General Fiction posted August 12, 2020

Not yet exceptional. When the exceptional rating is reached this is highlighted
An intersection of one mystery being solved, and one created

Wrath, Envy, and Catharsis

by The Reverend Dr Gonzo

The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
There's a file I keep called "zzz - Writing Prompts" and in it is all those half-baked or zero-baked ideas that I've written down in notebooks, journals and sticky pads over the years. After the last time I moved I consolidated all of them into one file, which I've guarded with aggressive behavior and backed up in numerous settings. You put the "zzz" on the beginning because if you alphabetize your ideas it's always the very last one, which makes it easy to find amongst all the ideas folks like us can keep.

Novel ideas, short fiction, independent contracts, song ideas and lyrics, character descriptions, plus random one-liners that had come from somewhere in the universe - friends, family, colleagues, dreams, what-have-you - to finish side-by-side with other unrelated ideas.

There sat the following line for close to 15 years:

"Fuck you, Walter Jones."

I had forgotten where it came from. I'd seen that line countless times in the past several years, but couldn't place it. Who said it? Was it me? Was it a friend, and if so which friend was it? Was it the passing application of some gibberish that fit into the context of a forgotten story from a prior decade?

I had no idea, but I kept the line and refused to get rid of it, regardless of whether or not it made any sense. You can't just cut loose writing prompts, no matter how strange.

Then, a few days ago, I realized what it was. I'd just got back on FanStory, after years of being away. Years' worth of journalism (college, Army and community). Years' worth of grinding it out (independent contracts and freelance gigs). Years' worth of organizational writing (military, non-profits and higher ed). It was time to test some short fiction again. And, maybe test some short non-fiction in the form of memories.

I got back on the site and had submitted my first contest when I took to re-familiarizing myself with the layout and infrastructure of the site. There, under the "Social" tab at the top, when the menu drops down to "Following," did I conclude the mystery.

One of the few people who I'd followed and become a fan of was the titular character from that mysterious writing prompt. Walter L. Jones. And then it hit me.

Old Walter had been one of those writers who I'd taken cues from back in the day when I was getting started. Walter had been one of those folks that - to me anyway - was able to make storytelling look effortless. But to my brash young self that was an affront to things! Thus saw the genesis of "Fuck you, Walter Jones," a random line written at first out of anger at something done so effortlessly by someone I respected, that same type of writing still years out of my grasp. That anger-turned-envy, which made me understand again a memory I'd lost years ago - and hadn't really understood at the time - that I was in the presence of someone who might as well be an unacknowledged mentor to me, one by any other name.

So, when this prompt came up, it felt serendipitous. I've looked back on Walter Jones' profile and portfolio and again come to the understanding of why he caused that wrath and envy in the first place; through the poetry, stories, books and scripts, he'd never stopped testing the limits of the personal narrative device in the way that seemed fruitful for himself.

And that led to a bit of catharsis. The first mystery was solved, but another had appeared: Old Walter hadn't posted anything in a few years. I will give myself the opportunity now to assume that means he's written all he needed to, and has moved into another phase of life replete with its own irreverent upstarts.

I hold this assumption because it allows me to envision what I would do if presented with the opportunity to meet Walter Jones in person. What I would do is say, "Hey Walt, tell me a story about telling stories" and then I'd sit back and listen, because regardless of the experiences I've racked up in writing, there's always more to learn.

And, until that time when Reverend Dr. Gonzo and Walter Jones meet, I guess I'll just have to abide by returning to the stories already offered, and the lessons they hold. In the mean time, I'll get to implement a lesson he taught me once through direct message: "Never delete any random thoughts... Sooner or later they'll fit the narrative to an as-yet unknown story."

Well, Fuck you, Walter Jones, you old scoundrel. You weren't wrong. You just got me to cross a story off my writing prompt list and it was one I didn't even know could be told. I owe you one.

What Would Happen? contest entry
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