Andrew Farkas is an assistant professor of English at Washburn University. He is the author of The Big Red Herring, Sunsphere, and Self-Titled Debut. His latest book is The Great Indoorsman which is now available.
When I was a kid, my parents would ask me, “Do you want to go outside and play?” My answer would be no. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play; it was that I didn’t want to go outside.
Later, I’d tell my dad that I only went outside when there was a ball involved. One hundred percent true? No. But close.
So, when I was thinking about putting a book of essays together, I recalled my literary education, which still involved the old Western Canon, meaning I had to struggle again and again through writers espousing the glory of the out-of-doors: the Romantics, the Transcendentalists, different iterations of the Realists, and I began to wonder where was the literature of the Indoors and of Indoorspersons? Who would sing the praises of flophouse apartments? Who would describe the beauty of bowling alleys? Who would expound upon the merits of roadside motel rooms? Who would stand in awe before the sublimity of dying malls and drugstore backrooms and casinos and …
… and, well, if no one else was going to, I figured I’d give it a shot.
But how? Well, since the Romantics and the Transcendentalists were a rather self-serious lot, I’d be a goofball (luckily, I had years of training). Since John Muir felt the pull of the spiritual, I’d talk about my atheism. Since Ernest Hemingway focused on grandiosity (the snows of Kilimanjaro, for instance), I’d focus on the wrecks and anonymous indoors spaces that I love just the same. Since Cheryl Strayed and Edward Abbey seemed so intrepid, I’d show that Indoorspersons weren’t especially interested in roughing it, no, not interested at all, thank you, so we’ll admire your stalwart resilience from in here, out of the elements, comfortable.
From there, I also began thinking about creative nonfiction, realizing that I was going to have to tell the truth. In writing, I didn’t have much experience with that, seeing as how I’d predominantly published fiction, meaning I was all about making things up. But soon, I thought about the fact that, as an indoorsman, I’d mostly been influenced by fabricated places, places made for humans, not “natural” places. There’s the real aspect (the concrete, wood, steel, linoleum, or what have you) and then the equally real unreal aspect. Many businesses and buildings have their own stories, after all, stories that are often invented. And so I came to understand that I would also explore how the fictional affects our real lives through the constructed structures we move through and reside in.
Finally, along with my own experiences, I wanted to tap into the mystique various places have and play with that mystique. So, for instance, “When Hamburger Station Is Busy” is about me going to this burger joint with various people, mostly my dad. On the other hand, “Pool Hall Legend” is about the persistent belief people seem to have that anyone at a pool hall could be a hustler (even though there couldn’t possibly be hustlers anymore). “A Filk Tale” is about a quest through video rental stores my friend Jim and I went on to find the John Carpenter cult film, Dark Star. Contrarily, “Wait Here?” is about the alienating feelings lots of people end up with sitting in waiting rooms. The fusion of these two approaches comes in “Noir Girl,” my last essay, where I talk about the mystique of dive bars and movie theaters, while also recounting a strange encounter I had with a woman who may have been telling me her life story, or who may have been making things up.
And so, for those of you who long for the out-of-doors, there is an entire literary tradition that can take you there. Now, go on outside and play. For those who find they have more of an indoorsy bent, however, this, I think anyway, I mean I’m not sure what else it’d be, is an introduction to the literature of the In-of-Doors. You know what that means? That means, for you and for me, finally, we can say, “Now, go on inside and play!”