I guess I'll continue my trend of Whys.
Over the past month, the blogs featured by The Mercury have focused on literacy and reading. I meant to do one. I’ve been on a John O’Hara kick lately and I’m sure I could whipped one up regarding him and how I’d literally spent three or four unbroken hours laying on my bed each night reading “From the Terrace” the last few weeks in October but, oh well, for another time.
Instead, I guess I’ll take a crack at an intimately related topic: writing and its importance to me.
I’ve written since before I knew how to spell words. In kindergarten, I wrote “newspaper articles” for my mother to read. They weren’t articles so much as combining as many random letters as I could into different patterns on a page, but I still spent a few hours on each "story."
As I learned a new letter in class, I added that into the rotation.
(Sidenote: I’ve always wondered if I ever accidentally spelled a word. I’m sure I did, given the monkeys and a typewriter Shakespeare theory.)
Pictured: Frank at 5-years-old
Growing older, I actually learned how to spell words and began expanding my writing horizon.
In first grade, I wrote a book on the history of baseball. Illustrated it, too. The pages were pounded out on an old DOS computer, with every “is” spelled “iz” and every capital letter the result of tapping Caps Lock because I didn’t know how the Shift key worked back then.
In third grade, I wrote a “Jurassic Park” meets “At the Mountains of Madness” kind of thriller. There were dinosaurs and Antarctica and people got eaten. Seven hand-scrawled, 8x11 lined sheets of paper. One of my finest works.
For whatever reason, I fell off of writing for a while after that. It just sort of got lost in the shuffle of baseball and being a young boy. I continued to write but not very prolifically and not very creatively.
One very profound event in my life turned me back to writing.
In the latter half of seventh grade, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. This diagnosis came after what were some of the most difficult and traumatizing months I’ve ever experienced.
I can actually remember the night when everything seemed to abruptly hit the fan, all at once. It was like the worst panic attack you can imagine. I started thinking about something that scared me a little and suddenly found I could not stop thinking about it and was suddenly not just a little scared but terrified.
I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate on anything to distract myself, and I just sat and suffered. And although I quietly thought that it might just blow over soon, that optimism quickly faded as this continued for days, weeks, and then months with only short periods of respite.
During that time, I said to myself, privately, of course, with all the belief in the world, “Oh my God, I’m insane now.”
A glimpse into the madness.
What you see here are some of my "Good numbers."
Eventually, I got some help. I worked through some of it and gained some control over the racing thoughts in my head.
But what I think helped me more than anything was my return to writing.
It’s a cliché, but for whatever reason, turning back to writing became therapeutic. Even during my worst moments, I could turn to that and at least clear my head for a moment and concentrate on the story I was writing.
For a few years, I just crafted stories that revolved around what I felt. Because of struggling and dealing every day with the obsessive compulsive disorder, after feeling like I was clinically insane, all I did was pour my anger, frustration, exhaustion and, at times, sadness into the stories.
I once told a friend that my goal in many of those stories, which a lot of my friends ended up reading and (they say) liking, was to draw the reader in, get them to like the main character, and then to destroy that character in some abrupt, horrible way. The characters in those stories blew up, were run over by cars, committed suicide, whatever terrible things you can think of.
I think someone even got eaten by a monster.
If you know what this is from, isn't it an underrated movie?
Years later, I realized I was using those characters, subconciously re-enacting what I felt had happened to myself. I believed the person I had been before I was hit by OCD was violently gone and, without telling my friends or readers (because I told almost no one what happened with me), I was getting them to share my sorrow, even if it lasted only as long as it took for them to read my story’s final page.
Eventually, my stories evolved. They still weren’t exactly happy, but I began stretching my legs, playing around with plot and writing them longer, with more purpose. I was feeling more comfortable, no longer exhausted with what had happened.
I wrote four novels in high school, all at least 140 typed pages, the longest somewhere around 330.
I can't bring myself to read them again, I’m sure they’re over-dramatic, long-winded and terrible.
But probably still better than this.
I probably should have taken more of a cue from my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway, who I discovered around the time of my second or third book.
Almost every night throughout high school, from 10 p.m. to as late as 4 a.m., I hammered out pages on the PC in our basement.
College rolled around and I entered intending to go to J-school and become a reporter.
I frequently tell people the reason why I became a writer was because “I can’t do anything else.”
There may be some truth to that, but that’s not it. I became a writer because it was one of a select few things in my life that I incessantly challenge myself at, that I’m never satisfied with my proficiency in.
In many other things, though I’ve worked hard, I’ve always just figured that I have a certain level of ability that I’ll reach and I can comfortably leave it at that. Math and science were like that. I was happy with my Cs.
Writing has never been that for me. It has been the one thing in my life that I’ve actually really enjoyed being challenged at. I relish trying to come up with new and different ways to tell an audience a story, to make them feel a certain emotion about something, or to present information in a way that unclouds it from the usual distractions. It’s difficult, it’s time-consuming, but I really, really enjoy it.
For that reason, I turned down the offer to take a chance at a new job this week. I was contacted about a position reporting somewhere else and invited to take a look at the job specs.
After surveying the description of what I’d do for a couple of minutes, I immediately emailed the person that contacted me, thanking them, but letting them know I wasn’t interested.
Other than being very comfortable where I am right now at The Mercury, there was a huge reason why I wasn’t even interested in the new job: there was no challenge.
I already knew how I’d approach it, what I’d do, and exactly how far I could go with it. I’d be able to do the job, probably well, and I wouldn’t have to exert much effort doing it.
That’s not why I write. Obviously, you can’t tell every story in a new, creative or insightful way. But there’s always a chance. There’s usually a way to make yourself better.
I didn’t feel that new job offered nearly as much of an opportunity to consistently improve as where I am now.
Challenges give life freshness and a purpose. After doing it for many years in many different ways, I’ve finally realized that that is why I write.