Who, me?

March 9, 2012

Do you remember that commercial from the bygone days of my childhood that asked, in the best sing songy commercial voice possible, “Whose underwear is under there?”

That catchy sing songy phrase that will never be eradicated from my mind is courtesy of Fruit of the Loom, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  But in all honestly, they do provide me with a most suitable story.

Growing up I had a lot of brothers and cousins and friends.  People were always coming and going.  There was always a lot of movement, and if you didn’t keep up with the rush, you’d be lost.  So I developed the handy talent of being a pest.  I was only about seven at the time, and I couldn’t make much noise if I tried, and being a pest seemed the logical response when trying to keep up with people.  So whilst being a pest one day, I was hanging out in my brother, Jake’s room where he and my cousin, Steve, were playing video games.  And we’re not talking Xbox 360 or Wii here.  We’re talking old school Nintendo with wired controls.  However, at the time of this story, the Nintendo still worked, and it had yet to progress to the stages of decrepit age that required the insertion of a butterfly barrette into the tape deck to get the game to play.

And of course, the lights were off.  You couldn’t play video games properly with the lights on.

And Jake had a set of bunk beds in his room.  These were the kind that the bottom bunk was perpendicular to the top bunk, and in the gap left by this arrangement, a dresser was placed.  Behind the dresser was just enough space for me to hide.  At that age, I was very good at finding the dark small spaces to crawl into.  If you were hiding in the dark somewhere with a flashlight, no one would bother you while you read.

So it was this video game playing afternoon, that I crept into my brother’s room and hid in the space behind the dresser.  There came a break in the game playing, and Jake started singing, “Whose underwear is under there?”  And at that moment I made a noise as I tried to come out of the hiding space, make myself known, join the fun, but Steve heard me too early, and said, “Who’s that?”

It just so happened that I responded to Steve at the same time Jake finished singing that catchy commercial phrase.  So in response to “Whose underwear is under there?”

I said, “It’s me.”

There are many famous cousin Steve stories in our family, but that is one of my favorites.

And leads me to a very good point.

While I may not have been answering intentionally, I did respond to two questions that day and both with the same answer.

It’s me.

As a writer, we often face the question of, “What do you write?”

And so often, I’m tempted to respond by saying, “Stuff.”

This paradoxical question came to a head for me recently when I was asked by a well established publishing house to write a contemporary novel.  Well, I did it even though I said I write historicals.  The contemporary novel will never see the light of day if I have anything to say about it.

But once again, I had answered two different questions with the same thing.

It’s me.

And I tried to push my writing into a direction it would not go.  I had to pause, reflect, and rethink.  As a writer, I want to be able to say to anybody, Yes, I can write that!  But now, I realize I cannot.  I cannot answer two different questions with the same response.  To one of the questions, the response will just not make sense.

But while I was struggling with this, another story from my past came back to haunt me.  An actual story as it were.

I spent some time in college as a staff reporter for a local monthly.  It was surreal, and I loved it.  It wasn’t like reporting on local news.

This just in.  Mary Beth cannot get the cow to milk.  The cow is refusing due to restrictions against the union.  More at 11.

With a monthly, you focus on larger topics affecting the place where you live.  I covered energy topics and education laws, the 2008 Olympics and health insurance.  I learned so much and got to speak with fascinating people I would never have normally met.

So while I was futtering around with my inept contemporary novel, another thought occurred to me.

What if I go back to my free wheeling days as a reporter?  What if I try  freelancing?

I thought about it.  I went to the library and researched it.  I thought about it some more.

And then I decided: yes.  Yes, I would like to do that.

But then I’m answering two different questions with the same answer again.  But here’s the difference.

The response makes sense with both questions.

Yes, I can write historicals.  I love doing research.  I love investigating.  I love putting together a story for people who were not there to see it.

So what is journalism if not that?

And the next time you see a package of Fruit of the Loom whitey tighties, remember whose underwear is under there.

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