PEN International Talk – 12

Ideas are everywhere. They’re free. And they’re often funny.

The task of a humorist is to make you see and laugh. But the truth is: there is no bibbidi-bobbidi-boo to writing humor, no secret handshake, decoder ring or chemical formula that works every time.

I was walking in downtown Portland, Oregon, on my way to meet a friend for lunch. Two men approached me from the other direction. It’s as if I had called central casting and asked them to send me two twenty-something males, very Portlandish, Mutt and Jeff-types (but not too Mutty or too Jeffy), both should be wearing ragged jeans and backpacks, leather vests and no shirts.  Chest hair optional. Because it’s Portland, both must have several piercings and tats, and they should be heavy smokers. As we passed each other, I overheard the short one, dramatically waving his cigarette in the air for emphasis, tell his tall friend: “That’s when I had my run-in with the Amish.”

I consider myself fortunate to be a writer. Unlike a mason, who must rely on bricks, or a carpenter, who can’t work without lumber, or even a chef who needs a storeroom full of meats, starches, and greens, I never run out of the raw material I need to tell stories. Someday I might even get lucky and have my own run-in with the Amish.

I’d like to close with my favorite quote about the power of creativity. It’s from a child’s letter to Dr. Seuss. In the letter, the child simply wrote: “Dr. Seuss, you have an imagination with a long tail.”

May your imagination be long, wide, and deep. Thank you and good night.


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