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In Search of a Life

by Wayne Scheer

 


 
I grew up in Brooklyn and lived in cities or small college towns since then, so what do I know of nature, heroics and other topics that make for great nonfiction? I suppose I could make up a story about meeting a bear in the woods or fighting the elements while working the Alaskan pipeline. At least I knew people who had those experiences.

Kathryn had been hiking the Chattahoochie Trail alone when she spied a bear following her. She knew she couldn't outrun it and she certainly couldn't outfight it, so she continued her normal pace, every once in a while catching a sideways glimpse of the mammoth until she identified it as a black bear, common to the area. Instead of doing what I probably would have done--wet myself--she recalled that the guide books said black bears were curious and not particularly brave. So she began shouting, “Hyeah!” and waving her arms like a madwoman. The bear let out an earthshaking growl, either to remind her who the woods belonged to or a bear version of a scaredy-pants scream, and scampered off into the woods.

Now that's a nature story.

In graduate school, I met a young man in an electric wheel chair who, just a few years earlier, had worked the Alaskan pipeline in freezing temperature. He had gotten drunk and decided to race a train, he in his beat up '63 Chevy. He described the race as, “We tied.” When I knew him, he had learned to take notes in class with the pen in his mouth. He was majoring in psychology. I don't know if he graduated, but I bet he would have made a damn good therapist.

That's a hero story.

But me? I guess I can write about planting pansies along my front walk.

Of course I have childhood fantasies involving both nature and heroics. I can recall summer stickball games in a vacant lot that would last all day and run scores like 43 to 36 where sometimes we'd have to out run rats in the outfield, but that wasn't nature. That was Brooklyn.

In one of those games, I hit a bases clearing triple. At least I think I did. Fantasy and reality meld in childhood memories.

And swimming in Betsy Head pool? That was fun, even if it involved occasional fights with the big kids. Nothing special there.

Now there was the time I dove in and rescued a drowning child....

Okay, it never happened.

But this is why I normally write fiction. It helps to have had a life if you're going to write nonfiction.



 
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