Writing is not life
Around this time of year, I always contemplate about the past. For good reason too. Ten years ago, my wife and I were married. Four years ago, I graduated college. Three years ago, after a quick downward spiral my wife went to live in another state. One year ago, our divorce was finalized. All these things happened around June or July.
It’s easy to focus on the negatives of your life. When I look back throughout the length of my 33 years, I tend to remember the negatives more than I do the positives. However, today I’d like to talk about one of the positives of my life. My ability to write.
My earliest memory of creatively writing is in the fifth or sixth grade. My parents were in the process of their divorce and my family was fractured. Jeff, my best friend to this very day, and I spent just about every recess on the playground with our notebooks and our pencils. We wrote about dinosaurs mainly because of our fascination with the film Jurassic Park (1993). I wish I’d kept those notebooks. Not to publish of course, because they’d be atrocious. Just for the memories.
My next memory of writing comes during seventh grade. It was a Creative Writing class, my first intramural elective. I wrote a short story called “High School Horror.” The plot centered on a serial killer inside a school killing all the bullies with a well sharpened pencil. If I had to psychoanalyze myself, I’d have to say that I wrote this as an emotional response to my first few grades of being bullied. In the summer between sixth and seventh grade I had started gaining weight and kids can be cruel. This was before all the gun violence in schools. If it’d been after, my teacher wouldn’t have commended my attention to detail. She’d be alerting me to the principal and I probably would’ve been kicked out. Zero tolerance and all.
I didn’t really write anything in high school until my senior year. However, during that last semester of school I started writing a fantasy that, to this day, has never been finished. Maybe I wrote it in order to come to terms with having to face the real world. I’d come back to it throughout the next few years because my reality was pretty terrible.
The first year my wife and I spent together, we rented a house on Ewing Street in South Bend. It was a two bedroom with a partially completed basement. The plan was to have that second room as part office and part craft room. However, as things go, life doesn’t go according to plan. My in-laws came to stay with us. So now we had four adults, one teenager, three dogs, and a cat living in that tiny, tiny home. My in-laws didn’t work for a living and spent all day at the house. I completed my first book, now published, because I spent my time at home stuck in the isolation of that intended office (now turned into a bedroom) writing.
When my divorce was finalized, I wrote a manuscript. I poured into it all of the pain, suffering, and every depressed-filled moment I went through during the two years of separation. The entire story was written in under two months on a spiral legal pad with a fountain pen. The main character was me, but without my faith in God. And it ended with the main character’s suicide.
The years of 2017 and 2018 were the lowest point in my 33 years of life. At least so far, but I pray I never go through that misery again. As I look back on these low points in my life, two things are crystal clear to me. The first is that the ability to write is my coping mechanism. I’ve found that I write best when I’m an emotional wreck.
Before I wrote this column, I was looking through Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and in it I read this:
“There have been times when for me the act of writing has been a little act of faith, a spit in the eye of despair. The second half of this book was written in that spirit. I gutted it out, as we used to say when we were kids. Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life. That was something I found out in the summer of 1999, when a man driving a blue van almost killed me.”
When I read that paragraph, I knew what my column would be about. Writing isn’t life, but it’s a way back to it.
The second thing is that even when life is bad, God is good. It’s difficult to comprehend the idea of a loving God allowing bad things to happen to those that believe. I’m not a theologian, but I think about it this way: when crafting a sword, you have to heat the metal and hammer it into the desired shape. After a series of hammering, reheating, and more hammering you have your desired weapon. If it’s strong enough and doesn’t break, it’s something that you can take into battle. (That’s a very rough explanation of sword making and doesn’t go into every facet but work with me here.)
I believe that God wants us to be the best forms of ourselves. Just like a character in a story, in order to become better we have to overcome overwhelming obstacles.
“Protect me, God, because I trust in you. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord. Every good thing I have comes from you,’” says Psalm 16:1-2.
Yes, God allowed these things to happen, but He gave me the ability to write. Without that ability, things would’ve been different.