--I'M ALIVE IN THE UNDERTOW
…Today is a very happy day. Can I tell you about it?
Yesterday I signed a contract with Aqueous Books for a story collection—“I’m Not Supposed To Be Here and Neither Are You”—to be published in August of 2014. My hands were shaking when I wrote out my name.
Even for a person who writes, it’s difficult to put into words how special this is for me.
As a boy with five older brothers, I was once extraordinarily shy. My siblings were all handsome, muscular, athletic and confident. They could fix things, take apart a car engine and put it back together blindfolded. I couldn’t. In fact, I still don’t even know where, or what, a carburetor is. I was skinny, with longish hair, wore puka shells and read constantly. My friends were imaginary characters I created and played with in the wending woods far behind the trailer home where we lived.
When I was nine years old I started writing stories. At school, in English class, we’d be given five different options/topics to choose from but I’d go ahead and write all of them, sometimes even creating my own subject ideas and writing those, too.
Around fourth grade, a teacher--Mrs. East was her name--said, “I think you’re going to be a writer when you grow up.”
I was a little stunned. Writers seemed Zeus-like to me, famous faraway scribes, regal and untouchable.
But the more I thought about it, the more Mrs. East’s comment took root. A writer. Me. Yes.
One day—and I remember it distinctly--I became brave and got the nerve up to share my plans with family members.
It didn’t go so well.
It was explained to me that most writers starve to death or have to have real jobs in order to make a living.
Growing up poor, in a family of ten with a dad who was a mechanic, we were taught to be pragmatic. It was okay to dream so long as we knew where those boundary lines began and ended. This world view wasn’t meant to be cruel, only realistic, as that was the only world my parents—blue collar folk—knew.
So, for the rest of my life I put the notion of becoming a serious writer aside. After college, I got a job, a “real” one. I worked incredibly hard for many years, had a great career and retired (very fortunately) at a reasonably young age, and started writing full-time three years ago.
It’s been a joy. Every day it has.
And now I feel like I’m nine years old again. I’m still skinny. My hair isn’t quite as long and I don’t have those puka shells any more, but I’m a writer after all.