Basic Instincts: Every Thing I Know I Learned Bagging Groceries at the Piggly Wiggly in Cordele, Ga.
By J. Michael Willard
For the longest time I figured anyone who crammed essays, columns and general meanderings between paperback covers was simply too lazy to actually write a full-fledged, original book.
After all, there is a certain amount of self-flagellation involved in a lonely journey of 100,000 or so words put on pulp and sandwiched between salty sweat, lost sleep and a day job.
At last count, I had written 15 published novels and non-fiction tomes, not to mention two mystery yarns of 400 pages each somewhere in a box five moves back. I don’t worry about losing them. They are not up there with the Dead Sea Scrolls.
All this effort hasn’t made me rich. I remind myself occasionally that one of my oil paintings of a naked lady — fitting I suppose behind the bar in a saloon — sold for more than the monetary tally of all my literary efforts.
But, if you are a writer — really a writer — you charge up that hill one more time. It is your forever and illusive goal. You play the game just as some never let a week go by without buying a lottery ticket at the 7–11.
Before the year is out, I will have another novel, a biography of three legendary musical gents and a book of essays and columns listed, as so many others do, in the marketplace of the great unwashed — Amazon.
The last of the three is called “Basic Instincts: What I Learned Bagging Groceries at the Piggly Wiggly in Cordele Ga.” It’s true I plagiarized myself throughout, thoughts that rained down like confetti at a Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. It is my peace offering to the publishing gods who, I might add, don’t really give a damn for tribute or prayer.
The title of “Piggly Wiggly” is not facetious, though in truth part of this education was at age 12 selling donuts door to door in an Orlando subdivision prior to Walt Disney building a monument to a rodent.
Somehow along this journey — and that is where I am told the joy is mostly placed — I packed multiple careers into a fairly colorful if largely insignificant life: journalist/editor, senior US Senate and gubernatorial aide, political consultant, small town entrepreneur, international public relations executive, East Europe entrepreneur, publisher, author, painter and songwriter.
I tacked on the last three vocations — author, painter, songwriter — since effort should count for something even if I have never won a Nobel, Pulitzer, Grammy or juried exhibit.
Sure, I’ve won a few awards over the years, but mostly in the advertising game and writing for various publications. But awards are catnip for fragile egos. I would much prefer a token gift of a half gallon of butter pecan ice cream.
The “Piggly Wiggly” book represents a selection of my works over the last couple of decades. Decades that saw me witnessing two revolutions and a war in Ukraine, the aftermath of war in Sarajevo, various rebellions in Central America and a number of business victories and setbacks in risky markets.
I have attempted to put them in the context of the times.
There was light editing done on occasion to make the essays more relevant for today. Otherwise, they are as first appeared representing my thoughts as events took place.
Over the years, these thoughts have carried various names that attempted to characterize my particular literary environment of the moment: “Random Notes”, “Basic Instincts” or, as a CEO of a newspaper in Kyiv, Ukraine, “The Back Story”.
All were (are) relevant to the times, but Basic Instincts seemed to cover all bases for they represented, indeed, my basic instincts when it comes to marketing, politics and life in general.
I did bag groceries at the Piggly Wiggly supermarket, sold donuts door to door after school, set pins in a semi-automatic bowling alley and, honest to goodness, worked a couple of days as a novice carnie putting little ones on kiddy rides at the James E. Strates Shows.
All this — plus my various careers — made up the drum beat of life, and lessons I have learned and attempt to impart, realizing, of course, we all must find our own best avenues.
The book should be available by December, 2018, as will my biography, “My Time to Shine”, about the careers of three lead singers for the Temptations, Platters and Drifters. Finally, I’m coming forth with “Sweet Sofia and the Serial Killer”, which is guaranteed to scare the bejesus out of you.
There is also another a truth I discovered along this journey. You know the saying “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” That just might be a slight exaggeration.