Friday, January 13, 2012

Writing On Lives Outside of Normal

One of the hallmarks of good writing is it conveys a story outside the life experience of the reader and there's been a number of pieces I've come across lately that fit this bill. Subjects of the various works cross a wide spectrum of the population and how they became story subjects varies from decisions made, life circumstance or simple chance.

Two of the pieces stood out in detailing people whose lives are so far outside of my own to have them almost seem from a different species. The Ballad of Johnny France is a Richard Ben Cramer story from a 1985 issue of Esquire and reprinted with author permission on the blog Alex Belth's Bronx Banter. It's the ridiculously fascinating story of Montana Sheriff Johnny France and fugitive mountain-men Don and Don Nichols. After kidnapping (apparently in a twisted bid for female companionship) biathlete Kari Swenson, the elder of the father-son duo wound up shooting and killing a would-be rescuer and then they disappeared into the wilderness. Cramer's is a long and multi-faceted feature which not only portrays people living far outside the norm, but which utilizes language in the story as a way to drive home the difference.

Other piece in this different life than mine category was much shorter and remarkable not as much for the writing, but for the choice made by the subject of the story. Gang tattoo leads to a murder conviction is by Robert Faturechi for the L.A. Times and introduces gangmember Paco Rivera, who tattooed on his chest details of the unsolved murder he committed.

Lest this post descend into a quagmire of the twisted and bizarre, two other stories I've seen lately cover people who faced (or continue to face) great hardship and show how to carry through it. Strength From Weakness is an ESPN E:60 feature on former MLB player Ben Petrick and his battles with young-onset Parkinson's. Written by Steve Wulf, the piece reveals how someone cheated of his potential athletic greatness seems to have created a form of greatness with the life circumstances he now has.

Additional piece of feel-good inspirational value is Cary Williams overcame abuse and anguish on way to NFL by Kevin Van Valkenburg. Written for the Baltimore Sun, the profile on Williams details his hardscrabble early childhood, abuse suffered at the hands of his single dad and then being taken in and lovingly raised by extended family. Out of this, Williams then followed a fairly rocky path to his current position as a starting cornerback for the Ravens.