28 Comments

What writing means to me

After that last post, I decided to post something a little more uplifting – if for no other reason than to remind myself of the good in life. I wrote this for another site last September, so there’s a chance you’ve seen it before (if only a small one).

Chances are you’re going to read this and conclude that my story isn’t unique. I’m o.k. with that. I’m not pretending to solve any great mysteries of the universe. The great western philosopher George Carlin once said (or something like it), “Even if I’m one in a million, there are a thousand people just like me.” Even if my story isn’t new, I hope it bears repeating.

You could say that without writing, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I know that’s an awfully strong statement. You might think it’s an exaggeration.

It’s not.

Growing up I was the shy, quiet kid who wished he could blend in with the background. I didn’t think fast on my feet, I often had the wrong thing to say on the tip of my tongue, and I didn’t make fast friends. Kids can be cruel, and I tended to be the defenseless sap who made an easy target.

Alright, it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I had a few friends in the neighborhood. Growing up in “God’s Waiting-room” (Florida in the ’80s) had it’s advantages. Since there weren’t many kids around, most kids couldn’t be choosy about their friends. The handful of kids in my neighborhood were stuck with me.

If being a kid was hard, high school was worse. A couple of those neighborhood friends found a better friend in drugs. A couple more found better, more interesting friends in girls (and who could blame them?). I had a few high school crushes myself, but I didn’t have the courage to do anything about them. By my junior year I felt like a poster-boy for teen angst, and I started loosing interest in school. When it was time to sign up for classes for my senior year, I decided I was tired of advanced classes. It was time to do a little coasting. I was tempted to fill my schedule with fluff, the classes the other eighty percent were taking.

I don’t remember how it started, but somehow I got into a conversation after class with Mr. Brown, my A.P. American History teacher. I probably hadn’t said more than a few words to my teachers all year (beyond “here” at roll call), so it seemed odd he would pull me aside to talk. Registration for next year came up, I told him my plans (with half-hearted justification), and he was disappointed. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something to the effect of, “John, that would be a real shame. I always look forward to reading your essays on my exams. You don’t always get all of your facts right, but you’re a good bullshitter. The way you write, you’d do well in college. It would be a shame if you didn’t at least try.” My first thought was, “does it take one to know one?” But Mr. Brown wasn’t the kind of teacher who gave out a lot of praise in class, so his words stuck. (Hopefully he won’t get the chance to read this and take it back.) It gave me just enough of a boost to keep going, to try… at least a little.

My senior year of high school came, and I developed a big crush on my anatomy lab partner. After performing major surgery on a dead cat for a semester and a half with this girl, I decided my last chance at happiness in life was slipping by. I didn’t think she was dating anyone at school, so I pulled together all of my self confidence and asked her out to prom. As it turned out she wasn’t dating anyone at school… she was dating someone at another school… and I was crushed.

Prom came and went, and the girl that had become one of my best friends continued to date some mystery guy. I cursed fate. I couldn’t help but wonder if my fear had caused me to put off asking her out, missing my one chance at happiness. (Wasn’t being a teenager hell?) Before we graduated and parted ways (perhaps forever), I felt like I had to tell her how I felt. Anyone can ask a girl out to prom. All it requires is a pinch of interest and a little courage. With teenage wisdom at my side, I decided that I should lay it all down on the table. Ah, but I couldn’t trust my voice to get it all out, so I sat down to write. I stayed up late one night, pouring out my heart and soul onto a half a dozen sheets of notebook paper. I attached a cover sheet to my little essay, calling it: “Life as I Know It.” I asked her to read it in class the next day. Now to be clear, I didn’t want her to read it IN class. I thought she’d just take it home and read it at her leisure… preferably sometime when I wasn’t around. It was all part of my cunning plan… give it to her right before a lecture started so she’d have to put it away, and hopefully forget about it for a while. Shows how much I knew about people, girls, and this girl in particular. She flipped the cover, dove right in, and I was horrified. I wanted to chicken out. I wanted to take it all back. I wanted to get back on the cliff after I’d already jumped. I was sure I’d made a terrible mistake by putting my thoughts down on paper; a permanent record of my feelings… laying myself bare. This was a level of trust I hadn’t shared with anyone, and I was sharing it with a girl who had pledged her affection to someone else.

She finished reading it and said it was nice. NICE? Nice is for “friends” in class, not soul-mates. Once again I was crushed. Once again I felt I had foolishly brought it upon myself. I felt like I was a victim of every after school special I’d ever seen.

We remained friends, but after graduation we did go our separate ways. I went away to school, to one of the big state universities, and she stayed home to go the local junior college (due to cost, not ability). She continued to date the other guy, but we still got together every couple months when I was home visiting family (yeah, sure I was). Sometimes we went out with other friends, other times it was just us. She talked about marriage, and I thought about jealousy. She talked about her fights with the other guy, and I played the role of the good friend, as I thought it should be played… often explaining why I thought their latest love spat was nothing to worry about. Oh the humanity! More than a year went by this way.

One weekend she came up with a friend for a college football game. We spent the day together with friends, and afterwards I drove her home. On the way she said something that rocked the foundation of my life. While I know now that I came from a loving home, being young makes it easy to ignore what you have… and I felt unloved and unwanted. She said something that night changed it all. She asked me if I still felt the way I did back in high school, when I wrote “that thing.” It was a loaded question… and it went off.

We’ve been married for thirteen years now and have two wonderful children. She’s the love of my life.

While I don’t think of myself as much of a writer, and I don’t count on it for my livelihood (nor do I aspire to), writing has been a big part of my life. It’s possible that this is really a story about overcoming fear, the difficulties of adolescence, or the influence good (and bad) teachers can have over our lives. But as I look back, writing was one of the things that didn’t let me down. It brought me a little self confidence when I was lacking. It helped me open up to someone when I was too shy to do it in person. (My wife says it saved her from marrying a jerk.) From my earliest journals to blogging, It has been like another friend. It was always there when I needed it. It always listened and it never judged. It was my conduit to the world when I was too afraid to engage it in person.

I wonder what my life would have been like if a teacher hadn’t thought to compliment me on my writing. I wonder if I would have gotten the attention of that girl in high school.

Even if all of this is slightly exaggerated, at a minimum I think writing helped me find my out of my shell. Life’s been a wild ride since (by my standards anyway ;-)

28 Comments

  1. My husband was on the committee to bring baseball to St. Pete. We are down there so much that the players now know my son. I remember when the Bucs won the Super Bowl.
    Everyone loves an underdog. This is the Rays year to shine. We live in Massachusetts so it would be illegal to not like the Red Sox too. But we’ve been there from their infancy. Now the Rays are maturing as a great team.

    Happy Anniversary!

  2. Are you a baseball fan?
    Did you see the game last night? Rays are now #1!!!

    I am. I did. That is too cool. Ah, but don’t get me started on the Rays.

    My family comes from the Boston area (I cried when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs), and it was a little hard to shift my allegiance to the home team when the Rays got started. My father-in-law still scoffs when I tell folks my favorite team is the Rays (he’s a Yankees fan, which is almost unforgivable).

    The only thing that seems more improbable that the Rays being in first place this late (albeit still early) is the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup. Oh wait…

    What is especially gratifying about seeing this team win is the way they play. I’ve never met any of the players, but I get the sense when they play that they’re a real team – no oversized egos, just a bunch of guys who love to play ball. It may be their youth, all the losing, or both, but I love the effort and emotion they show on the field. I’m begining to wonder if the Young trade was a really smart move. Not necessarily because of the players we got in return (which is still way to early to judge), but because the chemistry of the team improved so much (as far as I can tell).

    I guess I got started, didn’t I?

    Where’s the letter? The love letter. Nobody ever wrote one for me. I’m hoping to see what a real one looks like…

    We still had it, and probably still do, but I lost track of it after our last move. I usually think about it every year around this time, though I haven’t gone digging for it yet.

    Today’s our anniversary.

  3. I wandered over from Erica’s blog and she got here from Stephen’s. Billions of blogs and we’re all coming from the same place essentially.

    What a wonderful post. I wrote a piece of fiction for my college crush and gave it to her – in front of her girlfriend. She said it was nice. She avoided me after that and I lost touch with her completely. Not a bad thing.

    I love your writing style and think you would do well writing more than this blog. Thank you for sharing your gift and your story with us.

  4. Also over here from Stephen’s.

    I can only ditto what everyone else has already said. What a beautiful post! And you were right, it was uplifting!!!!

    But….. I do have one question.
    Where’s the letter? The love letter. Nobody ever wrote one for me. I’m hoping to see what a real one looks like…
    :-)

  5. I’m here from Erica’s blog. :) Your words touched me, and you were very courageous in high school to write that letter. And your story even has an HEA ending.

  6. Hey John,

    Are you a baseball fan?

    Did you see the game last night? Rays are now #1!!! Yeah! My son Chazz is going to be tossing out the first pitch on June 30th when they play the Red Sox.

  7. Like the others, I wandered over here from Stephen’s site, and I’m so glad I did.

    What a great post. I think Stephen is right (write) about your ability with words.

    I also spent part of my childhood in Florida, and I remember Dunedin well. I lived in St. Pete, graduated from Dixie Hollins and went to USF for my undergraduate degree. One of my brothers is a columnist for the St. Pete Times and another lives in Sarasota.

    I’ll look forward to reading more of your work.

    Regards,

    Maya

  8. Wow!

    I don’t know how many of you will see this, but I want to say it anyway. (Though I’m sure I’m going to goof it up somehow.) Many of you are familiar to me from the great discussions (in comments) that take place on Stephen’s site. Those discussions are great because of all of you.

    You’ve made my day.

    Normally I come home from work to an empty house with my three year old son in tow, and we settle into our evening with a few chores (and a liberal dose of being silly). Today was a rare day when my wife was home early, which was a nice surprise in itself, but she had been online… and told me about your comments. Instead of one nice surprise, I had more than a dozen.

    An hour or so later I was on my bike getting some exercise and I think I still had a grin on my face.

    You did that.

    Thank you.

  9. I think that the process of writing helps us to organize our thoughts. It also validates our feelings. Thanks for sharing your heartwarming story. It made me smile.

    P.S. How about those Rays! I used to live in St. Pete.

  10. I found this post through Stephen’s blog, and am I ever glad he linked to it. It’s wonderful to hear such a positive story about writing itself, as opposed to writing-as-a-career.

    As it happens, your story struck a particular chord with me because I also met my wife in high school, partly through the influence of writing. I had just finished my first novel at the start of my senior year, and that was something that caught her eye — it provided a talking point, and then as she read my work, we started sharing other things and realized how much we had in common. I had had a crush on her the year before, but she was a distant friend and out of my league, so I hadn’t asked her out (though I had considered it). Had it not been for the fact that we were both writers, we probably would have never connected in such a meaningful way. We’ll have been married for 4 years this August.

    It’s funny how this vaguely fits a bit with the “my story isn’t unique” point you made, although the specifics of our stories couldn’t be more different aside from the fact that writing was involved. I don’t have a particular point of my own to go along with that (nothing original, anyway), but it is interesting to me.

    Mostly I just wanted to say that I enjoyed the post. Stephen is right, you’re quite a storyteller.

    Chris

  11. Go Floridians! I too thank the teachers in my life who believed I had a spark of creative writing talent and encouraged me to pursue it. No great love snag like yours however- I would think that’s a pretty rare thing. Congratulations on an excellent, heart-tugging post!

  12. Another visitor via Stephen Parrish. That was lovely! And what a happy ending. Thanks for sharing and for reminding us of the power writing carries long after the words are put on paper.

  13. A junior high teacher encouraged all of us to enter a national essay contest – the prize was publication. I entrered and got published. I often wonder if the teacher hadn’t taken the time to push us to write up something for the competition, then I would not have received such postive reinforcement.

    If only I had shown my teenaged love poetry to my high school crush, who knows how things would have turned out.

    Sounds like you and your wife won the love lottery. Speaking of Lottery: Pat Wood, you hussy! lol

  14. I’m not so good at talking. Okay, to be honest, my students actually learn how to understand my grunts, gestures, and examples on the piano, while I try incoherently to put together a complete sentence.

    Sometimes it’s not that bad. Often it is.

    Blogging lets me talk in complete sentences. I love that. And writing is … it’s such a relief. The complete sentences thing is real cool. Getting the stories out of my head is SO freeing. As angsty as I am about writing when I’m not writing, when I sit down to write, I love it.

    Love this post.

  15. What a wonderful story . . . I always poured my heart into my journals, these BIG feelings. Now I write books. My feelings are STILL big. This was a great reminder of that.

  16. I applaud you for teh courage to write down your true feelings. Sure i dated a few girsl in high school but even at that I never told them my true and honest feelings. That takes guts and this truly is a fairy tale story. Thanks for the inspiration.

  17. I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a little teary eyed at the end of this.
    I am a HUGE risk taker when it counts i.e. telling my current husband what I felt about him while I was currently married to someone else LOL! BTW we have been married for over 21 years so it must have been the right decision…
    Writing it the key to life IMHO

  18. I moseyed on over here from Stephen’s blog and I am such a baby that you had me a little teary eyed at the end of this post. This was so lovely. Your wife is very lucky to have you and you are clearly blessed to have her. Writing gave you courage that most of us lack in our daily lives so yes I see how important it is to you.

    Thanks for sharing this post! I’m glad I found you!

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