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A Writer Forever In The Present Tense


A Writer Forever In The Present Tense

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan—When I first encountered the late writer Jim Harrison, I was not a happy man.

John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.com

It was 30 years ago. I had come north to this resort community along Grand Traverse Bay to run a marathon, only to find that the intern with whom I’d talked at the local chamber of commerce had given me the wrong date.

After stewing for a bit, I went for a long solo run along the water, then found my way to a bookstore.

A local weekly newspaper I picked up there featured an interview with Harrison, who lived then in this part of Michigan. I hadn’t read him at that time. I knew he sometimes was labeled a kind of latter-day Hemingway because he often wrote about Michigan, hunting and fishing. I learned that it was a comparison he resisted, even resented.

I was at loose ends in those days, not feeling particularly centered in either my personal or professional lives. I wasn’t sure of what I wanted or what I was supposed to do.

As I read the interview with Harrison, I was struck by his voice, authentic, honest and questing. He saw this world as a place to be experienced, to be savored, to be endured, to learn from.

Well into the interview, he delivered a short sentence that became a kind of credo for me. When I got back home, I scratched it out on an index card and taped it to the desk where I wrote.

It stayed there for years.

“You can’t **** away your life with nonsense,” he said.

True then.

True now.

True always.

After I finished the interview, I headed back to the bookstore and picked up a couple of Harrison’s books.

That night, I sat in a rather tired hotel room and read Jim Harrison for the first time.

His voice as a writer was raucous, relaxed, sometimes ribald, often revelatory. Although he was capable of reflection, his writer’s eye most often drifted outward to take note of the world and the singularity of each moment. He found great beauty in existence’s essential evanescence.

As I learned more about him, I discovered that he had been first and perhaps foremost a poet, which made sense. Few writers I’ve read have taken more joy—no, more deep satisfaction—in the limber elasticities of language well used.

When I got back home, I began to acquire and work my way through a personal library of Harrison’s works. Each time I read him—the larger and the lesser Harrison works—I found myself reminded that there are few things more powerful than truth captured and conveyed in words.

Harrison died a little more than six years ago. I never met him. That’s a regret.

I almost did, though, twice.

Once, when my wife and I took our then infant daughter to Key West—a haunt of Harrison’s—I stopped at another bookstore. As I was leaving, a shortish, stout older man about to enter the store opened the door for me. He looked vaguely familiar.

Only when I was in my car did I realize that it had been Harrison.

A few months later, when my wife, my daughter and I were here in Traverse City, I saw Harrison leaving a bookstore while I was searching for a parking place.

“If he keeps stalking me like this, I may have to take out a restraining order,” I joked to my wife.

It was a jest I think—I hope—Harrison would have appreciated, even laughed at.

Now, I’m back in Traverse City for the first time in more than 15 years, this time as an old man, one more content with his life than the young man who tried to run through all his frustrations, a human being more attuned, one hopes, to the beauty of evanescence.

A guy still striving not to **** away his life with nonsense.

I’m rereading Harrison while I’m up here, for pleasure and because he reminds me of the power of an active mind and great writing.

He does not disappoint.

“Moving water is forever in the present tense,” I read as the surface of the bay nearby shifts and shimmers, “a condition we rather achingly avoid.”

Amen, brother.


FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. The opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the views of Franklin College.