The Time I Did Not Give Brian Doyle a Piggy-Back Ride

I’m staying with the Brian theme one more time.–jrs

Writers write, but authors have to do other stuff as well. Some of that stuff involves traveling around, reading some of what you’ve written, and discussing the sometimes mysterious differences between being a writer and being an author. I think in the previous sentence you can often substitute ‘traveling’ with ‘wandering.’

Okay. The most important prerequisite of being an author is being a writer. Duh. But if something gets published and, pay attention here, somebody actually reads it, a writer crosses the line and becomes an author. If enough people read it, the author just might be asked to show up somewhere and talk about it. This can produce an odd kind of terror that is mitigated by waves of gratitude. It the gratitude is sincere enough, the terror will usually recede to simple abject fear. After a couple forays into dealing with this fear, many authors discover that they actually enjoy a nice bunch of folks who cared enough to show up. A few authors carry this enjoyment to an expertise that generates a profound wow factor for an audience. That’s the author who becomes known for entertaining. Brian Doyle was that guy. He regularly blew the doors off of rooms where he’d been invited to talk. He was honest, completely sincere, he laughed, wept, raged, giggled and, perhaps most importantly, welcomed his audience to cradle his very soul. That kind of impact gets around and he was very much in demand.

I appeared at a Cedar Mill Writers meeting, a monthly affair held upstairs at the Cedar Mill Library, to promote my debut novel Ochoco Reach. Stealing what I could from having watched Brian work a room, we had fun and the group asked me back to talk about editing poetry. During my time , I mentioned Brian as a gold standard for writing honestly, passionately, and with deep and genuine humility. A hand went up.

“Do you know Brian?”

“We have a friendly acquaintance.”

“He’s appearing here. At our next meeting.”

“Well. Tell all your members and friends because it’ll be an afternoon you won’t soon forget.”

This seemed to please everyone and my time went on to its conclusion as smooth as a lake at first light. I sent Brian an email that evening, commenting that it was a nice group of people he would probably have a good time with when he showed up and did his thing.

He got back to me: “Hey that’s great man — it is the experience, James — the connecting — the jazz of people reading what you wrote, and of talking books and stories, and of the substance of stories…”

So—I showed up on the appointed day and sat with the others in the room awaiting Mr. Doyle wanting, like everybody else, to be thrilled and inspired. At ten ‘til, the organizers started watching the clock. At straight up we all started looking nervously at each other. At five after, Brian was officially late.

“Maybe he’s lost,” Sheila said.

“Jim, you know him,” said Jean. “Maybe you could go downstairs and see if he’s in the library trying to find us?”


I went downstairs. I was walking by the front doors when I saw Brian drive by, looking for a place to park. Outside I went. Watching Brian get out of the car and walk was a study in bravery and pain management. He saw me and broke into a tired grin.

“Went to the wrong damn library.”

“I did the same thing the first time I came here.”

He nodded as I held the door for him.

Inside he turned and waggled a question mark. I pointed to the far corner. He nodded and we headed that way.

“It’s a room upstairs.”

Concern ruffled his beard.

“Stairs? I don’t do stairs. Is there an elevator?”

“Let’s find out. If not, I’ll have to give you a piggy-back ride.”

The look he shot me could’ve fused metal. Relief was sweet when we both saw the elevator.

“You sure about the piggy-back?”


End of discussion. We were both smiling when the elevator doors snicked shut.

“Much better.”

It went on to be a nice afternoon. Brian worked his magic and I could almost hear the group’s self-esteem and hope grow as he acknowledged and framed our worth as writers and storytellers. His humility was never false and it permeated the room, his passion was overwhelming, offering permission for everyone to feel like we were on the right path as storytellers. It was a humbling gift, given freely and sincerely. We were, and are, all richer for it.

(Brian: Oregon Arts Watch; otter: Reddit)

About Jim Stewart

Writer at Butt in Chair
This entry was posted in Brian Doyle, Conversation, humor, laughing, memory, Uncategorized, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Time I Did Not Give Brian Doyle a Piggy-Back Ride

  1. Ruth R Langlois says:

    Nice tribute.

  2. John Allen says:

    These stories about day-to-day life and how we live them are important. We all have them…few can capture them in such a way as to make them special.

  3. Good grief. WordPress won’t let me click Like. But that’s okay because I LOVE this post. Brian was a gift to humanity. He touched so many lives. Thanks to you, he found my work and agreed to give me an hour of his time. I think it was less than a month before he was diagnosed. Less than a year before he died. So THANK YOU for giving me a piggyback ride of sorts.

  4. Debra says:

    I’m so glad to know Brian through you. You always introduce him with such warmth and wit it almost feels like I personally knew him. I’m sorry I didn’t. And what a treasured memory for all who met him in the library that evening, Jim.

    • Jim Stewart says:

      Most people will never forget Brian working a room. He was very special in that regard. The friendship he and I shared was not deep, we weren’t bosom buddies, he didn’t call me out of the blue, but we made each other laugh and put food for thought on our shared tables. His legacy is his headlong (his word) writing and his perfection of the short personal essay. And his novels…man…his novels are the kind where you slow way down late in the book because you know it’s going to end and you don’t want it to. I really hope, over time, his work finds the broad audience it so richly deserves.

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