HomeAbout my bookMeet the people in my bookHow to buy the bookEvents and AppearancesOther writings and materialsThe Mark Johnson ShowMy blog


In early 2001, I started hosting an interview show on New Hampshire Public Radio. The Front Porch had a simple purpose: to showcase interesting people from the NHPR listening area. Occasionally, someone would ask, semi-seriously, how long it would take before I ran out of interesting people. Ha, ha.

At first, my answer was a bit hesitant: I was pretty sure we’d never run out. As time went on, I became more and more decisive: There were plenty of interesting people – a seemingly unending supply. I interviewed hundreds of people on The Front Porch, and I know that we barely scratched the surface. 

In 2005, I became a full-time writer. The medium changed, but the focus of my work did not. Many of my stories have been profiles of interesting people. And the lesson endures: the more I look for them, the more I find. Indeed, there are stories all around us.

In my book, Roads Less Traveled: Visionary New England Lives, I tell the life stories – in full length – of some of the most amazing people I’ve met. And I’ve found them in the most unlikely places.

At a small church in Claremont, New Hampshire, is a Russian Orthodox priest who is a renowned iconographer, a maker of iconic images used in Orthodox worship. (He was also the parish priest of Alexander Solzhenitsyn during the writer’s years of exile in Vermont.)

Down a dirt road in Deering, New Hamppshire lives a pioneering writer on food, nutrition, and natural living. She was preaching the value of whole and natural foods long before they became popular.

In a condo in Wilder, Vermont, lives a woman who survived through World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland, a German Jew masquerading as a Polish Catholic.

On a quiet side street in Townshend, Vermont, is the workshop of a furniture maker who’s taken his craft to the extreme. He uses no glue or metal joinery in his pieces; he cuts every piece to join together seamlessly. A single piece of his furniture can sell for over $100,000.

 

Most people don’t have a life story this dramatic. But I’ve become convinced that there are unforgettable people in every community, neighborhood, and family. Further, I would argue that every person has a story worth telling.

For example: One of my recent magazine assignments was to write about the night shift at a 24-hour diner. The purpose was simply to chronicle this very unique slice of life. In the end, the story focused on the night waitress, a seemingly ordinary but truly memorable person.

Brandy, as she is known to one and all, is 64 years old, rather small in stature, and a bit overweight. If you saw her o the street, you wouldn’t give her a second thought. But she’s the heart and soul of the night shift. Every Sunday through Thursday, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., she’s the only staffer in the front of the house (the night cook is the only other person on duty).

In her 12 years on the job, she’s made countless friends – and a few enemies. She runs the place with a warm, open heart and (when necessary) an iron fist. No raised voices, no rough-housing, no bad language. But if you abide by her rules, you’ve got a friend for life 

Another example: A couple of years ago, I spent several hours interviewing my father about his life. I didn’t discover anything extraordinary, but I learned a lot more about him and how he became the person he is. Then, in June 2010, he suffered a brain injury that affected his speech. It’s likely that he will never again be able to tell his story, which makes me truly glad that I took the time – and did it before time ran out.

If there’s a lesson I’d like to transmit, it’s this: take a fresh look at the people around you. Consider the richness of each experience, the uniqueness of each life. If you have the chance, learn about the lives of your relatives, your neighbors, the people you see each day

I hope my book will inspire you to explore the breadth of human experience and the richness of human life. Not to mention tell you r own story, and explore your own road less traveled.

 

 

             A slightly revised version of this essay first appeared in the 11/4/10 issue of The Bridge, a community newspaper in Montpelier, Vermont.  




Contact me by e-mail at john (at) johnswalters (dot) com.