Monday, January 16, 2012

Incessantly Written Down: The Preamble

I really can't recall the impetus of why I decided to write. For me, as I suspect for many writers, it started very early. I do remember writing very short stories about monsters for my friend Doug when we were in the fifth or sixth grade. I didn't particularly care about monsters, but Doug did. I was very impressed by his illustrations of monsters which perfectly fit with my stories. Or perhaps my stories perfectly fit with his drawings. Either way, it got me through the day. I hated school and the manufacturing of illustrated monster stories eased the pain of my fine public school education.
Perhaps the beginning happened during my afternoon conversations with my pen pal. We were thirteen or fourteen, and our conversations reflected it. She had been visiting her grandparents for Thanksgiving when we met. I remember her asking me what it was I wanted to be when I grew up. Then, as now, I had no answer. When I asked her, she said calmly, coolly that she might want to be a writer. The image it gave me of a writer was this: someone who lived in a black and white, private detective movie laboring over a messy desk complete with a typewriter, some sort of pistol and coffee. For some writers, I suspect, this image is appropriate enough. She didn't really grow up to be the PI writer, but thirty years later, we're still writing letters to one another, complete with ink, paper, envelope and stamp.

I was not a reader as a kid. In fact, due to a traumatic event when 10 years old, I was determined never to read a book ever again. Never mind the trauma, but the book it happened over was Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins.
And curiously enough, I continued to write. Shortly after my fourteenth birthday it was on. And by my fifteenth birthday I was writing a novel despite never having read one. It's the effort that matters. Truth be told, no one fucked with me while I was actively engaged with the pen and the paper. Teachers left me alone. My parents figured I was doing homework. No questions, no bothers, no worries. The act of writing was, if nothing else, the manifestation of what I wanted out of life; I just wanted to be left alone. Now that I think about it, perhaps I wanted a better world peopled with those of my own creation. Who knows?

When I did start reading, my world changed. It was shortly before my part in the invasion of Iraq. It started with Steinbeck. It went to Tolkien. Then Huxley. In the early days of my life as a reader, I wasn't fooling around. I was known to read a good western or a Vietnam novel, but that was to participate in the loose book club that was my squad in 4th Platoon, A Troop, 1/1 Calvary. When I tell people that I enjoyed the war immensely it is because of what I learned: how to read, how to be a letter writer, a journal keeper and valuer of education. The latter surprised me too. As soon as we left the Middle East and returned to post cold war Germany, I enrolled in college. But this is not about the war, not about education. This is about writing.
If my childhood endeavors in the written word was for solitary benefits, my writing life in Europe was for company. I never spoke German with any real fluency. I tried. Yet, the long train trips all over the place were nothing short of hours, days, when I turned to the pen and paper for mental health. I still wrote letters home, I still wrote in my person journal. In my notebook however, I was writing strange words reflecting currents of thought set against the onslaught of the days: old world countrysides and people who I couldn't talk to. Oh, I wrote poems, little vignettes of personal philosophy, anti-war ideas, recollections and I was oddly prolific for being so young. But I had the time. Despite the twenty some years since then, I still have the time.
So, what of it? I don't know when I began to write, I really don't know why I did and here I am today. I've thought about it often, the when and the why and the so what.
I've had a recent correspondence with a young writer that has made me recollect my beginnings and reflect on some of my old beliefs. This correspondence has really put things in focus:
1—I have been blessed with education. Both the formal stuff and what I've gained quietly for myself.
2—I have been blessed with an entire life of wonderful experiences. I've traveled, I've met so many people. I've worked wonderful and wonderfully horrible jobs. I have seen hell, and I've seen the angelic.
3—I have incessantly written everything down.
4—I have read books, not as many as I would like, but I still have so much time.
5—I've had the time to think, to act, and to do everything a person could.

This young writer has so much power in his words. I'm very impressed, truly, or perhaps baffled is a better word. I'm excited for him, and everything that's about to happen to him. I'm excited about all the jobs he'll have, all the stamps he'll collect in his passport, and the love affairs and subsequent heartbreaks on perfumed lips and betrayals. I'm excited for all the books he will read that he will not understand, and all the books he'll read that he does. He will gain new languages, foreign languages and be equipped with new souls in order to use them. Lucky devil. And with this excitement of mine comes the reflection of those things that molded me as a writer and as a person. In this new correspondence with this young writer, it really makes me want to understand myself, my philosophies and my work that much more. So? Where do we begin? Where have I been? And where is this young guy going?
Being a writer is different than just wanting to be a writer. Being a writer is terrible. It's compulsion. It's constant doubt. It's rejection. It's fitting the only thing in life that matters between work hours and life's obligations. It's the constant building of words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories, stories into chapters, chapters into books and it never ends. Not true, when it ends, it ends and so does everything else. Until then, we got time.
What about these personal writer's philosophies? Well, here we go.
I once thought all a writer needed was a good pen, plenty of paper in which to write and a good dictionary. Later on, I thought a writer needed nothing more than to be well rested and have ample time to write. Later still, I thought a writer needed only to read books and time would take care of all else. Then, I thought a little formal training was what it took for a writer to succeed. Now, I think writing and connecting to other writers is important. In short, here we are.
What are the guiding principles? I don't know. Why would we live this writer's life? I don't that either. It's just what we do. Our principles are our own. Our words, our projects and our products are the drive, the desire. It's work, it's posterity, it is this process, this moment we want, and we're writing it down.

Coming: Experience, Fear, OJT and the File

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