A Writer’s Harvest

Patricia Vigderman

What if I wrote a story and it had in it the word “jickjacking”-asin “jickjacking around,” an activity I first encountered recentlyin a story in the New Yorker and then, the way things do happen,there it was again in a story by David Foster Wallace, whom I wasabout to meet for the first time. The jickjacking in the first story was partof Mary Karr’s childhood, which took place presumably in a world whereactual jickjacking happened. So she used the word with authority, eventhough now her name associates with a distinctly metropolitan publication.She still has those fertile roots-verbally, I mean.

The second jickjacking was in a very short story that was writtenin the voice of someone I guess from the same roots (but I guess not DavidWallace’s, since his authority is different from Mary Karr’s), those roots, Imean, in that great American somewhere of fertile and colorful andvaguely illiterate but dead-on accurate phrasing. A boy’s voice, an observantvoice you drop into without any introduction (the first word is “Plus”and you’ve missed whatever this story is being added on to, as is almostalways the case with a story). You know how he does those voices-suddenlyYou Are There, and somebody is, yes, talking to you. And this storywas about how much better people feel if they think they’re getting a dealon something than if they’re just hauling it off for free-just paying a fewdollars. If they got it for free then they’d have a relationship, is the idea,the old object (in this case a piece of farm machinery, a tiller, which confusedme at first because I thought of a tiller on a boat but I know that’sabout a boat, and the language in this story was not taking place near oneof the oceans that our amazing sea-to-shining-sea country commands, butinstead in a more heartland, real-folks-stuck-in-the-middle-of-God’s-countrykind of place, and then I figured out that a tiller was something you till the land with, which I still don’t exactly know what that is, but atleast I felt more honest about the way I was hurrying through the sentenceto get on with the story), the old object, as I said, wouldn’t be a linkbetween the folks who didn’t need it anymore and the folks who did. Ifmoney changes hands, there isn’t going to be any more future jickjackingtogether about other topics. If they run into each other at the feed store,say, or some other heartland-God’s-country kind of place there wouldn’tbe the danger of inquiries about the old tiller, which could lead to furtherintimacies about more personal kinds of abandoned junk, or eventuallyeven to exchanges about missing teeth, like on a harrow or, if things gotreal loose, in one of their mouths.

I know a harrow has teeth. It’s true that harrowing is mostlyknown to me in its metaphorical transformation-for example, a harrowingexperience would be one that left its tooth marks on you, changed youin some way, possibly left you more fertile-again, metaphorically fertile,not likely to get pregnant or cause pregnancy-but a place with some newgrooves. Anyway, that’s how I see it. And I’m not as unfamiliar with thesoil as you might think, having spent some time myself in places where tillingand harrowing and throwing bundles of hay onto a moving wagonhappen regularly. I may even have done some jickjacking, although probablynot-I think it’s the kind of thing you are born to and have to haulaway for free.

But I’ll be watching to see if it comes up again soon in the NewYorker or some more enjoyable and up-to-date purveyor of metaphor anddiction and general verbal pleasure. For that and for any other bit of linguisticmachinery somebody has been cleaning out of their barn andwants hauled away without money changing hands. For I am one whosejickjacking heart does beat for language, and if you tell me a word in themorning I will try to use it by lunchtime.

 

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