I was listening to a podcast in which writer David Coggins was talking about style.
It was funny because there I was in jeans and a flannel shirt made by a company that specializes in performance bars for outdoorsy people. Coggins looks like the type of pretentious East-Coaster to whom I wouldn’t pay attention, but I couldn’t help but get caught up in his words.
When the podcast ended, I went to his website and read about style, class, about elite eating/drinking establishments and fly fishing. The guy and I have nothing at all in common except we like to write, fish and speak English. But I liked it and again checked when his book about fly fishing was set to release in paperback.
Well, after I had finished clicking around his website, I pondered what he said and what he wrote, all the while wondering what it was that even held my interest. He’s outside my genre.
But I think it was less about his specific style and more that he had and expressed his style. That’s what was interesting. The expression of style, not that I too wanted to sip redbreast whiskey and get a tailored suit for the price of all the fly rods I own. Coggins represents the type of person who has depth of lifestyle.
I wondered how fun it would be to head out into his world and feel incredibly out of place. I’ve been to New York City before but not his New York City and outside of the suit in which I was married, I have nothing in my closet that would meet the dress code. To fit in here, all you really need is a good rain jacket and pair of jeans. Much more seems frivolous.
Anyway, could we just sit around and chat about fly fishing and writing? Maybe, and that would be incredible. Everything else aside, we have those two common things. Do two people need more in common? Not everything has to be about politics and teams.
I wondered more about my own style. There’s my casting style which is just how I throw a fly, my teaching style that is just how I get students to engage in the content, my hunting style which is impatient, but then there’s my writing style.
A writer’s voice is a person’s individual use of language, which means one isn’t necessarily better than the other though some might sound more ornate or sophisticated. Style is why there isn’t just one book about personal growth, one book about entrepreneurship or one book about fly fishing.
We are all certainly influenced by others. That is, we can be unique, but we are ultimately a product of people we have seen, watched, read, or otherwise observed. There are times I feel like the best compliment I could ever receive is to be called a poor man’s John Gierach or Bill Heavey. Someone once said a column I wrote reminded them of Patrick McManus. I have arrived! But I can’t be Patrick McManus, or Jim Harrison or Russell Chatham. I can only write what I know after reading what they did.
Style isn’t some superficial thing that’s manipulated by trendsetters on runways or social media. It’s more complex. Style isn’t about clothing, it’s everything. The outward expression is just that, an outward expression. A new pair of XtraTuf boots on a newly minted resident does not a good Southeast Alaskan make, but eventually people settle in and become part of the community.
It’s good to appreciate someone’s style even (maybe especially) when we don’t totally understand or share it.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His book, “A Miserable Paradise: Life in Southeast Alaska,” is available in local bookstores and at Amazon.com. “I Went to the Woods” appears twice per month in the Sports & Outdoors section of the Juneau Empire.