I am a writer. Since I was four and could spell I have been writing, and building to something that never quite gets finished. It’s the only thing I’ve ever felt I was good at, the only thing I've received anything even remotely resembling praise for. I failed 7th grade reading class (just being in ‘reading’ class in 7th grade meant I’d failed something before that) but my teacher, an otherwise severe woman who actually carried a yardstick as a sidearm and wasn’t afraid to use it, said I should be a writer, insisted even, that I do so, in a way that moved me.
I am a writer. I failed plenty of classes after that, but have lived every moment of my life, every new day and new experience as though it were the first paragraph of a novel. Every person I meet is speaking dialogue, and unknowingly contributing to a character profile. Those who meet me are hereby put on notice: I’m watching, and listening.
I am a writer. Every job, even the shitty ones, has been a learning experience, and I have worn many hats. I’ve been a carwash attendant, a meat cutter’s apprentice, a gas jockey and disc jockey. I’ve washed dishes, flipped burgers, fried chicken, delivered pizzas, delivered newspapers, unloaded palettes of shrink-wrapped electronics off of trucks in pouring rain, loaded cases of ice cream bars onto trucks in a 30 below freezer, and faced items on store shelves for 40 days and 40 nights. I’ve worked in telemarketing, print publishing and website design, sometimes haven’t worked at all. I’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug more than once. Tried to sell tee shirts online at the dawn of the Internet, believing, as many did then, that websites were like the movie Field of Dreams; if I built it, they would come. Not so much. I like being my own boss and have made it happen here and there, with varying degrees of success. But in the end, I’m perfectly okay not being my own boss if it means being able to pay my bills.
I am a writer. I’ve gone through all the requisite white boy writer phases: John Steinbeck (because a high school teacher told me to), Henry Miller (because my older brother told me to), Salinger (because my teenage soul, and a teenage girl I was in love with, told me to). I had a brief affair with Kerouac…some Stephen King with a little Martin Amis thrown in when I was older (literary fusion!). 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea remains one of the most exciting books I’ve ever read, The Kite Runner by Khaled Houseini one of the best. Life of Pi recently stunned me, and the movie actually does the book justice (who knew?)...and there is a man named Philip Roth. I was a big Robert Parker fan once; still am in my heart, as it might be said Parker was the reason I got through high school. And no writer wannabe card would be stamped in completion without a spate of ‘love is a dog from hell’ Bukowksi-esque poetry. Chinaski’s greatest work happened in the final years of his life, and inspired plans to publish a collection of my own self-indulgent verse. Jewel beat me to it, but my unrealized effort still sits on Amazon.com awaiting publication. (Coming May 1997!) They will not let me take it down, or will not show me how, or something.
I am a writer. I haven’t been merely posing though, I’ve been taking it seriously, producing, ’aspiring’ my entire adult life, engaged in a never-ending process of querying and submitting my best sample chapters or first fifty pages. I have a file folder packed with rejection letters, spurned again and again by that guy Ed who works at all the New York publishers, and have occasionally sought my rebound in the murky backwaters of self-publication, where I’ve had scarcely better luck. My press releases have been sent back to me. I’ve set up my wordy wares at book fairs where nobody said a word to me. Nobody. I’ve held book signings in countless county annexes, in the drafty back areas of independent book sellers far and wide, just hoping someone showed up, much less asked me to sign something. With any luck this will change soon, but to date (and my recollection), I have signed a total of two books. In both instances it was The Grace of Goodbye, to women over the age of 70, who I suspect might have thought the rooster on the cover was cute and mistakenly assumed my terribly (read: ridiculously) violent crime novel would be a nice little whodunit to cozy up with, and just might have keeled over when the protagonist started breaking people’s fingers and spouting angry effusions, which at one time I thought made for powerful drama.
Critical response to my work has been the typical mixed bag. Some praiseful words here and there have been eclipsed by a brand of treacherous criticism I haven’t experienced since 7th grade, when I walked defiantly into the school cafeteria wearing yellow parachute pants and a plaid beret. I got torn inside out in the St. Paul Pioneer Press once, and worst, nothing that has happened in the last ten years regarding my career has done anything before it's reminded me how difficult it is to make a career...get anyone to take an interest in what you do. But I persevere. Of course I persevere.
I am a writer. I’m subject to fits of depression, to binges of excess, to ego trips that run on their own power and sometimes get me offering my contributions to conversations with a bit too much pique. I think too much about the passage of time, old faces and places that aren’t around anymore, even the ones that weren't so great when they were, sometimes get missed terribly. I know what Tuesday evenings smell like. I’ve drank too much coffee and too much beer. Smoked a lot of weed. Smoked a LOT of cigarettes. But I've never (and I’m thankful for this) stopped cherishing the rush, the utter delight, of being alive and sober, nor fell to believing inebriation engenders creativity, or much of anything really, other than headaches, weird feelings and gas. My only true addictions have been coffee and cigs. I’ve quit the cigs, gone on health kicks, walked a lot - a LOT - tried the South Beach diet and lost ten pounds. I work out regularly and have avoided turning pear-shaped as middle age has surrounded me. Someone’s going to have to pull the coffee from my cold dead hands.
I am a writer. I am at once a macho asshole and super sensitive to the suffering of others. I think Ted Nugent’s Wango Tango is the perfect rock and roll song, the Beatles' Penny Lane simply the perfect song, and Bird Gerhl by Antony and the Johnsons far and away the most beautiful thing on two legs. I listen to Wisconsin Public Radio, especially Garden Talk with Larry Meiller, because I like to grow things, but sometimes Prairie Home Companion makes me want to give someone an atomic wedgie. I am coolly confident and ego-wounded too often. Somewhere there just might be video of me that would be embarrassing were it ever to find its way into the public, but seeing as I am not an elected official, the founder of a ministry or a Hollywood hunk with an image to protect, I don’t worry too much. (Merely embarrassing, not scandalous...I can deal...;-)
I am a writer. Part of a dying breed that captures moments, trades in memories, without the aid of wearable technology. Crafting sentences, I find myself destined to what scraps of mid-listdom are left in a world in which the novel is too often little more than a movie treatment.