"The story of one's life can be made interesting to the world at large, if one tries hard enough."
What you've got here is a book.
They're not around much anymore. This information age we find ourselves in eats paper like popcorn and every morning another watermark goes digital. People scribble furious notes to themselves in electrons instead of ink. Trees are becoming optimists. Nonetheless, you still see books in stores and libraries; you probably remember them from when you went to school. I understand there's a place in the Amazon that's just full of them. They get stacked on shelves too high to reach in third rate family restaurant franchises. They're often used as paperweights or doorjams. Ten year old children sit on the larger ones in order to see over their place settings at the dinner table or to drive cars. God wrote one. This here is a book.
Specifically, this book is a series of 61 narratives first published on the website Everything2.com (E2). As a publisher and editor, I couldn't be more proud to see these stories make their way to the printed page. E2 has been online for just over three years and is the home of many a writer. For the majority of them it's a literary outlet that constitutes a part-time diversion for their amateur interest in communicating and explaining their experiences, and most of the time that perspective takes the form either of factual descriptions of people, places and things or of poetic abstracts. It's harder to capture the middle ground. To find the Truth in a cup of coffee or while standing in line at the bank. It's hard to be literary about experience. It's even harder to make it something that someone else wants to read.
In my role as an editor of thousands, I often have to counsel people away from recounting their stories. Most people can't make the mundane interesting. I often have the difficult task of explaining why "My Summer Vacation" doesn't hack it outside the fifth grade classroom. From now on, this book is going to be where I point the would-be autobiographer. They'll receive a copy with a note reading "Please stop - here's why." The nineteen year old kid who is pretty sure last night's acid trip is today's modern novel in the form of a run-on sentence; the forty-five year old man who in all those years had yet to come to terms with his complete lack of inspiration.
Jonathan Shute has done their writing for them. He's finished their stories and is well on the way to writing ours. He lives in Minnesota. He will not stop.
Editing the aforementioned thousands, I spend countless hours reading what is fundamentally the same thing over and over. I type countless sentences, with neither art nor form, explaining the same things to people whom, in my mind, amount to fundamentally the same person. I get a lot of same. I fight its cancer with lollipops and a delete key. I won't stop either. I won't stop because once every few months a writer begins submitting words that go something like this:
I'm sure that the phenomenon goes by many names but I know it as "the crossword puzzle effect." You hit a wall in solving a crossword puzzle and set it aside. You pick up the puzzle a moment later, the answer appears obvious and you wonder how you could have been stymied in the first place. It must be a cross-cultural phenomenon because I've seen it in the fortune cookie sound bites from Lao Tzu as well. He didn't address crossword puzzles specifically but I'm pretty sure that he was talking about the same thing when he said, "if one ceases to strive for understanding, one can know without understanding."
I always suspected that the first person to come up with a unified field theory or the cure for cancer wouldn't be wearing a lab coat and a pocket protector . I pictured a man or woman sitting on a park bench listening to the birdsong and watching tree branches bend in the breeze. The layman philosopher would appreciate the essence of the forest from his humble perch while the physicists and mathematicians groped the bark and examined pinecones, slaves to the details they sought. Enlightenment would visit the philosopher on the park bench macroscopically, the seamless amalgam of an intricate universe laid bare to the most casual observation, when viewed from a proper distance with an open mind.
Mathematics and the self-defining laws of physics seem a clunky way to address the delicate latticework of small miracles that conspire to create such a mammoth one. A kangaroo could be defined mathematically but it is much easier and more edifying to simply view the kangaroo as a whole. The creature's peculiar magic is lost in quantum analysis and little of value is gained in the effort. The grandest mysteries, like the parameters of gravity and the cure for cancer, seem far too large to approach with a clinically focused mind.
If you catch me lingering on a park bench or gazing out the window for hours on end, apparently detached, I'm working on a unified field theory.
-Excerpt from [Why the Willow Weeps],
There is a precision of language here, a mathematic of words and letters. An engineering of ideas. The phonetics alone are symphonic - read it without knowing what the words mean. Part of you always will. That's called poetry and there aren't very many people who can write it down. We can all feel it, it ripples through us like a rainstorm, a seizure of soliloquy, but few can make it be felt. Three dimensional. A beautiful idea plotted out in prose with a song just beneath the surface. Ley lines. Architecture:
"Enlightenment would visit the philosopher on the park bench macroscopically, the seamless amalgam of an intricate universe laid bare to the most casual observation, when viewed from a proper distance with an open mind."
When you can look forward to a sentence like that every so often, a pearl in a pigpen, when you can publish that sentence for that author - even if only temporarily, a place-hold for the inevitable book deal - you've got an excellent reason to get up in the morning. That's really about all you could ask for.
In any case, when your ten year old uses this book as an extension of his right leg so he can reach the gas pedal, remember - somebody just might write a story about it. Let's hope it's Jonathan.