Since the Beginning, I Wanted to Be a Writer
But Only Now am I Attempting to Share my Stories.
“Janus said to hurry up.”
This is one of the earliest sentences I remember writing. It’s also one of my earliest memories. I don’t remember if it was in fourth or fifth grade, but I do remember this writing assignment where everyone in the class had to write a story using indirect speech. This meant quoted dialogue had to peace out, instead having to write as if someone was reporting, or watching the events unfold.
I remember my excitement for this assignment because the English Teacher, an especially tall woman with curly cherry wood hair and large eyes that made her look like a doll had told us we could write a story about anything! The only catch was that violence couldn’t be included. I remember the rush of excitement in hearing this, going home and feverishly scrawling out the sci-fi space adventure that was in my head on paper (Pretty sure I was one of the last classes to be taught without computers). I even went the extra mile and illustrated it too, in crayon, not realizing at the time the main character bore an uncanny likeness to Boba Fett.
I also still remember my disappointment in the grade I got on this assignment, only getting a “B” on it because of a line in the three page story about a laser going through someone’s head. This is just one of several fleeting, early memories that continue to endure in my mind. There are others, and the funny thing is; most of these early memories involve me writing, or reading books.
Perhaps this is why ever since I can remember, and much to the chagrin of my parents, I wanted to be a writer. At the time, I couldn’t understand the horror on their faces whenever I’d talk about it, let alone why they kept trying to encourage me to
“Find a job that incorporates writing, but pays better.”
The problem was, writing seduced me at an early age. I was reading books like Moby Dick and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by third grade. If I’m being honest, my father would read some of these stories to me before bed. I remember watching his finger slide across the pages as he read each sentence, and I would be simultaneously looking at the words and creating the visuals to the story. I also read nearly the entire library of the Goosebumps series, so don’t think I was some kind of literary snob by Middle School. Either way, the imagination of all these writers seduced me into wanting to create worlds and enrapture others. Later, I would discover that being a writer, one never stops learning because the learning often inspires more imagination.
So I wrote and surrounded myself with books. In fifth grade I took pride in being one of the four or five kids who got to help the librarian Miss Adkins run the Media Center. I also helped put together the yearbook in fifth grade (as I did my senior year in high school). I wrote several plays for church. I wrote for the youth section of my local county paper in high school. This is in addition to all my scribbles.
None of this is to say I didn’t discover the pitfalls of wanting to be a writer either. I quickly learned the challenges involved. One of the main obstacles of writing is that life experience in many different fields is a necessity before one can even begin to share ideas and thoughts, let alone craft. Over the years, I’ve learned that nobody is going to listen to a 14 year old boy-child that has written a book or a newspaper article, because most adults will just dismiss those thoughts and writings like “what the fuck does this kid know?” Unless you’re Malala Yousafzai and have literally survived getting shot in the head and are now advocating for female education and human rights, it’s not really going to happen.
It’s also been challenging to formally mount a career in writing because, until this point in time, it feels like my life has made very little sense (even more so now that I’m looking back). Neither the structured school and family years or the roving gypsy poet years make much sense to me.
I’ll try and break it down as best I can. You see, the first quarter century of my life feels like I didn't make sense because at times it felt like I was in some strange, Lynchian reality, where everything on the surface is bright and dreamlike, but below the surface and in the basement there are unsettling, dark sounds and nightmares behind everyone’s eyes.
I lived with my nuclear family in a small conservative suburban enclave within Maryland where the most exciting thing to happen would be when a Chili’s opened or a local pizza place was closed down due to, from my understanding, laundering money to the mob.
I lived with an overprotective, insecure mother who was trying so damn hard to live the dream of, what at times felt like reruns of Leave It to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show. Yet, she held grudges like somebody clutching onto the side of a cliff, trying not to fall off, and cried a lot in the bathroom. My father was trying to be the father that his father never was, which I guess included not understanding how money works and having trouble connecting with people because he was part of a cult for several years in his late teens, thanks to his mother who is still involved in said cult after all these years. But I think the thing that unnerved me the most about my father was that he could connect with people on a very surface level, holding conversation about the weather, sports or something like that. He could charm people, sure. Yet, he really had no friends that I can remember.
Like most people my age, my grandparents and uncles enjoyed drinking (on my dad's side) and were mildly racist (mostly my mother's side). But unlike most people my age, I spent nearly every weekend with them (from my mother’s side) until I turned 16 or 17.
Looking back, spending weekends with the maternal grandparents were even more weird at times. When our Grandmother wasn’t getting us to sit down for drawing/art time, my brother and I embraced being spoiled by eating truckloads of candies like space rainbow Fruit Roll-Ups, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, stale peppermints and what felt like all the ice-cream we could eat. Then we’d fall asleep watching random cartoon movies on VHS, or cartoons on Cartoon Network. What made it weird was that my grandparents (mostly my Grandfather) would get into these curmudgeonly complaining fights. What probably also made it weird was the fact that my Uncle (who lived next door to my Grandparents) would often times record B and C level horror movies like Phantasm and The Puppetmaster from cable and let me watch them, in addition to WWF wrestling which involved stories about an undead mortician’s cult and guys that pointed to their dicks.
Maybe what also made it weird was the fact that on Sundays I would wake up at five in the morning to help my Uncle open the church, hand out bulletins to old people and then sing songs with the old people about this vague entity that the old people called god. Then, afterwards my brother and I would eat a large feast at my Uncle’s house where my Uncle and Grandfather (they were brothers) often discussed things like how old neighborhoods were changing for the worse because of “the blacks.” I didn’t really understand what that meant until much later, partially because I was too busy scarfing down my food so that my brother and I could fall asleep watching Cartoon Network.
The mild racism was often offset through ice cream, cookies, cupcakes and pies, at least until my sometimes curmudgeonly grandfather infrequently complained to his wife and brother about how my brother and I are spoiling our appetites and eating too much sugar. But that wouldn’t last too long, and then I’d be out grocery shopping with my Uncle again where I would be given five pumpkin pies because I enthusiastically answered, “yes” to the question of, if I liked them or not.
Even my choices in entertainment didn’t make a lot of sense. The first movie I remember watching was a blockbuster rental of the 1939 black and white screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby,” starring Carey Grant and Katherine Hepburn. Despite having no memory of this, I’m told that the first movie I ever saw was Batman Returns in the movie theater because I told my uncle I really liked Batman. Keep in mind this is the Tim Burton Batman Returns movie that involved sexual tension between an almost murdered woman revived by cats, and a deformed penguin man who controlled a gang of circus freaks and lives in the sewers.
Perhaps this is where my enthusiasm of superhero movies came from, not to mention all the awesomeness of superhero cartoons I’d watch; from Batman the Animated Series to Freakazoid. But all these years later, I still really dig black and white movies. Like I said, it doesn’t make sense.
But I also acknowledge that there has been very little rhyme or reason as to why I’ve done the things I’ve done after finishing school. Especially in the eyes of my parents. Looking back, I know there was reason behind many of the things I did. But if one were to look on paper at my life, it would probably look like I lived a very structured lifestyle for the first quarter century or so, and then went crazy and started swimming in chaotic waters of roaming around this world like a gypsy hip cat. And when I look back on this time of what others would perceive as chaos, there emerged a great deal of learning about myself and the world around me. However, I acknowledge a lot of the choices I made (on paper) don’t make a fuck-ton of sense.
I tried doing it my parents way; getting a job or two that incorporated writing. I worked in the advertising industry for a brief period as a copywriter. I’ve also done a little bit of ghostwriting for several websites and apps. The trouble was, at the time it didn’t feel fulfilling because I didn’t feel like I was fully living my life and gaining insight about the world around me. Instead those experiences felt a lot like going to school and university.
Please note, I do not nor am I condemning going to school, and going on to receive a higher education in a college or a university. Education of any kind helps all of us become better people. However, the structure of these institutions leave something to be desired. I often wanted to blow my fucking brains out when I wasn’t shoving information into my brain long enough to retain it for a test.
Throughout school, my imagination was constantly fighting the structure of these institutions. All the books I was reading fostered sprawling, highly detailed worlds I wanted to constantly run wild through. For many, many years, my imagination and writing was my escape from these places, especially poetry. T.S. Elliot said it best in explaining that
Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.
So, after a certain point of going to school, going to church every Sunday (until 16ish), going to University, getting a job, getting an apartment, paying bills, it all started to feel way too repetitive. My imagination and I were constantly having struggles with one another.
All I got out of advertising was a drinking problem, but also some good friends who hipped me to said drinking problem. It didn’t last very long, but I recognized it was still a problem nonetheless.
After I was let go from my job, I decided to travel to Cairo, Egypt because I thought I had a chance with this strong-willed, independent Egyptian woman who was having existential crises every other day. We had chatted through Skype for about 2 years prior. But that place was too hot (both literally and figuratively since it is near a desert and, at the time, the second revolution in three years was underway).* So then I went to Toronto, Canada with a strong-willed Independent half Thai / half African American woman who was only 19 and trying to process the difficulties of her rough upbringing. There we met a bunch of smart and slightly rebellious hippie types. But, it was too cold and our visas expired.*
After that, I met a gifted but, at the time, slightly shy, Spanish woman artist through a poetry website. We then proceeded to travel to a farm in Indiana and volunteer with an unstable family whose father seemingly became possessed by evil, angry spirits when he drank and a mother who was almost always considering just grabbing her two wild children and bolting. When that turned out to be a bust, we decided to head to the warmer climate of New Mexico, working in a hostel run by a brilliant woman who seemed to know composting better than anyone on the planet, yet often took to manipulating lost and lonely souls into doing her bidding.*
Is any of this making sense yet? Seriously, though. Is any of this making sense? The more I think about it, the more surreal my life seems.
I’m okay with that.
I think I’m ok with this because there has always been one constant in my life; writing. Be it poetry, journaling, short stories, plays, poetry or several past attempts at blogging, I have always been writing as a way to express what is happening around me. Now that I’m 31, I’m beginning to take a look back at many of these mental notes. Not only do they make great fodder and compost for stories, but these experiences have also taught me many lessons in my life. As a storyteller, poet and communicator of information, there are always lessons to be learned within every experience. Sometimes it’s a simple lesson. Other times the lesson is more complex, requiring time to parse through the pages of mental notes in order to glean something.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
~ Anais Nin
And because I am a human being like the rest of you reading these words, I figured maybe others could potentially learn and relate to my adventures about growing up in a time of great change, that is feverishly (and absurdly) hurtling towards an unforeseen future without the decency to allow one much reflection.
Posts like this one and future posts about me are my attempts to reread these pages of my history, so as to understand and share lessons of my past with a brutal amount of honesty. I say this because, for many circumstances I find that nostalgia and longing often muddy the waters of gleaning valuable information. Also, our memories are usually incomplete and slightly biased anyway, so the honesty about certain situations I will share about my past is an attempt to, at least even slightly, course correct and fend off these biases. Finally, I also recognize that a lot of these stories from my past may even sound too good to be true, but rest assured, if I wanted to make things up, the stories would almost certainly involve ninjitsu dinosaurs and sandwiches cut in the shape of rhombuses that sound like ducks talking with Scandinavian accents.
***Please note: It is absolutely not my intention to demean or belittle my family or the other people I mention in this post. I’m just trying to be blunt in my recollections of things. Also, do not misconstrue my bluntness as having a cavalier attitude toward the occasional racism my elders exhibited. The bluntness isn’t just to counteract the nostalgia effect, but also to just be honest. The stories about my life that follow this post will dive deeper into certain scenarios mentioned above, and hopefully provide more context into the their characters, but also help me understand some of the choices I’ve made thus far in my journey on this planet.