What I Don’t Write (About): A Writing Mini-Manifesto from a “Southern” Writer
When I started writing fiction, I was told that, as a southerner, I’d been imbued with an appreciation for “my land” and “my people” and they therefore must be part of any story I set out to write. Imagine my confusion when I found that, despite reading vivid descriptions of endless varieties of red dirt, lengthy passages of agricultural history, and tedious accounts of hunting excursions and football injuries, I never felt any of it. Not a bit. On top of that, I didn’t have any land.
Growing up in the South, I tried to feign interest in sports, but it never lasted long. Around two minutes into the action–whether it was football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, golf, tennis, ping pong, badminton, or NASCAR–I’d grow bored and head for the nearest book to read or couch for taking a nap. I don’t hunt or fish, either, and I don’t plan to any time soon. Now that I’ve made that pronouncement, of course, a zombie apocalypse is going to force me to start bowhunting for tree squirrels. You just watch.
Related to sports, if someone went to the trouble of dragging young me to a game, I spent the resulting eternity wanting to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. I ditched pep rallies in high school. If someone found a football in my front yard, chances were good someone else either left it there or hurled it at me in a fit of righteous sports-related anger.
I’ve often thought that, growing up where I did, I might’ve met with less suspicion had I revealed myself to be gay, a communist, or a Democrat–or all three, better yet–than I did when I came out as a non-sports fan. And if you know anything at all about the South, you realize the import of that statement.
Of course, the South isn’t the only place where citizens revere hunting, fishing, and sports with an adoration normally reserved for biblical characters, but folks there do tend to take it to astounding levels: team-related offenses are taken at a whim, blows are delivered, and friendships and dynasties are torn to bits. I occasionally wonder if European soccer hooligans might learn a few tips from my Southern sports fan brethren.
Because of my lack of interest in hunting, fishing, and sports, no “first-or-last hunting-or-fishing trip with [insert family member here]” or “trying out for the team” stories will be forthcoming from me. I understand that many people do hunt and fish, and those people make it possible for lethargic couch potatoes like me to consume lots of protein, and I appreciate it. And I’ll admit that my disdain for sports has less to do with the sports themselves and more with the fans and their actions.
Many southerners—many people—do feel this affinity with the land of their birth, and to be honest, I’ve even wished at times that I could share in it. But while honesty is foremost in my mind, I’ll also admit that I’ve lived in many other locations far more inspiring than the place where I grew up, at least from an aesthetic standpoint. Maybe I should write about them.
I know fishing, hunting, and sports stories are often metaphors for other things, and tales about hills, dales, and murky swamps can provide insights into deeper truths: basketball is life, football stands in for the human condition, and mountains, farms, and other geographical features represent humanity’s struggle to avoid extinction. For that matter, though, in the hands of the right writer, an afternoon walk to the mailbox can be a metaphor for life.
The common wisdom in creative writing circles is to write what you know. So if hunting, fishing, and sports are the ways others relate to the world, good for them. And if their stories are good–not just good hunting, fishing, or sports stories–I’ll probably get around to reading them. I just don’t write them.
Still, I do love eating a good bowl of grits. Maybe I should write about that.