Its Own Punishment

If you wish to inflict a heartless and
malignant punishment upon a young person,
pledge him to keep a journal for a year.

—Mark Twain
lame old humorist and writer

Peace and joy. Certain young persons of Your Uncle Jerry’s acquaintance have alleged that a tone of gentle bitterness occasionally creeps into this blog. Bitter? Uncle Jerry? Nothing could be further from true. Your Uncle Jerry is not now, nor has he ever been, a lonely, rancid, and bitter, bitter old bachelor who wears the same longjohns all winter without changing. In fact, Uncle Jerry has two pair of longjohns, and changes them religiously just after Christmas.

Nor is Uncle Jerry an old man soured by a childhood of hardship and isolation. Not at all. Uncle Jerry’s childhood was a joyous one. Uncle Jerry’s foster family included him in all family activities, just as if he were one of the servants. Uncle Jerry is certainly not embittered by memories of the chores, the rags, the nights shivering in the barn, or the constant hazing by six older orphan boys.

If there was one cruelty inflicted by Uncle Jerry’s foster family, it was that, one winter, they encouraged Uncle Jerry to write.

After only two years of sixth grade, Uncle Jerry had begun to show some promise as a student. He was caught sometimes rhyming. On occasion he invented stories—stories of pirates or dragons or orphans who grew up to find themselves heirs to fortunes. This will never do, said Uncle Jerry’s foster family. Great believers in natural consequences, Uncle Jerry’s foster parents devised a scheme to teach him the danger of too much literacy. It was a scheme that Mark Twain himself would salute.

Each evening after chores, Bible study, and polishing the older boys’ shoes, Your Uncle Jerry was sent to sit alone at the hearth with charcoal and tablet. Write, said his parents. Write what you know. Write what happened today. Write your hopes and fears, your disappointments and your dreams. Fill the page, they said. Write. Only after you write, may you go to bed.

A heartless and malignant punishment indeed. Every night, exhausted from the day's labor and the older boys' playful tortures, Uncle Jerry faced that tablet. Write a page, they said. The ghastly emptiness of that page lay like a white desert Uncle Jerry must cross to reach the land of sleep.

Soon the page began to rise up in his mind during the day, hauntingly, so that he could hardly enjoy his chores or the humiliations of school without imagining what he might write about before bed. Accidentally turning to a blank leaf in a schoolbook, Uncle Jerry would flinch and sweat, and compulsively begin to fill it with verse. Hospital walls, train cars, toilet paper---every blank surface cried out to be covered with words.

Alas, the white cow in the barn.

But never mind about her. This cruel regimen, Camper, is the sole cause of what the nice doctor calls Uncle’s Jerry’s “difference.” So don't think it's bitterness, nor cynicism nor misanthropy (that means a hatred for ants, boy; look it up), nor any moral failing at all. What triggers Uncle Jerry’s unique twitches is actually quite simple.

Blancopapyriferaphobia: fear of the empty page.

Joy and peace.

In our story, however, you will find some bitter people. Bitter and conniving and highly amusing. Chapter thirteen is ready.

1 comment:

  1. I hear that Uncle Jerry has some bull stories too, the kind with actual bulls in them.