Monday, November 8, 2010
This is a problem for writers, since good writing has a point of view, good writers have passion, and good entertainers have a need to enlighten as they amuse. All those things can come off as advice. What to do? Bullying and demagoguery seem to get people to listen, but not the kind of people I want listening to me. Being a celebrity helps, too, but who has time to do that and still think? And I don’t think I’m cut out for law school.
Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors (yes, that’s why my comic strip’s setting is Bryson Elementary School), said that writing is like showing people your vacation slides. Nobody wants to see your vacation slides, even if they’re good vacation slides. So you kind of have to lure them in with something else. Bryson said he likes to promise readers that there might be a laugh or two in it for them, and then once they’re laughing and comfortable he can haul out the metaphorical slide projector.
I’m thinking about advice today because of another Bill’s advice. This is Bill McGann, a good friend I met through our two oddly compatible businesses, bicycles and comics. In this particular case, it was more of an observation. Maybe that’s what made it so palatable – Bill stopped just short of actual advice. He more or less set the medicine on the bathroom counter and let me decide whether to take it.
Bill’s a very good cyclist. I’m a pretty good one. I’m only now getting to be an OK runner, and Bill tells me he’s a lousy one. But he knows about my quest for competence, and one day he had something to tell me.
“I’ve been watching the really good Kenyan and Ethiopian runners,” Bill said, “and I’ve figured out what you need to do to run like them.”
“First,” he said, “you need to weigh 135 pounds.”
It was a little like the old Steve Martin “How to Be a Millionaire” routine. “First,” the line goes, “get a million dollars. Then …” But you couldn’t argue Bill was on to something. Like I said, he stopped short of committing advice. He didn’t tell me to overhaul my diet. I did that on my own, and I’m happy to give Bill some of the credit in spite of – maybe because of – his restraint.
Better yet, he can’t be held responsible when the advice he didn’t actually give me turns out to be a lot of crap.
The newer, lighter Jef went running yesterday morning with (by which I mean “on the same road as”) members of the Brooks Hansons Distance Project, after which we all retired to the Hansons Running Shop’s second floor lounge for a New York Marathon-watching party. I didn’t waste a lot of time finding the food. For one, I was a little hungry (eight easy miles is still eight miles). But I also wanted to see what all these 135-pound greyhounds ran on.
Here is the menu: Dunkin’ Donuts. Lots of Dunkin’ Donuts. And only Dunkin’ Donuts.
I couldn’t believe it. I guess the premiere way to weigh 135 pounds is not much different from the premiere way to get a million dollars: through fortuitous inheritance.
I didn’t have a donut, but I didn’t mind everybody else eating them. They earned their speed and they earned their donuts.
It’s one thing to inherit a million dollars and an entirely different thing to turn it into a billion. I could twist that around into something about running, but I don’t believe I will. I know what it would sound like.
Posted by Jef Mallett at 9:55 PM