A while back I ran into a guy I used to work with. Hadn’t seen him much since he left, but we’d kept up a little bit on Facebook. I’d just hit that magical optimal beer level of friendliness that socially awkward introverts find themselves at where we can talk to anyone about anything and its all pure poetry and life changing conversational bonding. This is also known as, “One more beer and I won’t remember how to sit on this barstool anymore.” It’s a fine line.
Being at this point in my drinking, when I recognized him I was thus uninhibited and said hi in the artificial, “Mike? Is that you?” fashion one for some reason uses even knowing full well who it is.
It was. We got to talking. He’d just gotten a job at a newspaper, which surprised me since I didn’t think those existed anymore—newspapers and jobs—and he shared my disbelief. It was a small paper, but a great way to get into the business. Print newspapers may be on their way out in the sense of how they’ve existed so far, but journalism—writing—isn’t going anywhere. It’s changing shape and adapting to the evolving digital landscape, but the concept behind newspapers will not vanish entirely. And in this he was excited, not just to get a job at a newspaper, but to get into the business as he was.
We talked about his brother, we talked about old times at the pet store where’d we’d all worked along with his brother’s wife before they’d gotten married and moved and had kids.
And then he turned to his girlfriend and said something that made me turn and stare at him:
“Remember I was telling you about Aaron? Matt wrote that story about him.”
At that moment we were at Gordon’s, where I spend most Friday nights due to some friends who have spent most nights there over the last five years. Ten years ago one of the owners of Gordon’s, Corey, started a small literary magazine in Buffalo called Blinking Eights.
It was a simple magazine: heavy paper folded and stapled together, sponsored by local businesses like Bubble Tea and probably Kinko’s where it had been copied and put together, and given away for free from the window ledges of businesses around the city. It wasn’t long, it wasn’t fancy, but in the very first issue a short story I wrote was published.
Like Blinking Eights, that story wasn’t long, it wasn’t fancy, and maybe it wasn’t even that good and Corey just needed something to throw on the last page. But Mike remembered it.
A while back I got to work on a film that was shot in Buffalo. I helped out around the set for a few days, and after the last day of filming got invited out with the rest of the crew. In a drunken conversation with one of the writer/stars I told him how amazing it was that he’d done this, that they’d done this—wrote a movie, made the movie, it was unbelievable.
We talked about the goal of any artistic creation, be it a film, a book, a song, painting, poem, sculpture, whatever—to touch someone. Even just one person. Even if only one person walked away from that experience and remembered it for the rest of their lives, it was worth it. Not every book or story or movie will be a record sales billion dollar experience. Some don’t need to be. Some need only to be read or heard or watched by the right person at the right moment in their life that it changes them. It reminds them they’re not alone.
At the time I had no idea that something I’d written had that effect on someone, on someone I knew. It gives you hope. I didn’t think anyone remembered it. I’d only thought about Blinking Eights and ‘Aaron’ a handful of times since then, why would anyone else remember it? Mike did. It stuck with him, it helped express how he felt after Aaron died, and as someone who had known Aaron better then I, and it helped him.
I can’t find my copy of Blinking Eights, but I knew it’s around here somewhere. I thought that ‘Aaron’ was lost then to an old computer that’s rotting away up in my attic, but it turns out I had a copy of it after all. I went through it, revised it a little bit. Not much. Just enough to add what needed to be there, what only ten years and a chance encounter with an old friend could add. Maybe it still isn’t any good, but the ending for me was the same. I had the same reaction reading and rewriting it that I had the first time I wrote it ten years ago.