Everyone I know has a career choice that they didn’t make that they still think about. Sometimes it can be as fantastical as being a running back in the NFL, sometimes it’s as mundane as being a teacher (not to insult teachers, it’s just easier to become a teacher than an NFL quarterback). For me, it was being a writer.
Now, my desires to be a writer have ebbed and flowed over the years. When I was a really young kid, I loved writing stories. They were usually goofy, treasure hunting stories. Sometimes it was about werewolves. One story I worked on as a young kid involved a hole straight through from one side of the Earth to the other, and I imagined the center to be a place where gravity was such that everyone floated around the center. Being that this was the mid 80’s, my notebooks of story ideas and paragraphs of such, no longer exist. All lost to time and disorganization. My interest in writing waned heavily too, until I barely gave it a second thought.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that the spark for writing came back. My english teacher recognized something in me, and immediately encouraged me to push myself. I was graded on a different scale than everyone else, and if I wrote something that was legitimately bad, he’d write something like “This is crap” or “Not one of your more inspired efforts.” He was also very concerned about me becoming too cynical, and actually told me he didn’t want me to become ” an asshole like this guy over here” pointing to a classmate. That kind of brashness was what I need. I started to take the first steps of taking writing seriously.
I started doing more my sophomore year. Slowly working out ideas and style. I was starting to really come to grips with the small sad world of high school social cliques, which I was totally left out of. That contributed to what I think was a sort of mild depression, though it could also have been nothing but typical teenage angst. The themes I wanted to deal with were strictly high school stuff, but more dark and nasty than typical stuff my friends were writing. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, I was just exploring.
Then came my junior years, when I took a huge leap forward in skills and themes. The class that year required a lot more creative writing than past years, so I had opportunities to practice. Somewhere along the way, and I don’t remember how I did it now, but I made it okay to use vulgarities in school assignments. Now, this may sound trivial on the surface, but I was writing a ton of dialog, and without the authenticity of f-bombs, writing about teenagers doesn’t work. I had to be honest about how we talked. Sure, some of the f-bomb usage was awful, but that’s what we did. We worked through the use of language, sometimes overusing it, and sometimes sounding crude. But it was honest. I was always honest.
Later in the year, we had a free-form assignment to just write something, anything. I put together all the ideas I had been working on, and almost achieved my first real masterpiece. All things considered, I consider it one of the best things I ever wrote, and way, way, beyond what any of my classmates were even attempting.
See, I created a teenaged protagonist who was truly an awful, awful person. Someone you were supposed to hate, who did terrible things. I outlined the whole thing and worked on it constantly for months. I even was able to have a couple of my friends contribute to it with stories within stories. I pushed the limits of what was allowed to be written in schools to the point where I was told another teacher suggested I be suspended. The stuff was that dark.
I called it “Confession” and while my friends were turning in ten pages, I turned in over ninety. I had to show my teacher the writing as it went along because I was dancing close to the edge of acceptability in a school setting. I mostly pulled it off, too. I did have to change the ending when I ran out of time, and I wasn’t able to flesh out some of the more crazy sounding stuff the way I wanted. But I did it. I easily got an A, and again was told I was being graded on a different level than everyone else.
A side effect of writing “Confession” was that a lot of my angst and cynicism disappeared. I had actually changed my personality by writing this story of horrible acts and ideas. Writing “Confession” was the single most important thing that I did as a teenager to become the person I was to become later on. It put me on a whole different path.
From that time on, for the next few years, I was definitely a writer. I had even discovered poems, for while I loved writing longer pieces, I found that I had lots of thoughts and ideas ideal for poetry. It may have dulled my writing skills a little, but I still worked on lots of new ideas. Senior year, I was turning out so much good stuff, the A’s just kept coming. I could sit down and bang out a ten page story, like it was nothing. I just was in a zone. Alas, most of that writing is now gone I believe, lost to hard drive crashes and sloppy backup schemes.
On the day I graduated high school, a lot of my friends won scholarships from the school for math and science. I had the highest average in calculus that year, but was told by one teacher to not expect anything for it. I was also kept out of National Honors Society because I pissed off some teachers. So come graduation day, I wasn’t expecting anything.
But I did win something that year. I won the Hunter-Parlin (sp?) English award. A complete surprise to myself, my friends, and I think my family. I knew I could write, but in classes that required active discussion, my shyness took over and I rarely spoke. I never looked like I enjoyed classes.
And there are some additional things that made the english scholarship more unlikely. First, the teacher who encouraged me my freshman year, turned out to be a sexual predator who had apparently sexually assaulted some students over the years, one who came to the school one day looking to kill a couple teachers, but instead killed himself later that night. That teacher was long gone and had no involvement in my award. My teacher my sophomore year, certainly didn’t like me much. It wasn’t only me (and certainly not mostly me), but I did make a couple cracks about how little I thought of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that he cried and decided not to even discuss the book.
So, no, my award came down to the teacher I had for both junior and senior years, who must have wanted to give me the award. There was no one else. It was a nice way to be remembered I suppose for pushing the limits, and really trying to be a writer, versus just writing assignments.
The years right after high school were somewhat productive with writing. I still struggled with depression and other issues. I wrote probably hundreds of poems and snippets, again, mostly lost now. I had become quite a skilled poet, though. My best work was never seen by anyone and can’t be seen by anyone now. A little of it remains, though.
Then I met Kelly, who is now my wife. The years of depression and loneliness disappeared it seemed. I was happy. My job took off. I had money. I had nothing to complain about. And it seemed my muse, my depression and angst, was gone, and with it my writing skills seemed to disappear as well.
Over a decade has passed since I’ve written regularly. I have fits and starts here and there, but haven’t had that spark to continue. Lately, though, I feel it’s coming back. Why? Age.
We lost two dogs this year, and time has passed on. I’ve lost a little hair along the sides, and my stubble is now flecked with white. I’m getting close to forty, and I’m struggling a little with the idea of letting my youth go. The world is not there in front of me like it was when I was twenty five. Even though, twenty-give was miserable compared to now in just about every way, the feeling that you’re about to finally live your life is really enticing. Even though the life I’ve lived has been awesome, I still feel it.
So, I’m back to writing to work out these feelings, to walk myself through the whole process, to remember that the grass is always greener. I’m eschewing any attempt to make my writing more mature. I’m sticking with the style I developed almost twenty-five years ago. The world isn’t as inaccessible as it seemed back in high school. I could still become a writer, publish a book, and even sell a few copies. The world is still filled with opportunity, and I want to use writing, the familiar feeling of writing to figure out how to get from here, struggling with getting older, to there, where I’m a published writer.
I could have been a writer, and maybe I still can.