I am a writer. That’s what defines me. I never seriously wanted to be anything else. Oh sure, when I was young I thought of doing this and that. When very young I had a Classics Illustrated comic version of “Bring ‘Em Back Alive”, about adventurers journeying to far places to capture wild animals for zoos, and that’s what I wanted to do. For a time I wanted to be an oceanographer, because the sea and the life within fascinated me. But after those and other childhood fantasies I drifted rudderless until the revelation.
Yes. I have written of it before, how I took a course in science fiction literature while majoring in drugs and lassitude at Santa Clara University, and in the assigned textbook, an anthology of stories edited by Robert Silverberg, came across the story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and realized by the end of it that I just had to be a writer – there was nothing else in the world for me.
It was a natural progression. For as long as I can remember I loved nothing more than to curl up with a good book and become absorbed in it. We had a beach house on Hood Canal in the State of Washington with a splendid view of the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains. There were all sorts of things to do there: play in the woods or down on the beach, go fishing, and so on, but every day during summer my mother had to pry me off the couch where I would be ensconced with a book, my head on one arm of it and my feet on the other, to get me to go outside and get some air. It makes sense that a bookworm would eventually want to create that which enthralls him.
But there is many a slip twixt cup and lip. Drugs and alcohol claimed me for a long time, fogged my mind, hindered my creativity. I did make steps in the right direction. I attended Clarion West science fiction writing workshop for six weeks and was taught each week by a different star science fiction writer or editor, including Harlan Ellison himself. I moved from Seattle to Los Angeles to try my hand at script writing, an effort which came to absolutely nothing. I wrote stories – not a lot, but some. However, they were not good stories. They were rubbish. It was hard to come up with anything to say when I was so timid, withdrawn, fearful of life and its ramifications.
But I got over it, with the help of Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, and others, and decided, in the spirit of adventure, to set out on the road. My road adventures can be found in my memoir “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search” so I will not again delve into the details.
Eventually, though, I became a husband and a father, and for years that defined me. I stopped writing for about fifteen or twenty years, something I now regret. Much else was going on, true, but in the end, when I decided to get behind the keyboard again, I had to start from scratch. Be that as it may, here I am, back in the saddle, determined never to give it up.
So who am I? I am a husband and a father and an English teacher and a world traveler and still a bookworm too. But most of all I am a writer. It is my talent, my calling, my burden, my joy. I don’t know what I would be if I were not a writer, but I know I would not be complete. I would be a sort of half-man, going through the motions in a half-assed sort of way – as many people do in this sad, sad world of ours. As Thoreau said, the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. They slog through their lives largely clueless that anything else, anything better, exists. I too spend much of my time slogging to work and back, doing household things like laundry and cooking and shopping and cleaning and house maintenance – with five sons it never seems to end. These things must be done. Sometimes during the school year I have only a few minutes, a half hour, at most an hour a day to devote to writing. But I am not in despair. It still defines me, regardless of the amount of time I can devote to it. When I do have free time, the first thing I think of is what I can do on the writing front. It’s always there. I am always thinking and planning and coming up with ideas for it.
There are other things in life, sure. Perhaps you don’t give a second thought to such a pursuit as writing. But I hope you have something that gets you through the days and nights. Writing does it for me.
That’s who I am.