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An Interview for CREATIVE NONFICTION Magazine, issue 9
About The Author
Bill Roorbach Author of "Shitdiggers, Mudflats, and the Worm Men of Maine"
This piece was a hard one to report because the wormers are Downeast Mainers and one of the great points of pride of Downeast Mainers is silence in the face of adversity, silence in the face of poverty, silence in front of outsiders. I'd seen those guys with their rakes out on the mudflats and had a couple of conversations, Maine-men-talking-to-tourist: "Oh, we're just digging up rocks for pleasure." That kind of thing, and they'd show me a rock.
When I decided to do a story I went out there as a reporter looking for people to work with and -- unusual in the world -- they wouldn't say anything at all, not even lies about rocks. Not a word from anybody. "Not interested." So I switched to saying I was a professor (this is true) interested in worming (also true) and now at least some guys were more willing to be interviewed, even if it was for publication, but only about technical things, certainly not about their lives.
For those questions, everyone said see so-and-so, down such-and-such way, so I did, and so-and-so took me out worming and he and his friends lied to me about everything outrageously ("scuba worming" was the worst of it) and made sure I got stuck in the mud and stung by two worms and laughed at me. My first worming notebook is still buried out there in the mud of such-and-such bay, full of lies. Turns out so-and-so had been interviewed about a dozen times by local papers and news stations and had always got away with lying ("scuba worming" had been mentioned seriously by a radio reporter out of Portland, who should have known better). So-and-so was the wormer's unofficial PR man, and very funny, but full of misinformation and disinformation, a properly wry and recalcitrant Yankee.
It took me weeks of (imperfectly pleasant) trips to the ocean and mudflats to find Ikey Dorr. And Ikey Dorr was special only in that he would talk to me at all. He started to trust me when I let myself be made fun of as a professor and when he saw I meant to get equipment and worm with them and when he saw I didn't believe their lies (that "scuba worming" thing is popular. Also "nude worming," and its secondary tale, "the sexy lady reporter who tried it"). Also, I didn't mind drinking a tank or two of beer with them and sitting down to "suppah." And I didn't ask lots of questions, having learned how poorly that worked. I just hung out with them with as much sympathy as I could muster. And I showed them what I wrote in my notebook. So Ikey and Danny and company started being themselves around me, and took decent care of me, and showed me the worming business from the mud up, only scaring me and kidding me when absolutely necessary.
Then there was the writing. I write a lot of fiction, so to me scene is everything. I try to avoid long sections of journalistic, billboard, or lists of facts, preferring to get as much as possible of that stuff into the weave of story. Characters, of course, are what make narrative happen. So I worry a lot about what it means to get a real person onto the page. And I don't pretend to be objective. That's me the story is coming from. And I, like all of us, am a distorting lens, quite often stuck in the mud.
Videos and Podcasts
I Used to Play in Bands is my first foray into film making. I'm learning more all the time and hope to have a new look very soon. Rated about PG-13
I Used to Play in Bands: Chapter 15 (Spinal Fusion)
I Used to Play in Bands: A Video Memoir