Might not be all that surprising to a few folks I know, but I field the question an awful lot these days. Still, considering the vast majority of those who know me now were a bit astounded I could even hold a pen much less use one, it’s hardly rocket science.
But when that thing you’ve always done seems more like work than anything you might’ve once enjoyed, sometimes you’re better off giving it a rest a spell. A rest. A spell. Hmph. That might be almost humorous were it not so damn life-altering. Nothing I’ll elaborate just this second, just know that irony can lead to long and twisted road sometimes, which is great if you’re on a motorcycle. Not so much sometimes when you’re living it. Of course, that’s another story…
For now, I’d like to share a little something I wrote two years ago, to the date. Before that particular day ended, I loaded a rather large toolbox into my truck–right about now, actually, two years ago–after the job I’d had for the last five years handed me my walking papers in a company-wide layoff, Glen Fry of one my all-time favorite rock bands, the Eagles, would up and die, and I made the decision to get serious about that whole return to grad school thing.
It was a busy day, no doubt. A pretty damn awful day, if you want to know the truth.
Today as I sit here writing, able to see the not-so-distant finish line from where I am now, it occurs to me that whatever fears I felt or losses I endured that particular day two years ago, were perhaps the best thing that could’ve happened to me.
Sure, the paychecks shrank astronomically. I’ll never get to see the Eagles play live again (not all of them, anyway; while they might’ve announced they were breaking up band for good now that Glen was gone, it’s hardly the first time that particular group of guys reneged on such plans). And I’ve still good miles to go before the post-graduate degree is a reality.
But it made me find my pen again, even if said pen is more of a metaphor than actual writing tool (don’t get me wrong: I’ve got one and use it quite regular; the bulk of anything I call real writing, though, occurs on a keyboard). So with no more adieu, I answer that question I started with by sharing words written two years ago, to the date, in what turned out to be my required entrance essay at grad school:
“. . .The son of teacher, the three Rs rang loudly in my home. It suit me fine. I excelled at it. At 17, I found myself checking into my first college dorm at what had been my mother’s alma mater in San Marcos. My original goal was to follow her footsteps into the classroom, but life soon rekindled other ambitions, starting in my very first class, freshman comp.
Don’t get me wrong. My eyes were opened wide in that first course. My very first essay earned me my first-ever failing grade. “Remedial work,” my professor scrawled across the top of Page 1 in barely legible red ink; “Poorly executed prose” came another message on Page 4 by the same pen. I nearly cried.
But before that short summer session ended, I righted a few wrongs in my writing and officially declared English my major. My boyhood dreams of someday crafting my own stories were still very much alive.
I would study under Dr. Edgar Laird twice more before my undergraduate work was complete, and I take great pride in reporting that our later encounters ended in far better reviews of my work. He wouldn’t be the only critic, but he was definitely my first. I became better because of people like him. I took work as a newspaperman not long after earning my degree, and it wasn’t long before the first in what would become walls of awards from regional, state and national press organizations started flowing my way.
Still, I enjoyed college well enough, so I always assumed I would someday seek something beyond my Bachelors I eventually found my way into a Master’s program in Abilene, even got to teach a few undergraduate classes on my own. Sadly, a devastating house fire late into my first year forced me to abandon my studies. I barely escaped the blaze alive. Everything I owned was lost.
That fire happening when it did wasn’t the worst of circumstances, I eventually realized. Those awards I mentioned earlier soon offered up far more lucrative options at far larger journalistic enterprises. Besides, my short time spent teaching taught me one sure thing: Short of outright stealing them from my mentors, I had no stories to tell. Not my own, anyway, none I wanted to share right then, anyway. That made for a mighty dull class, and me, a dull teacher. I was barely 25 and sorely needed to live life a little more before I began imparting my wisdom with others.
Looking back over the two decades of experience since, some with a pen and many without, I think I may finally have something or two worth sharing. I’m better prepared than I once was, at least. I’ve got plenty to learn still, I’m certain. But [this program] is the best opportunity I’ve got at making some of those boyhood dreams come true, becoming that teller of tales I always wanted to be. . .