Up the airy mountain,
Down the rushy glen,
We daren’t go a-hunting
For fear of little men.
– The Fairies, William Allingham
“You see, nobody every goes in.
Nobody ever comes out!”
– The Tinker, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
I’d love to believe the radio silence on my web site caused as much confusion and idle speculation as the locking of the front gates at Wonka’s, but I’m not delusional.
Well. Okay. To want to make a living slinging words and taking pictures you’ve got to be at least a little bit delusional, but taking that leap with my little site here would even give Evel Knievel and the cast of Jackass pause. There might be a few nice folks who’ve stopped by on occasion and noticed the profound lack of activity before Googling their way somewhere else, and it’s hard to fault them for that.
Nonetheless, I still feel the need to take a minute or two to explain the cobwebs strewn about, and maybe chat with you about what’s on my mind and what might happen going forward.
That’s not just the question I’m trying to answer here today, but that single word has been on my mind for the past few weeks as I’ve faced down the blank page of my word processor. It’s a question that I’ve applied to the things I’ve written in the past, and to the stories and articles not yet written. It’s amazing how three little letters can send you into an unproductive spiral, and how they can dominate your thoughts as you try to navigate the way forward.
It was sixth grade, my last year at Eisenhower Elementary, when I started to identify myself as a writer in my mind. Sure, I’d been writing long before that. I remember short little plays my brother and I would perform for our parents. That was my first introduction to conflict resolution, as my brother and I argued over whether or not his t-rex or my triceratops would win JurassicMania(we compromised and both dinosaurs died in the finale).
When I pulled the Transformers or G.I. Joe figures from the toy chest(and yes, since I know my father is thinking this, never put them back), I never settled for an extension of the cartoon fiction. I made my own stories, weaving elaborate tales of the lives of the characters. I vividly remember one cliffhanger story involving Pilot from Captain Power, and I went to bed, leaving her action figure in the computer room. Alas, our dog Sandy woke up before me, and chewed her to pieces. Heart broken(in part because the figures were really hard to find), there was a burial in the back yard. Later, I took apart a few Joe figures and reintroduced Pilot as a cyborg.
I can’t remember the exact exchange now, but I remember being excited the day I told Mrs. Copeland I was going to be a writer when I grew up. While the conversation is lost to time, that identity never wavered. I wrote a Mega Man novel the next year on notebook paper between… okay, and often during my classes. Not long after I started writing what was at the time a pretty blatant Ninja Turtles knockoff about a mutant rabbit named HS-29. You can trace the Path of the Just stories back to those terrible notebook novels.
There’s some mileage between those early writing efforts and where I stand now. My work’s been published, and I’ve served as the editor in chief of a literary magazine. In just the last year I had a theme park article published online, and I’ve told myself this was the year I’d finally get serious about my writing.
As I said before, that question plagued me as I tried to type out new stories or blog posts. It manifested itself in the midst of a pretty severe cast of depression. No doubt as we talk over the next few months I’ll share a little more about what’s been going on in my life, but let’s just say things haven’t been easy. They’ve made me doubt a lot of my choices in life, and that really manifested itself as I sat in front of the computer.
I’ve mentioned before how much I despise my internal editor, and when he’s paired up with depression… well, forget your Rock and Roll Express or Road Warriors, that might be the greatest tag team in history. It’s damn sure tough to beat, and I’d tap out after an hour or so of staring at a blank screen, convinced I didn’t have the talent to write and, even if I did, no one would care.
This past weekend, with work stress, concerns about the house and lingering physical ailments piled atop one another, there was a straw that threatened to break the camel’s back. I don’t want to go into details, because I’ve decided to stop lingering on them. Let’s leave it at a joke was made at my expense at the most inopportune moment, and it all but crushed me.
As a side note, if you take nothing away from all this, remember that old saying: “Everyone you meet is fighting a war you know nothing about,” and treat people accordingly.
It was at work on Monday, as I shut out the world around me and listened to my regular podcasts that the switch flipped. For the past few months, it felt like everything I listened to focused on the topic of authenticity in your work, being true to yourself and finding your passion. Maybe the repetition drove the point home. Perhaps I stared at the fire I felt I was dangling over and turned it into a forge. Or maybe I just used those shitty comments as the motivation to make a change.
I quit soda cold turkey on Tuesday, and started working to improve my diet. I started taking greater responsibility around the house. At work, I focused on doing the job to the best of my ability and trying to treat everyone I encountered with kindness and respect. I started setting a number of goals for myself, and thought about how I might achieve them.
I asked that question of my writing and of my web site again, but this time from a different perspective. Specifically, I asked myself why I wanted to write, and why the things I chose to write were important to me.
I’m not sure I’ve asked that question about my work in a long time. That self identity as a writer has been so powerful for so long, I never considered the deeper meaning of it. Like a lot of people, I envisioned a world where my work would be published and I’d find fame and fortune. Even now, I still love to listen to instrumental music and imagine how my work might appear on the big screen. Yet, as I tried to work on stories, they withered on the vine. I found myself struggling to find my novel protagonist’s voice,or even to answer basic questions about his motivations.
At some point, perhaps with my history as an editor and with years of critique classes under my belt, I started to think of the profit. Who would want to read this story? Over time, I started to temper my work and my natural voice. Even when I wrote blogs for this site, I found myself doing heavy editing. Not because I saw errors or wasn’t personally satisfied. I started writing with specific audiences in mind. What might this friend think of the work? Would my family be angry or embarrassed by something I wrote? Whose feelings could be hurt?
Don’t get me wrong, I think those are important questions to ask, and you shouldn’t go out of your way to offend or embarrass anyone. But those concerns chipped away at the authenticity of my work, to the point I wrote things and wondered how many hits it might garner. Maybe you could argue on some level I was scared of what might happen if people saw the real me, lurking behind those words.
As you might’ve guessed if you’ve been kind enough to make it this far, I’m trying to fight my way past all that now.
A couple of months ago, a fan art image inspired me to write the first piece of fan fiction I’d written in many years. While those same doubts whispered in my ear, I finished the story and posted it online. I’ve heard so many kind things back from complete strangers, yet it frustrated me. I assumed it was only because the fanfic had a built in reader base, unlike my original work. I struggled and key pecked at potential web site posts, but nothing came to mind. Given this was during the time the internal editor and depression tag team had knocked out the ref and were double teaming in the corner, I didn’t think twice.
Over the past few days, I think a little differently. I wrote that story because a piece of art drove me to do so. I wrote about the things I loved, and some subjects I would’ve been wary to tackle in my own work. I wrote it because I wanted to, and because I felt strongly about the story. And people responded to it.
Another fine example is a recent discovery I made about my photography. I’ve never been too stressed about my work there, and have followed my instincts despite a complete lack of formal training. After getting a random message from a friend online, I discovered that one of my stock photos was in a children’s book. Well, as it turned out, several of my photos are in both children’s books and science texts. Not a single one I took with the idea I was going to see them published or that I’d win a photo contest. I did it because I felt passionate about the work.
And they’ve been a success.
The question of why, as it applies to my writing, is starting to feel like a really vital one. Ever since I applied it to the novel, I’ve started to get a better handle on my main character. I’m not about to spend all weekend tapping away on the keyboard, but I don’t think it will be much longer, either. And for the first time, I’ve got article ideas and blog posts and things I want to write, and it’s all really exciting.
I don’t know who’s going to find them, and who’s going to enjoy them. But the stuff I’m writing now, both in terms of articles and stories, are things I’m really passionate about. I want to write articles that help people through things I’ve dealt with. And rather than complain about the lack of the kinds of books or stories I’d like to read, I’m going to write them. I’m going to be true to my own voice, even if that bothers some people.
As for my web site? I’m still pleased with some of the theme park stuff I’ve written, and I’ll probably keep doing it. There are also things about pop culture I want to write about, and maybe some things that go a little deeper that I want to share in the hopes maybe it’ll help someone else who needs it.
I’ve got things to say, and maybe it’s time I said them freely. Maybe it’s time I start trying to rediscover my own writing voice. In the real world, I can be a pretty quiet guy. Shy and introverted too, though I’m trying to get better. But when I sit in front of a keyboard I’m able to talk a lot easier, and having a web site gives me a platform. It’s time I started using it, and see where this journey takes me.
And who knows? Someone might even be listening.
Okay, okay… enough serious stuff for one blog post, right? Rest assured, it’s not all existential crisis. I’ve got another new article in the works, but I’ll keep that under wraps from now. I’ve learned my lesson about promising things before they’re done! Besides, I’ve got work tomorrow.
Oh, and I need to get up in time to watch The Last Jedi trailer later. Priorities!