You know, I started and deleted the opening to this interview about three times. Couldn't seem to find that very first line that would do this guy justice. And now that I've found the right opening line, well, it's no longer the opening line, is it? Yeah, this is already starting to sound complicated. So, let's get to it. The next "Share Your World" interview takes us to the Lone Star State. Deep in the heart of...wait, that opening line!
Okay, let me backtrack just a bit.
If you're an author, writer, or poet, chances are you're familiar with two Twitter hashtags. #WritingCommunity and #VSS365. #WritingCommunity is basically just that. You see that hashtag and you know that Twitter profile involves "pen and paper". #VSS365 stands for Very Short Story every day, all year. There's a hashtag prompt given daily. The writer creates a story based on that one word. But here's the catch - it can only be done within the confines of one tweet. It's a way for writers to flex creative muscles, and it makes for interesting Twitter reading. DeRicki Johnson is active with both hashtags. His style of well-crafted words makes him one of the well known #VSS365 poets. I mean, check out the likes and retweets he gets!
Fine, it should have been "opening lines", plural. Still...
Okay, what say we get down to the meat and potatoes?
KD: I always enjoy your #VSS365 poetry on Twitter. What is your source of inspiration?
DeRicki Johnson: My source of inspiration is my life. I’ve lived in a lot of different places in the continental U.S., met people from all walks of life, and done everything from chop cotton to help found a tech company. Those travels have taken me full circle back to my birthplace of Fort Worth, TX. I’ve been perplexed, delighted, disappointed, inspired and schooled by the many interactions I’ve had with people along my journey. The daily prompts on Twitter’s #vss365 community not only encourage me to write daily, they serve as an outlet to reflect on and process some of the experiences I’ve had.
KD: So this one is a three-parter. What genre of music/movies & shows/reading do you listen to/watch/read more than others?
DeRicki Johnson: My reading, watching, and listening tastes are varied. As a kid growing up in West Texas in the 60s, my first personal media device was a tiny, tinny AM radio. My choices for listening were Country music or hell-fire preachers. I chose Country music—Johnny Cash, Charlie Pride, Loretta Lynn and others. In those days my mother worked as a domestic and one of her clients gave or sold her an old console stereo that became the centerpiece of our living room. There, I was introduced to Blues and R&B greats like Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, James Brown and others. My first rock stars were black—Chuck Berry and the like, but I lived through Woodstock and the “Summer of Love” which broadened my appreciation of Rock from Jimmy Hendrix to Janice Joplin, The Doors, Led Zepplin, The Beatles and others—always being struck by the brilliance of Black art, and how quickly it is appropriated and monetized. I still loved the diversity of the music, though. In grade school I began playing cello, and then viola, which fostered an appreciation of Classical music. Without belaboring the point, my musical interests are broad. Books were my friends and confidants. I read the classics before focusing on science fiction and fantasy. Stories of the future, and of swords and sorcery, served as an escape from the tiny box the world tried to put me in, based solely on the color of my skin. It only bothered me slightly that many of these stories didn’t seem to have a future or universe containing Black people, because I insinuated my blackness into them, while taking away the best of the storytelling. I was the bandy-legged pre-teen struggling out of the Library with six or seven books that I’d devour in a couple of weeks and then replace with more. One summer, I hid in a pantry and read the entire set of the Book Of Knowledge encyclopedias. It was my escape from the corner in which I perceived the world tried to place me. During that time, I discovered Black writers like James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Langston Hughes, Samuel Delaney and Octavia Butler. It changed me from simply a consumer of stories to a creator of written words. I wrote my first poetry at 13 and I’ve been writing ever since. I became a news reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune in the 1970s. Even during my later tech career, storytelling was the center of my “value-add” in almost every situation.
KD: I feel you on Octavia Butler. She holds the greatest influence over me as a writer. So now let's see where your allegiance lies. Coffee, tea, or...?
DeRicki Johnson: Over time I developed a heavy espresso habit at Starbucks. It was impacting my health, so I sought an alternative, which led me to something called Mud\WTR. I love Mud\WTR! After a lifetime of passing acquaintances with coffees and teas, my daily routine includes this lightly processed mix of ground cacao beans, mushrooms and herbs. I add a little ghee and a teaspoon of MCT oil to curb my appetite and increase mental acuity.
KD: I...hmm...mushrooms, I mean that's...different, so naturally I'm gonna give it a try! So, how would you describe yourself as far as personality and character?
DeRicki Johnson: I’m probably what you would call a “gregarious introvert,” or maybe an ambivert. As a kid, personal interactions were actually painful, and exposure to large groups of people sometimes caused mild anxiety attacks. I used the art of conversation as a shield to keep people from getting too close by controlling the narrative. I think that is one of the drivers that makes me seek to be a storyteller. Don’t get me wrong, I like people. I just find them exhausting.
KD: As an introvert, I can understand and respect that. I like people, but sometimes you need to put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door and just recharge the batteries. Now, how do you think your friends would describe you?
DeRicki Johnson: I think my friends, particularly on social media, would describe me as intelligent and kind. My small group of friends in real life probably see me as friendly, but a bit of a hermit.
KD: Where do you land on the introvert - extrovert scale?
DeRicki Johnson: See the answer two answers before this one.
KD: Fair enough. How active are you on social media?
I spend a couple of hours a day on social media, almost exclusively with folks I’ve met in Twitter’s #VSS365 community, with occasional forays into other areas. I have accounts on other platforms, but rarely use them. I haven’t been on Facebook or Instagram in a couple of years, focusing my poetry on Twitter. I have accounts on other platforms, but mostly to just reserve @derickijohnson in the event I want to develop a presence there in the future. I think it’s good branding to use the same tag everywhere. Imagine Coca-Cola calling itself something different, depending on where you found it! A lot of writers on social media make this mistake. I find that if unchecked, time on social media can be a dangerous drain on our ability to truly live in the real world. Its promise of connecting people makes it worth the risk, though.
KD: That's a pretty cool idea of reserving your brand on other social media platforms, even if you hardly use it. Writers, I hope you all took note of that! What, to you, is the greatest aspect of America?
DeRicki Johnson: America is the “great democratic experiment.” It is the leader in pushing for personal freedoms for common folk. Those freedoms have created an economic powerhouse that influences the fortunes of the world.
KD: Now, let's flip the coin. What do you feel is the greatest issue facing America today?
DeRicki Johnson: America’s “great experiment” is threatened by the 1%, whose greed is strangling the very heart of what makes this country great—a prosperous, growing, educated middle class. If you happen upon the most beautiful flower in the world, you can either pluck it and watch it die, or water it and help it multiply. The people in control of this nation want to pluck that flower. Our growing complacency is allowing them to do it. We could stop them, but I fear we have neither the will nor attention span to do it. Their weapon of choice is divisiveness, as it has always been—perhaps most apparent with the Civil War.
KD: Definitely something worth pondering. Name something you wish you would have known or learned way earlier than you did?
DeRicki Johnson: I wish I would have realized earlier that everyone is just as clueless about life as I am. And that the people who profess to know, without doubt, why we are here and what we should do, are either deluded or grifters. We falter because of a lack of knowledge and absence of caring.
KD: If others wanted to reach out, what would be a preferred method of touching bases with you?
DeRicki Johnson: People can connect with me on Twitter.
KD: I put your Twitter handle as a link to make it easy for others to find you. Last item, as I've done with previous interviews, this is the spot to get a couple of plugs in. Any business or project or website you'd like to highlight or promote?
DeRicki Johnson: I’m no longer very active there, but have a collection of hundreds of poems on Instagram.
I have assorted writings on WordPress.
KD: Wow...truly a man who loves writing. Much respect! I truly thank you for being a part of this "Share Your World" series. I'll see ya around Twitter. I mean, we do run in the same #WritingCommunity and #VSS365 circles, right?
My thanks to DeRicki Johnson for sharing his world with me...with us. And, as before (and something I can't express enough), my thanks to you, the reader, for engaging in this series!
I dunno, I guess my thing is this - with so much division in this world, maybe the key to at least some semblance of unity is to try to understand each other. Learn a bit more about each other. Perhaps that starts with sharing just a bit of our world with each other? Maybe, maybe not. But let's at least give it a shot, shall we?