Tuesday, December 1, 2009

influences and advice and stuff

Or, "I miss you, Joe McGuff."

I have an ancient, yellowed Guindon cartoon that says "Nostalgia is only bad if it causes you to go back through life." But remembering the little things that ended up being turning points isn't so bad.

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. In first grade, I wrote a story centered around some blob figure my sister cut out of green construction paper. I'm sure it has been lost to the sands of time now, though I did know where it was for many years. It centered on a family named the Burstein-Applebees (Kansas Citians of a certain vintage, and particularly those familiar with Metcalf South Mall in that same vintage, should be grinning right about now. B-A was a record store on the mall's lower level). Other than that, basically all I remember is that Mr. and Mrs. Burstein-Applebee were getting a divorce. I think that was probably a wish I didn't know how to articulate otherwise, even at that age, but we won't go there.

In second grade, for some reason, there were a few days I was well enough to go to school, but not to go outside for recess. So I stayed in and wrote "books." Illustrated 'em myself, too, stapled them together and scrawled "BESTSELLER!" across the top in big red letters.

But fourth grade ... Fourth grade is when my dad took me to my first Royals game. He had gotten tickets through work, and my brother had something else going on, and my mom wasn't interested. I remember not caring much that I was last choice.

The Royals beat the A's, who in the mid-'70s were a helluva team -- Gene Tenace, Sal Bando, Joe Rudi, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers -- wow. They won a pile of World Series and were the Royals' biggest rivals, next to the Yankees. But that night, John Mayberry hit one into the fountains, the Royals won 5-3, and when my dad said "so what'd you think?," I said, "when can we come back?"

Next morning, he handed me the sports page. I looked at it and had one of my first Eureka! moments: I could go to baseball games and GET PAID TO WRITE ABOUT THEM. That pretty much solidified my career choice.

In 9th grade social studies, we had to do a unit on careers. Part of it involved interviewing someone in your chosen field and then giving a report to the class. I chose Joe McGuff, who was sports editor of the Kansas City Star.

At the time, he must have been in his 50s, and he was remarkably patient with dumb-kid questions. And he also gave me some of the best advice I've ever gotten: Read everything you can. It'll all come in handy at some point.

A couple of years later, I read an interview with Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury. He said the trick to his success was to know just enough about a topic to make it look like he knew a lot, and that this trick not only got him through college and cocktail parties, but writing a daily strip.

I bring all this up because I've been doing a lot of auto-related writing lately. Do I know diddly about cars? Well, I know how to stick the key in the ignition and turn it. That's pretty much the sum total of my knowledge. And yet, the people I talk to for these stories, and then the people who read them, are all utterly convinced I am a car fanatic. It's kind of amusing. :-) All I can say is, god bless the Internet, and thank you, Joe McGuff. You taught me a lot, not only by reading and absorbing your stuff, but by suggesting learning both happens outside of school and should be continuous.

1 comment:

Rhoda Galgiani, Poet said...

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