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Emulating Our Heroes – Jim Thompson (Aug 2008)


When I was about fifteen years old, I read Larry Bird’s biography. It said that he started “hitting his shots” when he was fourteen. So I practiced alone in a neighbors driveway every night for the next year. But I never did master the jumpshot. 

It made me realize though, that we read biographies of people we admire to find similarities in our own lives. To find some parallels, no matter how small, to give us confidence to keep going. To keep pursuing those dreams. We find that our heroes were just humans. 

On the recommendation of a friend, I’ve recently been reading Savage Art – the biography of Jim Thompson. Like me, he spent years supporting his family by writing whatever he can, whenever he can, for whoever he can. A literary whore to put food on the table. His fiction, while incredibly brilliant, never sold enough to pay the bankers and the grocers — until he was dead of course.

But he paid his bills by tapping that typewriter.  In his spare time he escaped to a hotel room or garage to work on the fiction and novels and artistry that sustained his mind and soul. Like I do. Capturing those fleeting moments of inspiration. 

I thought about that tonight. Sitting there in my recliner as my children danced around the room after dinner.  Then pretended they were ice skating across the hardwood in their pink plush slippers. 

Oblivious to my trials. How I didn’t know if a check would be in the mail next week. If someone might want an article or press release or story written…and actually come through in paying me. The uncertainty and anxiety. 

I’ve borrowed from family. I’ve eaten from restaurant trash. I’ve washed and pawned and pulled weeds for a jug of milk.  

Yet I’ve also splurged after a payday. Bought imported beers and fresh flanks of salmon. Pretty pink dolls and new crayons for the girls…a refreshing change from the second-hand toys. 

Its foreign to have money. So maybe that’s why I blow it so fast.

Reading Thompon’s biography was not a validation, or even inspiration. It was a realization that many artists go through the same thing. That we all find our ways to provide. We all take our chances. We all figure out a way to make it work! 

And its good to read about Jim selling his dry and drab non-fiction. Like an impressionist who slaps coats of latex on kitchens and living rooms so he can buy new oils. Thompson  utilized his talent to make money, rather than some warehouse job or teaching gig.  

At the same time, who am I to put a dream ahead of my children’s security? How selfish. How selfish!!

But Writing is all I know how to do. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane. Its hard.  I could easily sit in a cubicle all day writing commercials. I could teach high-school kids how to frame a god-damned story. But this is what I’m doing. Like so many others have. And hopefully, hopefully! It will pay off. 

I’ll keep on going, even though the odds are against me…

At least I have a good life insurance policy.


Categorized as: Journal

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