Something different for y’all today! John Brown, author of Servant of a Dark God (forthcoming from Tor, October 13–yes, that would be tomorrow!!) has consented to stop by and dazzle us with his insight. (No pressure, John!) Enjoy!
Testicles and the Zing Life
Testicles do not taste like chicken.
I know this thing. At least the ones taken from cattle don’t. But this Nobel prize-winning discovery is not what’s important. What’s important is why I know this.
I’m a city boy. My wife Nellie is a rancher’s daughter. She told me she never wanted to live up in Rich County, Utah where she’d grown up. Too cold. Too boring. Too everybody-knows-everything. Nothing for our future bambinos to do but drink beer and make out. (Some folks might be thinking, heck, that sounds like paradise.)
So after college we set out to live in big cities. We lived in the San Francisco area for a few years then moved to Columbus, Ohio. Nellie was go, go, go all the time. Saw everything there was to see. But the fact that we had neighbors drove her nuts. She grew up with cows. Neighbors were things that lived five miles down the road.
In these various big city areas we had neighbors who didn’t know you could actually put blinds on windows so the folks ten feet away didn’t have to see you wake up, put on your clothes, and scratch various parts (maybe if they’d been hotties it wouldn’t have all been so alarming, although our turn to peeping tommery might have been). Neighbors who didn’t know that some people don’t want you peering over the fence at them while you eat. Other neighbors who were perfectly good in every way but who had dogs that didn’t quite know how to use their indoor voice yet. All sorts of neighbors.
For me, neighbors provide many of the charms city life offers. For example, every neighborhood has a kook of one stripe or another. And if they don’t live there, the kooks will show up. One day in Livermore, California a strange couple stopped by to baptize us, marry us, and then guide us in a beating ceremony with chop sticks. You don’t get that out in the country. Because in the country all you do is drink beer and make out, remember?
So anyway. 16 years after we both said “I do,” we moved to Rich County, Utah. And I found out that country folk do more than drink beer and make out. They also eat testicles. And they don’t do it in secret. No, they have an annual hoedown (hoe as in shovel, rake, hoe, not “ho” as in strumpet) and celebrate the emasculation. All the proceeds, of course, go to charity. It’s called the Black Gold Testicle Festival. They advertise it by telling people to “come on in and have a ball.”
Now, I had a choice before me. I could have turned up my nose. I’m an organ donor, not an organ eater. But I’m also a writer. And I know that life is full of zing. And that exploring such things can not only provide great material for a story, but also just make my few years as a carbon-based life form more enjoyable.
So I went forth and partook. Why wouldn’t I? The unmentionables were served up with a side of baked beans. We stood in two lines and moved inexorably toward the steaming Dutch ovens where smiling servers plopped the chunks of fried flesh onto our white plastic plates. The party was held at the rodeo arena. I took a spot in the bleachers. I set my can of root beer next to the plate. The can and I contemplated my fate for a few moments. But my curiosity got the better of me. The gag reflex kicked in on the first bite. But then I realized, well, shoot, this ain’t so bad after all. It kind of tastes like…
Well, I’m not telling. I’m going to let you find it out first hand because hunting zing isn’t just for writers.
And zing isn’t just made up of shock-yo-momma events. Zing is anything that provides a little electricity in your life. A zing turns you on, sparks your imagination, stokes your desire (no I’m not talking about making out again). It might be an incredible vista, a cool fact, an interesting person or tale. It could be a large hawk moth that didn’t make it back to its evening roost, clinging to the handle of the gas nozzle when you go to pump some unleaded into the car. Zings tingle your cool meter. Dude, yes, ah, oh baby, man-o-man, great oogily boogily–these are all common responses when you come across these experiences.
Most zings are small tingles. Others are zaps. Still others are freaking gigawatt monsters that shake you about and leave you breathless. And all you have to do is simply attend to them. Cherish them, even if for only a few extra seconds. They change you, kind of like fairy dust.
I once went snorkeling in Hawaii with a man because he wanted to confront his fear of sharks. We went just after dusk because he had heard this was when they feed. I was also there when a rancher was pulling a calf from its mother, assisting her in birth. I’ve held full moon festivals with my family with hot chocolate and doughnuts where we just celebrate the beauty of the rising moon. I once took the time to listen to the stories of a dying man and learned that once upon a time he’d been a bank robber, but had reformed his ways after going to the big house. When he got out, he met a Methodist girl, married her, and started a laundromat.
Each of these changed me in small ways. But I would have never attended to any of them had I not been on the lookout.
You might think your life has no zing or that it takes weird DNA. You’d be wrong.
I taught a writing workshop to teens a few years back. One week’s assignment was to capture ten zing each day. I don’t do that in practice. This was a one-week assignment to get them looking. The kids all groaned. How was this going to be possible?!—there’s not that much cool stuff in anyone’s life! One week later they all came back bubbling with what they’d found. One girl said, “It’s like I live in a new world. I used to think it was all just boring, but it [zing] is everywhere.”
It is everywhere.
As a writer, my job is to hunt down and bring back gifts to the reader—thrills, wonders, heart attacks. But even if you don’t read anything of mine beyond this post, let me give you this one gift. Winifred Gallagher wrote a great book called Rapt in which she demonstrates with science why “my experience is what I agree to attend to,” and that while you cannot always be happy, you can be focused, attending to good things.
So let me give you this. Be a hunter. Capture the zing.
And when you eat that plate of testicles, come on over to johndbrown.com and tell me what you think.
John Brown currently lives with his wife and four daughters in the hinterlands of Utah where one encounters much fresh air, many good-hearted ranchers, and an occasional wolf. His debut epic fantasy novel, which is set in world where humans are ranched by beings of immense power, is called Servant of a Dark God.