I’m probably about a week late on this assignment, but I felt that it was important to compose this piece all the same.
On his blog, author Chuck Wendig regularly presents writing challenges in which authors need to take the a theme or object and develop a flash fiction piece. Then they’re supposed to post the writing piece to their own space and attach a link in the comment section of Wendig’s blog. Essentially, this creates a writing community as people from around the world can read and offer/receive feedback on the writing samples.
Sadly, I’ve never participated in any of these challenges, because I’m really lazy. It has nothing to do with fear. I’m not afraid of what other people will say about my writing; I just get sucked into most other things (Netflix, reading, video games) fairly easily. I make excuses. I reason that I’m working on my other stories so I don’t have time to work on these challenges, when I know deep down that these challenges would in fact help improve my other stories and that becoming an active member of a writing community is what I long for.
So why the hell do I want to write?
Because based on the above confession, it doesn’t sound like I want to write at all. Sounds like I’d rather have other artists put shit into my head than to create my own work and contribute what I have to say to the world.
But I do want to write. I like telling stories. Always have.
When I was a kid, I spent hours playing with my He-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, and Lego sets, working within the respective canonical worlds, but also building my own. My top of my bed became cliffs or waterfalls, while the space beneath worked as caves. Bookshelves worked as headquarters for hero and villain alike.
Recess at school provided similar opportunities, with my friends and I assuming the roles, acting out the story lines–we did have to sneak these games from time to time, as one of the teachers on yard duty seemed to have it out for this style of play, citing that they were violent? But how could running all around a play structure punching and kicking at the air constitute a detrimentally violent game? I played my fair share of basketball and other sports, but my go-to was diving into these imaginary worlds with friends (at least until I hit 6th grade…by then, the concept of “cool” and giving a shit about what people thought of me kicked in hard).
Additionally, I became a sucker for stories at an early age through a love of reading, television, and movies. My mom read to me early and often and one of my favorite stories was Pirates in the Park. In this story a young boy takes his toys to the park and imagines himself as the captain of a ship with his stuffed animals as his loyal crew, hellbent on taking out the pirates, or bullies.
Cartoons like Scooby-Doo, He-Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles provided early education into story structure, as I developed an understanding of “good guys” and “bad guys” and beginning and end. Church and Sunday school gave me David and Goliath and Samson and the Philistines. They became my favorite characters. David was good, had the Lord on his side and took out a much more powerful enemy with a sling shot. Samson had super strength so long as he kept his long, Levite locks. He defeated an army with a jaw bone. Again, he was the good guy who had to face bad guys. All of these characters and ideas continued to swirl through my head and became part of my play as well.
So how does this walk through my origin story tie into writing? I think that by learning to love story at an early age, I planted this seed for wanting to tell stories.
I fancied myself a songwriter for a number of years, penning a slew of songs that weren’t terrible, but weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination. I liked music but I always focused in on the lyrics more. One of my favorite songwriters of all time is Will Oldham, who has written under a myriad of monikers: Palace, Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Superwolf, Bonnie Prince Billy. The songs, musically, were capable of complexity but were founded in simplicity. When performing by himself Oldham fingerpicked or thumbed out chord progressions while crooning passages of prose over the top. To me, the music was the vehicle to deliver the words, or the story.
And I aspired to the same with my own songs. I wanted to convey an emotion or idea through the lyrics. Technique-wise, I’m no wizard on the guitar. I’m a steady rhythm player, my finger picking is moderate, and can mess around with simple lead lines. To use a Harry Potter analogy, I’m Hagrid, capable of some magic but not a legitimate wizard. I wouldn’t have been invited to Hogwarts. So all of my songs began to sound the same. The words were different but I was limited in my musical vocabulary. I switched tact, and delved into stand-up comedy.
Like most people who grew up overweight, or to put it more bluntly, fat, I focused on being funny from an early age. I reasoned that if people that I was funny, that maybe they wouldn’t call me fat. I mean, I’m sure they still thought I was fat, but wouldn’t call me that because they were my friends, because I was funny. And for the most part this worked. With the exception of a few dickheads who didn’t want to be friends, and therefore had no problem pointing out the obvious regarding my physical stature, I got along well with most. Although I was funny, I was never good at telling joke jokes. I relied on stories that had humorous moments in them.
When I first moved to Minnesota, I sought out the stand-up comedy scene. I liked performing and wasn’t shy about being the center or attention, which served me well in my career as a high school teacher, so I reasoned that stand-up would be something at which I would excel. I wrote out sets, focusing on one story from my past, and figuring out where the setups and punchlines were located. My first time up, at The Comedy Corner Underground in Minneapolis, I bombed hard and went over my time limit. As difficult as that experience was, it did give me the fortitude to keep trying. The next time I got was at Acme Comedy, also in Minneapolis. I was mindful of the time limit and stuck to my set (which I had revised and edited), and I received a good amount laughs. The last time I got up was at El Willy’s in Coon Rapids. This also didn’t go that well as I worked on a newer setlist. Not many laughs. As much fun as I was having, performing stand-up presented a couple of obstacles: 1) All of the open mics were about an hour if not further away; and 2) Most open mics ran really late. As with most things in life, in order to get better you have to put in the time, and it wasn’t that I didn’t want to put in the time, but that I didn’t feel right putting in the time. I couldn’t justify being away from my family all week because of my day job and then taking off at night to go hit the open mics. It just didn’t work for me, so I walked away and found podcasting.
I started earnestly listening to podcasts right before I moved to the Midwest and in a short amount of time they replaced listening to music (I should note that I still love music and listen to it, but podcasts are my go to). With podcasts, I enjoyed the speaker’s ability to talk about pretty much whatever he or she wanted and that this message could be dispersed worldwide. It may not get listened to, but it was put out there. People were telling their stories and this appealed to me. As part of a betterment plan Christmas gift, I received funds to purchase a mixer and some mics, and I started recording. I didn’t have anyone to interview so I just talked about whatever. When I wasn’t able to record podcasts at home, due to time constraints, I recorded on my phone in my car to and from work, and then edited later. I had a loyal listener base of roughly six, maybe seven, and I was having a lot of fun. But then, tragedy struck. Some students found out about the podcast and started listening and I just couldn’t have that. Something I strive for as a teacher is some anonymity from the school and my students. I like to think that I could have something for myself, something that belonged to me, but in the age of internet, where these kids have grown up, anonymity can be damn near impossible. So I scrapped it. I didn’t want my students to hear me say something on the podcast that insulted their delicate sensibilities, forcing them to tell their parents, who might then tell me boss, who might have to take disciplinary action against me. Not worth the hassle. And this leads to why I write.
Throughout my life, but more so recently, since having moved to the Midwest, I’ve dabbled in writing. Even during the music, stand-up, and podcasting phase, I made attempts at writing. Fiction. Non-fiction. Prose. Poetry. I always jotted down ideas and passages. All these endeavors returned to one common factor: that I had a story I wanted to tell. And I realized that writing, true writing, affords me the opportunity to tell the stories I want to tell on my terms, working within the scope of my timeframe, family life, and day job. Most of my heroes are writers, and they were just people that an idea and decided to write it down and share it with the world. And that’s what I want too. I have ideas that I want to write down and share with the world. When I look at the future, writing is all I see. That being said, I need to kick my own ass, put aside the distractions, and commit some words to the page.