I have many writer-crushes–Chuck Klosterman, A.J. Jacobs and Chuck Palahniuk are three that come to mind–but my biggest is reserved for the man who introduced me to the term “writer crush,” Chris Jones.
Jones, who lives with his family in a 140-year-old house in Port Hope, Ontario, writes for ESPN The Magazine and Esquire. It’s his work in the latter publication that first got my attention, particularly “The Essential Man,” a poignant profile of Roger Ebert published in early 2010.
Many people know Jones for “The Things That Carried Him,” a stunning piece from 2008 in which he told the story of how the body of Sergeant Joe Montgomery made its way home from Baghdad to its final resting place in a grave in Indiana. Jones tells the story in reverse, starting with the man digging Montgomery’s grave and ending with his squad in the aftermath of the IED explosion that killed him.
The article earned Jones his second National Magazine Award for feature writing.
In addition to his exceptional longform journalism, Jones has contributed moving personal reflections to Esquire, including pieces on his depression, how he met his wife and raising a son who is autistic.
Jones also wrote an excellent article for the health feature in the April 2013 issue of Esquire. In “Fatty,” he tells the story of how he lost 45 pounds.
“Even when a friend began opening e-mails to me with ‘Hey, Fatty,’ I didn’t allow myself to believe I was fat exactly,” the piece begins. “My ego and appetites somehow remained immune to reality. Then my wife took a picture of me sitting on some steps, probably because I was winded. I was wearing a UCLA Bruins T-shirt, and one of my body’s folds was busy swallowing the B in Bruins. A million ‘Hey, Fatty’ e-mails wouldn’t have had the effect that picture had on me. My powers of self-delusion were no match for my all-consuming tits, eating their way through the alphabet.”
Jones goes on to write about how he lost the weight by eating less and moving more.
As a writer, I think “Fatty” is an outstanding piece of work because Jones is able to tell his story in less words than it took me to write this blog post. I like it because it’s compelling, self-deprecating and honest, and because he weaves certain ideas (like physics and math) throughout the piece. He tells his story in an artful way.
As someone who is health-conscious, I appreciate “Fatty” because it includes what I think is a really important fitness lesson. Come to think of it, it’s a lesson you can apply to any area of your life you want to improve:
Start with small changes you can make with confidence, and build on those changes over time.
“I didn’t start some ridiculous diet or workout routine that I’d never be able to continue,” Jones writes of his weight loss. “Mostly I just quit being mindless.”
Instead of eating a giant bowl of ice cream, he ate a scoop. Instead of four slices of pizza, he only ate two.
“Over time, it became easier to eat even less because my body adjusted, shedding the cravings of habit with the pounds,” he writes.
When it came to exercise, Jones started by taking mile-long walks, which eventually became three-mile walks with a little bit of jogging, which eventually became six-mile runs a few times a week.
My guess is that if Jones had tried to cut ice cream out of his diet completely, and if he had tried to go for six-mile runs right off the bat, he might have become discouraged and given up.
But the little adjustments he made at the beginning led to small successes, which encouraged him to make bigger changes that led to greater results.
Jones’s article definitely inspired me to get back on track with my own health and fitness.
I’ve read the article so many times, I can recite parts of it by memory. The following sentence in particular kills me. I’m not sure why exactly–I think it’s because it’s beautifully written, and because I’ve felt the same way about my own weight loss:
“It didn’t just happen, but sometimes it feels like it did, as though gravity shifted one night, and I woke up falling in a different direction.”
If you haven’t already, read the entire article. The last paragraph is especially good.
And if there’s an article that has inspired you in your health and fitness journey, I’d love to hear about it.