soaring to his oratorical heights doesn’t really mean anything … unless you happen to be a political junkie who likes to watch a lot of CNN.

All that said, I guess what all this is supposed to mean is that you’re free to decide that an action-packed summer of high-octane reading and full-throttle sporting and political events is just that—the only history that you have to make is the one you write yourself.

Alrighty then.
It feels good to get all that off my chest.
Thanks, everybody.

Now that I’m feeling better, it’s best to get on with it.
After all, I’ve got a novel to promote, THE PLUNDER ROOM, coming out Jan. 20 (now, that’s going to be a huge news day, Inauguration Day), published by Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press. http://theplunderroom.blogspot.com/.

The novel took me three months to write (I always say God writes ’em, I type ’em), and three months to get through my wife’s rigorous, loving and generous editing (the editors didn’t change a word in the manuscript). The thing is, after working, bleeding, crying, typing, researching, networking, scrapping, knocking, struggling and bleating for 20 years to get published, I guess it’s okay to take a little vacation from writing.
The other thing, too, is that this summer’s reading and all those Olympian feats of strength and political history left me mentally, emotionally and creatively dyspeptic. That is, until our dear mutual friend, Karin, gave me a swift kick in the blog.

Feels good to stretch these muscles again.
Kinda makes me wanna go out for a swim, too. In a very short pool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I keep wanting to come to the Handlebar, but hate to drive up the mountain at night.

I will be in Washington Jan 20th to President Obama take office.