E: How has your blog evolved over the years? What has surprised you most about it? How has it made your writing different?
JS: I’m something of a Christian fundamentalist, so I don’t believe in evolution.
All kidding aside, I’d have to say the blog hasn’t evolved a heck of a lot. My first piece was a satire on the sorts of articles and quizzes one finds in women’s magazines – “How Much Do You Know About Your Lover?” “Will Your Marriage Last?”, “If You Were A Dog, What Breed Would You Be?” – that sort of thing. It was a bunch of jokes strung together via a loose premise. Much of what I’ve written since then has been of the same nature, although not satirical. I still tend to go for the punch line at the end of most paragraphs.
What has surprised me the most is my audience. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, but the comments that get left at my place are mostly complimentary. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve been flamed.
That uniformity of reaction has brought about the main change in my writing, if there has been one. I’m very reticent to use crudity now. I still do, of course. I throw a fuck in every now and again. Sometimes, it’s just the right word. I’m mindful of every one, though, and that’s because my audience is worthy of that respect. By the very nature of my writing – verbose, reliant upon mental agility in spots, full of wordplay – the folks who read it have to work at it. The least I can do is not offend them as often as I would if I didn’t stop to think about it.
E: What’s your writing process like? Do you have rituals?
JS: You have to understand that I don’t have an Internet connection at home. I have a very old computer and about the only thing it’s good for is use as a very bulky typewriter. So, I write at home, but publish at work. When I’ve finished writing, I save the piece to disk and then bring it to work.
As a result of this ritual, I always have ample time to think about what I’ve written. Rather than finishing something and immediately putting it out there for everyone to see, I tend to go to bed thinking about what I’ve written. By the time morning rolls around and I’ve driven into work, I might have had some additional inspiration and re-written much of it in my head. When I get to work, I revise.
After revising, I print out a copy before publishing. I go outside and have a smoke while I’m reading it. At that point, I’m mostly making sure it flows. I try to catch repetitions of words, misspellings, anything that might be obscuring my point (if I have one), and when I’m done reading, I go in and revise again if needed.
I always attempt to publish in the morning. This is mainly because I very much enjoy reading the comments as they come during the day. As I have a break at work, I go and read them. That’s the best part of blogging, the immediate gratification. And that’s why it’s a good thing I have a crummy computer at home and no Internet connection. I enjoy the immediate gratification so much, if I had the access at home, I’d publish before what I’d written was truly ready, just to beg for commentary.
As far as rituals concerning the act of writing itself, I don’t have too many. I almost never write an outline or anything of that nature. I just turn on the computer, wait the five minutes for it to warm up, and then get to typing. I break every so often for a cigarette. I curse every so often when the crummy computer freezes up. That’s about it.
E: Your recall of the past is so vivid in your writing and you go back and forth in time-line to recount some of your stories – I remember the story of you being a 14-yr old blackjack dealer that had me captivated. How do those memories come to you and why do you think they do at those times?
JS: Thank you for the compliment. This is a very good question (as are all of them, by the way) and it deserves more than the simplistic answer I’m about to give you.
I don’t know.
As I’ve said, I don’t usually plan out what I’m going to write, so I don’t think, “I’m going to start by talking about this, then go to that, and then tell about this other thing.” I just write what I think is a good opener and go from there. I try to recall details as I go along. I guess I’m good at it.
(I hate to break this up with a digression, but I’ve got to tell you what just happened. I typed that last sentence and actually wrote, “I guess I’m god at it.” How Freudian!)
Anyway, I honestly have no idea why the ideas or memories come to me when they do. Just the luck of the draw when dealing with a disordered brain, I suppose.
E: If you had one day from your past to revisit and live all over again, which would it be? Would you do anything differently if it didn’t affect your present but just made one thing different?
JS: This may sound odd. The day I’d relive, and the thing I’d change, has nothing to do with a human being. Not that I’ve never done anything to a human being which I’ve regretted, but I figure human beings are capable of considering your actions in many ways and are usually able, if not willing, to understand why you did something rotten and perhaps understand that, given the chance, you’d be nicer. What I did, I did to a cat.
I had this wonderful cat when I was a kid. Her name was Blackie. She was the sweetest, gentlest, most loving cat the world has ever seen. And she was devoted to me. From the time she was a kitten, she’d sleep with me every night, climbing under the covers and leaving just her head and paws exposed, same as me (except in my case they were hands.)
Here’s a picture of us.
Understand, please, that I was just as devoted to her as she was to me. I loved Blackie. I did whatever I could to make her happy – feed her, give her drinks, supply her with catnip, constantly scratch her head and rub her belly, all the usual stuff. I chased off dogs if they came into the yard, I let her in and out at her whim, I don’t know. I was just a good friend to her.
When I was 15, I wasn’t having a very good time of it. I was doing poorly in school, I was fighting with my dad a lot concerning my hair and my clothes, my mom and dad were not getting along (they would divorce fairly soon), my social life wasn’t great (I wouldn’t get laid for another two years), and whatever hormones were making the rounds in my body left me in a foul temper every so often. No excuse for what happened, just a sorry-ass explanation.
This sucks. I’ve never written about this. It hurts to do so even now. But, you asked.
One morning, I was having an argument with my mother. I have no idea about what. The argument was taking place in the kitchen. We were both standing near the place where Blackie’s food dishes were. She was about 9 years old at the time, I think. Anyway, while I was arguing with my mother, Blackie was standing at our feet (her food dishes) and meowing. The argument escalated a bit, Blackie kept meowing and meowing, and my temper got the better of me. I kicked Blackie. I didn’t rear back and do it hard, but I still did it.
God help me, she was the sweetest cat alive. When I did it, my mother got this look of horror on her face and she said, “Jimmy!” That’s all she said. It was enough. What else could she say? And poor Blackie. She just stood there, looking up at me sadly, not understanding in the least why she had just been kicked by the boy she loved more than anyone or anything in the world.
(I just broke down crying when I wrote that, damn it. I just sobbed for two or three minutes. Thanks a lot for asking the question, Emon.)
The thing of it is, a few minutes later Blackie was rubbing up against my leg and purring, as though nothing had happened. I had kicked her, and she still loved me. She had never done a single bad thing to me. In all the years I had her, she never so much as scratched me once in anger. And she never did after this incident, either. She died about a year later, a bit young for such a wonderful cat. And I’ve regretted that action of mine for over 35 years now.
Blackie immediately forgave me, but I’ve never forgiven myself.
E: What’s in the works for you? Where is Jim 5 years from now?
JS: I truly have no idea. I’m not much of a planner. If I was, I wouldn’t be as lacking in funds now as I am. I hope something good happens and I become fabulously wealthy. Barring that, I suppose I’ll be at the same stand, hawking the same old bullshit.
(My first instinct was to go for the punch line and say, “Where is Jim 5 years from now? Dead, if the actuarial tables are correct.”)
Thanks for taking the time to come up with such good questions, Emon, and for your patience in the long time it took me to answer them. I expect your check will arrive any moment now, right?
BONUS: Five favorite posts, as picked by Jim, if you’re thirst for Suldog has remained…or if you haven’t been to Suldog yet.
- A Day (5 Of Them, Actually – All Saturdays) In The Life.
- The Beer Train.
- Return to Caddy Road.
- A Recipe.