Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Back when riding a 20″ BMX bike was not ironic

I remember riding my bike in my subdivision as a kid, maybe 11 or 12 years old, the age before you start to worry about girls and money and looks, but around the time you realize your parents are idiots and there’s more to life than sitting in front of a TV playing with legos. I won this BMX bike from Honeycomb cereal, one of the best injections of luck in my life, since before that I had a stupid bananna seat bike that I probably would’ve had until I got my first car.

We rode the subdivision roads – me and Manges and Wonko and Tom. There were also undeveloped pieces of land with dirt trails and forests and abandoned runways and empty fields. Summertimes were spent exploring these wastelands, looking for hidden roads, old junk, or lost Hustler magazines.

One spring day, I rode into this huge undeveloped piece of land by Wonko’s house. It had a higher piece of land that sat on the same level and behind a road of houses in the subdivision. A piece of land about as big as a baseball field cut down one side by a dirt road, it dropped down a steep hill into some thick trees and later into a lower and larger area near the Elkhart river. I pedaled the red Huffy over the crest of the hill, and started leaning into the downhill pull when I saw something that made me lay down the bike and gaze in horror. The Elkhart river, flooded with melting snow from the long winter, turned the entire back half into a lake. Where a larger-than-football sized field sat with bike trails, hidden forts, trees, and abandoned junk was now a giant sea, almost to the horizon. And I almost biked right into it.

I don’t know why I thought about this, except that I’ve been trying to think of a time in my life when I wasn’t depressed or upset, and when I had a solid network of friends without condition or distance. I think my closest experiences were when I was a kid, in the 6th or 7th grade, maybe going into 8th. My first thought on this is that I wasn’t as concerned about my place in life during those years, and kids aren’t as competetive or cliqueish in those years (at least at my school – I’m sure that little John-Benet Ramseys get their first boob job at the age of 10 now). But after reading more about it, I’ve realized that my depression probably started around then. At the very beginning of 9th grade, I had a huge growth spurt which probably did something to my brain. It sounds far-fetched, but I’ve read in a bunch of psychology books that manic-depression usually hits like that.

The different pieces of my life don’t come into question until I start thinking of book ideas and plots. I’d love to knock some story out of my childhood or teenage years and come up with a book about it. Writers like Hemmingway, Orwell, Henry Miller, and Bukowski seemed to be masters at that. But my life has been pretty boring. Case in point – my first book, Summer Rain. I put a lot of time into it, and loved the idea as I was writing it. But after a year or writing, I held a largely boring and rambling story about my life one summer. With enough bullshit, the basic plot almost made sense, but it never grabbed you. And then I took it to a writing conference and talked to some GenX hipster/shyster that told me I had to change 1000 different things about the plot. His ideas were like taking The Grapes of Wrath and turning it into Microserfs, a plot change at a time. It’s been eating at my ever since, whether or not I should rewrite that book. It was based on a short story originally, and a lot of people liked it, including me. Maybe at some time, I’ll chop at the existing manuscript and make it into a series of short stories, and then clean up each one as I go along. Who knows.