by Steven Dunn
I spent most of my life drawing and painting, but in 9th grade keyboarding class, me and my friend spent the entire semester typing out rap lyrics. And I wrote a racist story about a Mexican who robbed me and my aunt by gunpoint at an ATM. The police found out who he was because he dropped his I.D. for food stamps. I’m from West Virginia and had never seen Mexicans or used an ATM. And we were the ones who used food stamps.
My older cousin who taught me how to draw used to take me in the train tunnel with a flashlight and spray paint to tag the walls. But we couldn’t see the whole of what we wrote until a train came. We’d press our backs to the tunnel and look across to the other wall for a few seconds until the train blocked it.
My aunt (who got robbed by the Mexican) had books all over her house and always talked about what she was reading. She traveled a lot, and collected shot glasses from wherever she went. I would pitch fits because my mom wouldn’t let me go with her. My aunt told me not to worry, that I could read instead because books could take you anywhere.
So I went anywhere and everywhere. In elementary school, I wrote and illustrated a book about a little boy named Lorenzo who wanted to travel but his mom said no, and he ran away and met a dragon and all they did was fly around the world getting drunk in bars. (I stole from “Puff the Magic Dragon,” NeverEnding Story, and my uncle talking about getting drunk in other states.)
Later, I ended up joining the Navy and flew around the world getting drunk, and actually met a guy in the Navy named Lorenzo, who ended up being one of my best friends, and he helped me write Potted Meat. We did and still do get drunk and travel together. He is the dragon, or I am, depending on the time.
All of this is to say that reading/writing and its pleasures, fears, secrets, dangers, subversions, and mysterious ways of calling out/in, had been persistent haunts. But I was still set on being a painter. I had an art show in Denver at Mutiny Now Bookstore. And my wife (then girlfriend) asked me did I notice that my paintings had a lot of words on them [rupture, new opening].
I wasn’t expressing what I needed to in my painting, and that small rupture [external illumination], made me start taking writing seriously and attempting to figure out what was trying to express itself through me.
Ten years later, Tarpaulin Sky Presspublished my first novel. In between that time, I wrote while on nuclear submarines (dark tunnel). While I was a student/security guard/parent. I wrote in Hawaii, Japan, Korea, Guam, Belize, England, Scotland, Norway, France – traveling like my aunt who is now going blind, but listens to audio books. But my cousin told me she used what little sight she had left to read my book. A little light to see the whole of what I wrote.
Steven Dunn is the author of the novel Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky, 2016) He was born and raised in West Virginia, and after ten years in the Navy, he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from University of Denver. Some of his work can be found in Columbia Journal and Granta Magazine.
Good Journey. Loved the ending about your aunt.
What a great Journey! “Books can take you any place.” That has always been true for me too, as well as the love of travel. This post is a wonderful tribute to those who helped shape you. Well done!