The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Thesis Blues pt. 19

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It was a year ago today that I lit upon the idea for my thesis. I had actually thought of it almost a year earlier and wanted to talk to Jim about using him for something I was going to write for a workshop; I abandoned the idea when it seemed to great in scope for what would be a 10-15 page workshop piece. But something bit me a year ago today, right about 2PM when I wrote a journal prompt on the board for my creative writing class. I don’t remember what the prompt was, but I know it inspired me to write this journal:

Jim Wysong lives in a town near Goshen, IN, where he works a tech job at a manufacturing company. He grew up in Goshen, living with his mother and his aunts throughout his school career. Jim had no other place to stay; having never met his father. To hear him tell it, he grew up in the “bad part” of Goshen, where he was but one of three from his elementary class to see his way through to graduation. Though I’ve never been to his house, I’m certain it was most likely located in or near a trailer court, down a side street wedged between rusted car bodys, spare tires, and broken machinery. I imagine he walked across broken glass manhy morning on his way to school, past barking german shepherds as he rubbed his swollen eyes and tried to shake the echo of last night’s domestic arguments and sirens from his head. He probably walked with the same quiet confidence he does today, hands thrust into his pockets to keep the dry, chapped knuckles out of the cold air. He would look straight ahead but be aware of all things happening all around him. His walk alone tells you in the most matter-of-fact way, Don’t F— With Me. Don’t f— with me or my neighborhood because if there’s one thing we have learned from this hard-scrabble life, it is how to quickly and coldly knock you on your ass.

Three days after I wrote that, I was on the phone with Jim reading it to him. He said it was relatively accurate, which had the effect of flipping a switch in my head. Suddenly, I saw a structure and a purpose for the story, and I was more excited about it than any other idea I had been considering for my thesis. I pitched my idea over the course of the rest of the conversation, and Jim gave me the green light to write it. A month later I was in Goshen for my first day of research.

The journal entry made it into my final draft, albeit after numerous rewrites and additions. It’s on page 76:

We were four blocks from the Elkhart County Minimum Security facility. I remembered what Jim had told me about the Friday afternoon traffic through the neighborhood. Suddenly, something else made sense. It was this location that most influenced Jim to develop the walk that I first noticed eighteen years before. He knew from scrapes and tussles in and around the neighborhood, on the playground, and on the streets on the north side that most trouble can be avoided by creating an authoritative presence. One trick he picked up was to thrust his hands into his pockets–any wise guys who wanted to take a crack at him could never be sure if he was concealing a blade, chain, brass knuckles, or something else that might extract flesh or blood. Not that Jim would need them. More than anything, he kept his hands in his pockets to protect his dry, chapped knuckles from cold morning and winter air while he walked to school, or to the corner store to pick up a snack or gallon of milk or pack of cigarettes for his mother, or to the crumbling Peterson mansion that was by then owned by the city and used to house the Boys Club. Regardless of destination, Jim would look straight ahead, but still be aware of all things around him. He would scan left and right to pick up every detail as he walked past low-rent houses with moldy and stained furniture on the front porch, spare tires and rusted auto bodies in front yards, broken machinery in driveways, and the poor man’s security system: a pit bull or German shepherd staked in the front yard. He knew to keep an eye out for broken glass on the sidewalk. Most of all, his walk had to exude cocky confidence, which it did when he pushed his shoulders back, which caused his chest and belly to thrust forward. To see him walk down the street, or down a dormitory hallway, or through a keg line at a party, is to almost hear a low, deliberate muttering: don’t f— with me; don’t f— with me or my neighborhood because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it is how to quickly and coldly knock you on your ass.

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Written by seeker70

May 6, 2009 at 5:25 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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