The Porch Light: “So thick you could cut it with a knife,” was what most folks referred to the fog that would creep in between the trees at night. The small mountain community that was possessed by fog was home to a man named Jeremy Duggins. Jeremy would dutifully turn on the porch light the minute he saw the fog approaching his cabin. The temperature would drop, his windows would steam over which made the lights inside his home appear to have a misty glow about them. His cabin sat back in a heavily wooded area. People that traveled by would often slow down or stop and take a look to see if the lights were on. There was something hauntingly magical about that little cabin nestled in the trees and it was often smothered in a dewey damp fog.
The man in the cabin; Jeremy Duggins, was isolating himself, not because he didn’t like people or because he was some sort of hermit or antisocial type. He had a very legitimate reason. Nearly everyone in the mountain community knew what that reason was. Jeremy Duggins was a famous author whose pen name was J.R. Nash. But most people just called him JD. Jeremy Duggins a.k.a. J.R. Nash had the distinction of being presented the Nobel Prize in literature. This actually occurred early on in his writing career. And he sequestered himself in this remote mountain cabin desperately trying to write another great American novel.
JD had other book credits and prizes to his name, he had even received the Booker Prize for one of his short stories. He had received the America award in literature for his lifetime achievements. But none of this seemed to matter too much for JD at this point in his life. He just wanted to write, and he knew that if he would hermit-tise himself, it would give him the isolation he needed to concentrate on his work. There was only one thing wrong with this whole situation, and for all practical purposes it may have turned out to be a blessing for JD.
In that wooded mountain community lived a boy named Peter Brown. Peter was 14 years old and was a very bright kid with ambition to be a writer, but not just any writer he wanted to write novels. Peter read everything he could about writing and he practiced his writing every single day, by mostly writing short stories about the people that lived in the mountain community. While other boys his age were out riding bikes or hunting in the woods. Peter would sit at his bedroom writing desk and stare out the window dreaming up the stories and characters for his writings. The interesting thing was, his bedroom window lined up with an opening in the trees, and off in the distance he could see JD’s cabin. Peter idolized JD but he always referred to him by his author’s pen name J.R. Nash. Living in the proximity of an author that one the Nobel Prize in literature was in Peter’s way of thinking a true blessing. He often would walk over to JD’s cabin when it was foggy and just try and catch a glimpse of JD writing.
On one of those drippy foggy nights, Peter decided to walk over and peer into one of the steamed over windows to see if he could watch his literary hero J.R. Nash at work. Peter was hoping that the porch light would not shine on him and give his position away. But unexpectedly the porch light turned off which in a way gave Peter an uneasy feeling. He did not want to be discovered and his first instinct was to run back into the forest. But that was not to be. While Peter was contemplating his next move he decided to peer into the window to see what he could see. Sitting near the fireplace was a small wooden table and a chair. On that table was a typewriter and there seemed to be papers scattered about, not only on the table but there were a dozen or more strewn around on the floor. There was a wastebasket, but as far as Peter could see it was empty.
Not seeing his hero in the cabin, and the fact that the porch light was turned off Peter made the decision that it was time to retreat back into the forest and head for home. But just as he turned, right in front of him stood a tall slender man, scaring the heck out of Peter. The man spoke first and said, “I know you boy, your name is Peter Brown and you live out that way through the woods.” Peter did not know exactly what to do or say but he started out by saying to his hero writer, “yes my name is Peter Brown and how did you know that.” JD standing in the dark with Peter said, “come on let’s go inside.”
And inside the two of them went. JD told Peter that “I heard about you from a variety of people and they all told me that you wanted to be a writer, and that you were very excited to have me as a neighbor.” By this time JD grabbed another chair, put it by his writing table and told Peter to have a seat. JD sat in his usual spot in front of his typewriter. Looking at the boy sitting there, at what he liked to think was his private writing sanctuary, he said to Peter. “I think you should become a writer, and I suspect you will become quite famous someday, and if you don’t mind, let me give you some advice while you are still a young man with the dream of making a career as an author.” Peter sat up and listened attentively, and said. “I will listen and remember everything you say to me, forever.”
JD leaned over and with his elbows firmly planted on his writing table, locked his fingers together and rested chin somewhat awkwardly on his hands, and said. “Here is my advice to you, young Peter. This is what I’ve learned through a lifetime of writing and if you’re interested I will be happy to share with you.” Peter watched JD very carefully and studied his movements, his demeanor, his voice, his eyes, his wrinkles, his comfortable looking shabby clothes, his receding hairline and the unique color of gray that most JD’s hair had turned. Peter studied this man who was about to mentor him down to every minute detail. JD sat quietly for a few moments and realized what Peter was doing, in fact he was hoping that was exactly what Peter was doing. After a moment of silence JD gave Peter what he called his number one rule of becoming a great author and said,”Be fiercely observant Peter. I just witnessed you scrutinizing and evaluating me so completely that I can assure you you have one of the best assets any writer could have.” Peter almost felt embarrassed by making his penetrating observation so obvious, he did not want to make JD uncomfortable. Without taking his eyes away Peter said to JD. “I apologize for being over aggressive in sizing you up. In one way, I suppose I am awestruck by the mere fact that we are sitting here at your writing table and talking.” “I am also feeling extremely comfortable, that this is exactly where I am supposed to be at this moment of time in my life.” Without really addressing either of Peter’s last two statements. JD proceeded to give the boy more advice on becoming a recognized and respected writer/author.
JD comfortably leaned back in his chair, now with his arms extended and holding the table to maintain his balance, became quiet for a moment. Staring directly into Peter’s eyes he proceeded to tell the boy what he should focus on to achieve his goal as a writer. “Besides being fiercely observant, it’s imperative that you believe in yourself and your abilities. Never take criticism as a judgment on who you are as a human being.” “Another thing Peter, and perhaps this is the most important thing.” “Live your life to the fullest, understand and experience with all of your senses everything that happens to you, the good, the bad, and even the self doubt that will try and consume you from time to time.” Peter listened intently but never once questioning or interrupting his hero mentor, and was absorbing and memorizing everything that was being told to him.
JD now repositioned himself in his chair, so he was practically leaning over his typewriter and said. “This is my last advice to you Peter, and one I want you to never forget. There is a word called compassion. It’s a sympathetic consciousness for others. Live your life being kind, understanding and forgiving. Always remembering to nurture the capacity to feel the sorrows that others may be experiencing. This is a good way to live one’s life, and by living life, you gain the insights necessary to craft a story.”
Peter committed to memory everything JD shared with him that night. Within a decade, Peter wrote and published his first novel and he entitled that book, The Porch Light. It became a bestseller. You might find it interesting to know that Peter Brown ended up moving in that cabin after his hero and mentor JD a.k.a. Jeremy Duggins, but better known to the writing world as J.R. Nash passed away. Peter maintains the ritual of turning on the porch light when the woods and the cabin are enshrouded by fog.
“The words we speak can never truly
reflect the words we write.”
Rod Jones artist-writer