Reluctant Townie: When all else fails, write in the third person

Reluctant Townie: When all else fails, write in the third person

The Reluctant Townie sat at his computer, eating a small plate of nachos.

The word processor was open in front of him, its blinking cursor taunting him at approximately 60 bpm, or the equivalent of one blink per second. He had always found it difficult to count to one second exactly. Who had counted the first second? And how could they be sure they got it right?

The Reluctant Townie was considering writing this week's column entirely in the third person. That was the kind of meta maneuver one could always pull when he was short on ideas but wanted to appear clever.

The nachos weren't even real nachos — bacon bits, shredded cheese, microwaved. But, then, what criteria must a nacho meet to attain reality? It was his understanding that nacho cheese wasn't even cheese. Assuming that to be true, was the nacho, in essence, an unreal thing — like the banking system or 80 percent of Demi Moore?

Increasingly, the Reluctant Townie thought it seemed like a good idea to write this week's column in the third person. Maximum deniability.

The past month had been a roller coaster. A very short, very mild roller coaster. First there had been that whole business with Hall and Oates. Mostly Oates. Hall had yet to acknowledge the Reluctant Townie's existence directly. (Does that make me more or less real than these nachos, wondered the Reluctant Townie, but he could not hear his response over the crunching.)

Then there was the business with the council member and the trash bag full of shrimp. As a writer, Ryan Jackson had perhaps reached his zenith with that piece. Indeed, after typing it, the Reluctant Townie stopped for a moment and considered throwing his computer out of the second-story window. He hadn't. But when he fixed some toast afterward, as he was scraping butter across the bread, he experienced the distinct sensation that his talent would never be greater than at that very moment.

I should have retired, he thought. Gone out on top.

"What should I write about this week?" Ryan Jackson asked himself out loud.

"Perhaps you should interview yourself," said the Reluctant Townie.

"That is an idea," Ryan Jackson said, and took another bite of his nachos.

Real or not, they tasted mediocre, which was the absolute worst you could expect from a nacho. By contrast, mediocre was the best you could expect from something like kale. When it came down to it, the question facing the modern man — be it by kale or by cabbage — was whether or not he would eat flatulence every day for the rest of his life to tack on an extra five years. In such circumstances, quality of life must be taken into consideration.

The dog watched Ryan Jackson from the floor, thinking, among other things, that his living situation was deeply unfair. Everywhere he looked, there were stuffed animals lying about, abandoned by the small human of the house, stuffed full of fluffy innards and guarded only by their stupid, mocking dead eyes — yet he couldn't kill a single one of them. They had named him Cujo. Perhaps as a joke. He wasn't sure; he didn't catch the reference.

Woof, the dog sighed to himself. Wonder how long he's going to stare into that monitor, and more importantly, if he's going to finish those nachos.

Meanwhile, at the computer, Ryan was deep into the interview:

RYAN: What is your writing process like? How do you select a topic?

RELUCTANT TOWNIE: Usually, I ask myself, can I get enough words out of this? If the answer is no, I keep the topic anyway, because what else am I going to do? Time is money, and I don't have either. Isn't that how the saying goes?

RYAN: If you were interviewing yourself, what kind of questions would you ask?

RELUCTANT TOWNIE: Since my column is online, I would ask questions that generated keywords sure to land me in a lot of popular search results. For example: "Fifty Shades of Gray," "Grumpy Cat," "Free iPhone," "How to Lose 20 pounds in 20 Minutes," "D.I.Y. Hair Transplant," "Reluctant Townie Shirtless."

RYAN: You know, Roger Ebert died last week ...


RYAN: That is clearly a topic you could have written about.

RELUCTANT TOWNIE: Yes, but not particularly well. The world is in no danger of running out of Ebert tributes. I have nothing extra to add. All of us from East Central Illinois were very proud of him. When you're from the 'Paign and you want to rep your hometown on a national level, your options are limited. We had Roger Ebert and Farm Aid '85. Now we just have Farm Aid.

Ryan Jackson wrote this column in lieu of retirement, and he can be reached at

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