This afternoon, while enjoying a plate of ribs at KT’s Barbecue with a visiting friend (Dan Davison, a terrific novelist — if he can ever finish his brilliant book!), I noticed a man and woman at another table kind of, well, kind of eyeing me.
Dan noticed it, too. Looked from them back to me. “What’s that all about?” he said.
Before I could answer, the woman got up and came over to us. “You’re — him, aren’t you?” she said. “The fellow who writes that column.”
Dan laughed. “You bet he is. Absolutely. This is Larry B!”
The woman looked back at her husband. He smiled the smile of a man who’d rather be anyplace but where he was at that moment.
I knew the feeling.
Three-plus years ago, when I first started writing in this space, I would’ve shared it at a time like this. But I’ve gotten used to being a local (very) mini-celebrity now, and being recognized and approached every once in awhile suits me just fine. Makes me feel much more appreciated than writing television did.
(No one ever recognizes television writers because unlike newspaper columnists or bloggers, TV writers never get their pictures anywhere near the result of what they’ve written. And if someone does figure out what TV writers do for a living all she or he ever wants to talk about is, “Why is TV so bad?”)
The woman turned back to me. “I have to ask you something,” she said.
“It’s not about television, is it?” I said.
She frowned. “No, no, it’s about our son. He’s 22 years old and wants to be a writer. He sits at his computer all day and night and writes and writes and writes. Poems. Short stories. Scripts for things he thinks should be on YouTube.”
“Hey, that’s great,” Dan said. “Good for him!”
“Well,” said the woman, “that’s what I’m wondering. What, exactly, is best for him?”
This wasn’t a new question for me. Or a new subject. I didn’t even have to think about my reply. It came rushing out before I could stop it.
“I was a kid like that. From the time I was 13 years old I spent every spare minute writing. My family thought I was crazy.
“‘Why can’t you put all that time and energy into your schoolwork?’ my father demanded.
“‘Why can’t you put all that time and energy into making friends and doing the things kids your age do?’ my mother wanted to know.
“I didn’t know how to answer them because what I was doing wasn’t a conscious choice. It was like I was being pursued by big, winged writing demons. They didn’t just prod me, they shoved me to my mother’s old IBM. I was driven to write.”
“But how could that be?” the woman said. “Where did the demons come from?”
“Not ‘did,’ ‘do.’ They’re still with me. I don’t know why. Just lucky, I guess. ‘Chosen,’ is how I’ve always felt. I wake up every morning filled with ideas. Questions, mostly, about life. I go out and live a little, while those questions percolate. Then I go to my computer and more questions — sometimes even answers — come shooting into the back of my head.
“I feel them entering my mind and moving forward, to where I can visualize them right above my eyes. It’s like reading something already written. All I’ve got to do is filter it a little, change a word here and there, and then let the result fly out onto the monitor.
“I never feel like I’m the writer but like I’m the pipeline, bringing my readers what’s been put into my head.”
“By demons?” said the woman. “That doesn’t sound too savory.” She looked upset.
“I think of them as demons doing good work.”
“Angels in disguise,” Dan said.
The woman thought about this. She no longer looked upset. Just unsettled.
“Oh … well, thank you. Thank you very much.” She went back to her table.
Dan leaned forward. “You did a good thing, dude,” he said. “Poor woman’s trying to understand something that her limited life just hasn’t prepared her for. Artistic creativity in somebody she loves.”
His words faded as I concentrated on what was happening at the other table.
“Told you he couldn’t help,” said her husband.
The woman sighed. “And all I wanted to know was whether we should get Nick a PC or a Mac.”
Larry Brody is an author, veteran television writer and producer and creative director of Cloud Creek Institute for the Arts. He, his wife and their dogs, cats, horses and chickens live in Marion County. The other residents of the mythical town of Paradise reside in his imagination, however, and any resemblance to actual places or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Originally published November 27, 2008