There are moments in life – “nuggets,” we called them in the Writing Center – where you sense the center of a story idea, or the theme of one anyway, and you know you can retell this moment in a way that will capture it exactly as it happened. Long before blogging, one had to do this in ways that Mattered, particularly as a short story writer. You had The New Yorker, Esquire, and… it didn’t really matter; I was 15.
Shut up, Ally Sheedy. no one is talking to you.
My first experience with this journalist’s approach the The Craft was at a camp-out (put that in quotes, because we were camping in a backyard, and it was hardly camping) where things came to head with the boys’ camp (backyard across the street) in the form of an egg fight. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us, and I narrated it like Dan Rather at the front.
(“Dan Rather was at the Front? The Front of what?” Not only that kids, but he was our Flac Jac before there as a Scud Stud.)
In college I captured in story form one long drive to Knoxville, a drunken tussle in a bar, and a declaration of girls’ school devotion that was only interesting to the people it was about. And of course, the “not-one-word-changed except the names and the plays” novelization of the 1982 spring musical. A hometown expose I thought at the time was my “The Help,” and I used to practice what I would say on the stand when sued for libel.
I had an inflated sense of possibility once.
I believed, for quite some time, that writing happened in sacred moments under serene circumstances – certainly not between 11:15 and Midnight just to beat a made-up deadline. So I put a lot of my story ideas and experienced nuggets off. And I have lost a lot of those moments.
(see a post later this month tentatively titled “Having Less Ambition Than Bronson Alcott.”).
What I did do was write them down and put them in the idea box. I even know what they are still about, but I have lost the moment I thought would a perfect story, and the drive to write it .
So what did ever happen to Iry Lejeune? Ira Lejeune’s (later corrupted to “Iry,” like the “Opry” was) story can be told long or short but in either version it ends with him dead on the side of the road, struck while changing a tire – or standing by while someone else changed a tire, because he was known to be fairly blind. There is not much to tell in that story.
The title is meant to remind me of the night I heard the story of Iry Lejeune, sitting around a fire pit in a yard in Florida where I had come to meet the fiance of an old friend. It was meant for a story of Southern gothic proportions, which featured a toppled kitchen table, food still on the floor, a toddler in a Spiderman shirt and a dusty diaper, a feast of oysters at a college town bar, and pit bull suffering a stroke in front of our eyes. And at the tail end of it, a night around the fire hearing a story about how you can live the dream, and still die a stupid unglamorous death. Or…something like that. I thought I never had time to write it, and it wouldn’t sound believable if I did.
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