(Okay, the original title of this post was going to be “I’m Better Than You,” but I have respect for all of you, so it didn’t seem fitting when I hit “Publish.”)
I’m going to repost this very old blog entry simply because a) I can and b) it begs to be read by more than one or two people. The fact is, I’m a writer and I’m damn good at what I do. You don’t believe me? That could be because you haven’t read anything I’ve written outside of this blog. That’s cool, but how can you compare my literary genius to anything else without reading it first?
I wrote this post back in January 2006 as a way for me to look forward by looking back at where it started. It’s rather long and was originally presented in two parts. This post isn’t brilliant writing, like Sketches from the Spanish Mustang or Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, nor is this revolutionary. However, I think it sums up who I am very well. It’s also reprinted in Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road: A Collection, another awesome piece of literature you really should pick up.
So have I been confident enough for the day? If not, I can be a little more confident by saying that I am a genius, and unless you can prove me wrong through a literary analysis of my work, then I’ll just go with it.
The Obligatory 2006 Reflective Post – Part I
(Rather than list a bunch of resolutions, I thought I’d start the new year off by looking back at where I’ve been and put my future in perspective.)
I am a writer.
I sometimes find myself looking back at all the things that led me to label myself like this. I’d compare it to standing on the top of a mountain and looking down at the path that brought me, but I’m not near the top of any mountain. (It’s more like a hill, and I haven’t finished climbing.) There are certain events, however, that routinely show up during these self-analytical periods—events that pushed me in a direction to write, to have an audience that reads what I write, and to feel that I must write to maintain any sort of self worth.
Of these events, two are most pronounced. Oddly enough, they both occurred twenty one years ago while I sat in a classroom in 7th grade English, ashamed of what I looked like, what I dressed like and who I called friends. I’d never fit in with the shallow crowds (the cool people—they can all burn in Hell, by the way), and I’m pretty sure it was nothing more significant than the social rules I broke on a routine basis: uncool hair, Kmart jeans, welfare t-shirts. Then again, it could have been my lanky appearance, fear of people, and inability to blend in to my environment. In any case, I was nothing more than an annoying zit in the back of the classroom. Maybe not even that. Even zits got attention at that age.
The first event wasn’t something that should be noteworthy, but it’s stuck with me all this time. We were given an assignment due in class: finish a sentence and develop a story around it. Ms. Golden stood at the front of the room and looked at her watch. “You have fifteen minutes. Go.”
The idea was, of course, to see if single ideas could spark creativity. I’ve learned since that most of the shallow cool people (who can still burn in Hell) are horrible at coming up with ideas of their own. They remain cool by stealing. I can remember them turning to their cool brothers and sisters and asking what they thought they should write about. Without anyone to turn to, I pulled out a piece of paper. I don’t remember the sentence word for word, but it had something to do with a noise at the edge of a forest. In that fifteen minutes, I whipped out four paragraphs about darkness, a wolf, and feeling trapped.
“Pencils down. Look up.”
The cool people read their stories to rest of the class. Everyone else was to give each person a grade: one, five or ten (ten being the best).
Thankfully, we didn’t have to listen to any more than seven or eight stories. All of the cool people (are they burning in Hell, yet???) read their paragraphs aloud. It was surreal how much they all sounded alike: stories of parties in the woods, cool people hangouts, etc. At the end of the torture, no one had given any of them anything better than a five (and I think that was generous). The look of failure on their faces was classic, but I’m sure that failure eventually led to more segregation. After all, cool people stick together and if they all scored low, then they all must be equally cool. (BURN!)
Ms. Golden then asked us to rate our own stories. “Hands up. How many people gave themselves a one? A five? A ten?”
I heard laughter in the room at that point. I wasn’t looking around at the other people; rather I found myself editing the story as she talked. When I finally looked up, I realized I was the only person who put his hand up for a ten. Well, that’s just great. Not only am I already an outcast, I’m going to be further ridiculed by all the cool people who think I couldn’t possibly rate myself any higher than a zero.
Surprised (and I think driven by the need to humiliate me in front of everyone else), Ms. Golden asked me to read my story out loud. After all, she was, undoubtedly, part of the cool crowd as a kid.
I read the story and looked up. She stood silent for a moment, then turned to the class. “Okay. How many people would rate that a ten?”
To my shock, everyone but the cool people put their hands up.
The cool people raised their hands.
No one raised their hand.
I sat relieved as the bell rang out. There. I was vindicated. I had written something, had an audience to listen to me, and their response validated the need I had to be a writer. I was, after all, a soul in desperate need of some talent, something I could do that would separate me from the rest of the crowd. At that point in my life, I saw something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before: a reason. I may not yet have an audience, nor would I rate a lot of what I write as a ten, but I’m still pushing for that. The hills I have to climb are still in front of me, but they’re getting larger. Pretty soon, I’ll be nearing the mountain and when I do, I hope to look back and see the path that brought me there. Somewhere on that path will be the cool people (and Ms. Golden), surrounded by demons and burning in Hell.
(None of this explains why I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer when I was in high school.)
The Obligatory 2006 Reflective Post – Part II
(This rambling describes the second event that made me say, with conviction, I’m a writer. By the way, I don’t define “writer” as one who is published, one who has a fan base, one who is earning his yearly income in royalties and advances. These are “professional writers,” and while I aspire to be one myself, there is no reason I cannot call myself a “writer.” I’m sure you can call yourself that, as well.)
A few months after the humiliation of the cool people, Ms. Golden asked us to write a story. Period. The length was negotiable: if you wrote three handwritten pages and it had an exposition, rising action, climax and denouement, then it was a story. Likewise, if you wrote 100 handwritten pages but it was nothing more than exposition, then you didn’t have anything and could write your own “F” on the top of your piece of paper.
I took this challenge like I did most assignments: I started off with vigor and tore into the first few pages. After that, things languished. I’d written what I thought was a good exposition and some weak rising action, but I didn’t have any real direction. I faltered. The assignment was due on a Monday, and by Friday, I didn’t think I could pull it off. Oh, well. What’s an “F” anyway?
I spent the first day of the weekend reading over what I’d written. I was into Choose Your Own Adventure books at the time, and I thought I could pull off one of my own. HA! Not a chance. By the end of that first day, I’d written a few more worthless pages, ripped them up and ate dinner. At some point, my father asked what I was working on. I told him the assignment, what I’d done, and how I was likely to fail.
He chewed on a tuna melt or something, and looked at me over his glasses. “Most stories have characters that move from point A to point B. Something made them leave point A, and they’re after what sits at point B.”
“Uh, huh,” I said. Sounded like a winner.
I don’t know how many words that story ended up being, but it was roughly ten handwritten pages. About what? Puff, a non-magical dragon who stood about two feet tall. All he had to do was get from point A to point B, avoid getting his butt kicked, and achieve some sort of goal. I can’t remember what the goal was or, for that matter, points A and B. I do remember Puff falling from a cliff, breaking a wing/arm and unable to fly anymore.
I don’t think I was totally satisfied, but at least I was done. I didn’t need to write an “F” on my paper; I could wait for Ms. Golden to do that. To my surprise, however, she’d written an “A” on it and told me a few days later that I was her selection to go on to the “Young Author’s Day” competition.
Something clicked in me at that point: I’d moved forward. I’d already humiliated the cool people, and now I was stepping on to something new. I was conquering yet another hill, if you please.
Young Author’s Day, as an event, is fuzzy for me. It’s something that I know I attended and I can even make out brief images of two of the rooms, but aside from it being a Saturday, I draw a blank. I have no idea who was there, who took me to the event or what the theme was, but that’s not what stuck out in my mind.
At some point during the day, we were broken into groups. Each author was to read their story to a circle that comprised of other teachers, kids and some parents. Some fat kid next to me read a Choose Your Own Adventure style book. I cringed at one point because a) that was my idea and b) no one in the room seemed to be enjoying it as much as he did.
Other kids read their stories—some short and some long, some painful and some not so bad. I was next, and read about Puff’s non-magical adventures to include his avoidance of a butt-kicking, arm breaking, and achievement of whatever goal he was after. At the end, I looked around the room.
I don’t think I’m a good judge of people’s facial reactions, but I felt good after the reading. The other people seemed to have enjoyed what I’d written, and I felt that I’d somehow won. I’d done my best, people enjoyed it and I was going home with a prize.
It’s an odd feeling, but every once in a while I finish a story and feel the same thing: I did my best and people are going to like it. (I don’t win prizes, but that might be because I never enter contests anymore.) I will say, however, there are times when I finish a story or a chapter, think it’s good, then let it sit. We all know what happens next: a month or two goes by, you pick it back up and are totally appalled by the vomit you spit onto paper.
In the afternoon, I took my gratified self over to the main meeting room, where—we were told—prizes would be handed out. I sat like some of the other kids, patiently waiting for my golden award, my ten-foot high trophy I could proudly display or use to beat the crap out of the cool kids. The fat kid was next to me again, and I still don’t know why I remember that.
Whoever was in charge quieted us down and talked for a bit about how wonderful all the stories were. She read a few passages from her favorite stories—to include mine—and went on to spew forth some motivational words. If I wasn’t so young and polite (HA!), I would have told her to “get on with it.”
Finally, she stood up, grabbed a box off a table, and pulled out a pink ribbon. Honorable mention, I thought. Why else would it be pink?
“Everyone in this room should be proud,” she said. “You’re all winners, and we have this wonderful ribbon for each of you.”
I think I twitched, or something.
I know I blinked.
I was going home with a pink ribbon, and my work, which I knew was so much greater than anyone else’s, was relegated to a status equal to the Choose Your Own Adventure.
I was crushed.
You see, there are times in your life when you think you’ve done something right. You put together a wonderful proposal or built a model using all of your talent. You cut a vein, bled on a page and let the gift you were given flow from your fingertips the way it was meant to be. In the end, you feel richer, more alive. You actually feel satisfied.
But you don’t have to go home with a pink ribbon. You’re not on the same level as the fat kid eating a Snickers bar (even if you are fat and eating a Snickers bar). You don’t have to settle, in other words. The hill isn’t easy to climb, and you know it. When you reach the top, there will likely be very few people with you.
Pink ribbons are not prizes. I still have it, and it reminds me that I’m a writer. I’m not, however, like everyone else.
(None of this explains why I ended up as a meteorologist and then a training development specialist after realizing aeronautical engineering was too difficult.)