Jonathan Starke is a former bodybuilder and boxer. He's harvested seaweed in Ireland, given free hugs in Spain, and flipped pancakes in Denmark. He loves riding trains and wondering about the lives unfolding outside the window. Founding editor of Palooka. Pro-wrestling enthusiast. Book editor. Vagabond heart.
Jonathan's essay "The Iron Kid" will appear in the Summer 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, July 1, for special savings and discounts.
We really enjoy “The Iron Kid” because it offers a well-written window into a boy’s desire to lift weights and his motivation for getting a jumpstart on manhood. Knowing that you went on to make weightlifting a priority in life—and without giving us too much of the story—can you tell us how this story fit into your life later on?
There's a bullying aspect to the narrative and the want of strength and the ability to defend against hardships in the world—monetary, physical, mental. Many years later, this manifested in a fear of weakness or losing power. Having bodybuilding and weightlifting in my life bred confidence, self-reliance, and gave me a place to work into a meditative state where I felt a different kind of alive, same as the ending of the essay.
In the story, you reference a few of the great WWF wrestlers that were role models in your decision to start lifting weights. What was it about the sport of wrestling that caught your attention at an early age?
It was like a real-life cartoon. Men with what appeared to be super powers and godly physiques exemplifying feats of strength and athleticism I didn't think possible. And the notions of "good" and "bad" in the wrestling world were drawn in a very black-and-white way so that it was easy to root for the faces and dislike the heels. It was the greater world simplified, where there was no gray. Beyond this, I was captivated by the charisma of the wrestlers, the gaudy costumes, the grandiosity of the ring, the stage, the event, which was such an escape from small-town Iowa, where I was raised.
The sport of weightlifting and the act of writing seem like totally opposite worlds, but at the same time they share the traits of solo endeavors that prioritize the process of fine-tuning. What advice can you give young writers who are entering the profession of writing?
That's exactly right. Weightlifting and writing share the values of dedication, diligence, precision, seeking perfection, working and reworking, putting in a tireless effort, making yourself vulnerable. They're both very much isolated endeavors that you occasionally share with others or seek support from those who burn with the same passion. Advice. Write what moves you. Don't worry about what's trendy. There's no "right way" to do this. Believe in the work. Do the work. Accept that rejection is a huge part of this endeavor and embrace that. Submit your butt off (to places you admire). Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and do interesting things. Talk to strangers. Offer vulnerability. Observe and live, then write. Repeat.