They say that upon finishing a manuscript, writers should do something outside their comfort zone. Learn a foreign language, pick up a musical instrument, take a cooking class. Something that causes a different part of the brain to light up. I chose to learn Silat, an Indonesian fighting style that focuses on blocks, strikes and grappling.
The dude who’s teaching me is my polar opposite. A 330-pound, former powerlifter, military historian, ex-bouncer, Limbaugh-loving, NRA conservative who is always talking about the liberal media, fake news, and politically correct safe-space snowflakes.
Full disclosure: I think I’m a snowflake. Especially if that means I’m into human rights, civil rights, common sense gun legislation, clean water, clean air, and kindness. I even have a letter from President Obama in my photo album. Doesn’t matter. Through Silat, this neo-con behemoth and I seem to have found common ground, and after a little over a month of drilling, training, and sparring, I am excelling at the art.
It feels good to be excelling at something because lately I’ve been questioning my ability as a writer. My Amazon author ranking is hovering around two million (are there even two million authors in the world?). Literati industry snobs ignore my existence and, worst of all, my magnum opus, my Pillars of the Earth, my life’s work and beautiful child, On the Shoulders of Giants, has failed to place in a single contest this year. Crushing. I know… I sound like a whiny snowflake. Whatever.
So it was with a fair amount of hesitance that I passed my novel to this gruff, Fox News defensive tackle. I would have never considered doing so had he not already proven to be extremely intelligent and well read… almost to the point of arrogance. I wanted to earn his respect.
He smirked when he accepted it. “You wrote this?” I knew I was setting myself up for failure. On the Shoulders of Giants is a novel about race, addiction, lost love, gun violence, foster care and the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys. Even the title is a nod to a famous President Obama speech. Not exactly required reading for Republicans. To further lengthen the long odds of his acceptance, dude is a sci-fi fan. I had already spotted Frank Herbert’s Dune series stacked on his bunk. Our literary tastes are as diametrically opposed as our politics. The question was not so much would he like the book? as it was would he finish it? Apparently my sadomasochistic snowflakery knows no bounds.
In the ensuing days, I watched him from across the dorm. He’s about as rough on a novel as you would expect from a sausage-fingered, powerlifting grizzly bear; dog-earing pages, folding the book back on its spine, setting his morning coffee on the cover. About midway through, we were sparring one day when I asked him how he liked it so far. He rolled his eyes. “Laden with white guilt.” But he read on.
It took less than a week for him to knock it out. One night he came and sat on my bunk, coffee-stained, dog-eared novel in hand. “You know,” he said, “what happened to Scarlett was…” He couldn’t finish his sentence. “Did you like it?” I asked. Tears streamed down his face. All the answer I needed. I placed a hand on his massive back. Humbled. Honored. Screw the contest snubs and academic cold shoulders. This guy’s emotional response was all the accolade I needed. A supreme compliment from the unlikeliest of readers.
And, by the way, it’s Mister Snowflake to you. Don’t forget, I know Silat.