I remember once when I was in third grade, sitting at a wooden desk in my bedroom and writing some kind of story on the sheets of a yellow legal pad that was more than loosely based on the Ewoks. I don’t remember the plot now- I just remember sitting down and doing it. Return of the Jedi made a large impression on me. What can I say?
I think in the fifth grade, with a Shetland Sheepdog in the house for a muse, and a computer with basic word processing software and a green monochrome display at my disposal, I attempted to impersonate author Jim Kjelgaard, by writing a story almost exactly like one of his, but with our dog in it instead of one of his. His book Snow Dog was one of my all-time favorites as a boy, right up there with Rinkitink in Oz and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
In freshman English class in high school, probably late in the same rolling twelve month period in which I read Hunt for Red October and The Aquitaine Progression, I chose to turn a free-writing assignment into a taut scene in an abandoned warehouse involving two middle-aged men of unquestionable physical fitness and decision-making prowess, with hand guns, one of whom was a Russian agent, the other an American.
In college I began as a physics major, because I enjoyed my physics class in high school, I loved to think about how the universe worked, and further, to think about what the-way-it-worked implied about who we are, but I decided I could enjoy most of the best parts of that passion without signing on for a decade of formal training. I switched to engineering because I enjoyed solving problems and creating things. Still, in a couple of committed spurts, in between digesting lectures on thermodynamics, heat transfer, and differential equations, I worked on “novels”. One was a story of five characters who come together and undergo personal spiritual transformations en route to saving their world. I don’t even think I have a copy of that effort. The second was about two characters, Noah and Biggs, retired, who follow a highly passionate- e.g. crazy- person whose main objective is to thwart the Machine by establishing some sort of utopian community. This effort, too, bogged down.
One of the desires that has resurfaced this year as I have started and maintained this blog is the desire to write creatively. It has been probably fifteen or so years since the previous spurts of any real commitment. The previous paragraphs are not intended to tell a story of fate or inevitability, but to simply acknowledge as I look back on my life that, yes, this desire has been within me. This thread is there. It is not, perhaps, with me now by accident. Nothing is perhaps, quite by accident. It is interesting to note it has not been the only bit of foreshadowing I could look back upon. We are not one-dimensional in our explorations and tendencies.
You can see the roots of an engineering mind starting to form early on as well, when, also in the third grade, after an IBM PC Junior appeared in our home, I carried a binder with me to school that contained an alphabetized list of all the BASIC commands available to a computer programmer. When I finished my assignments, I would pull out the binder and read about them, one by one. I wrote an absurd (I would say, given my age) computer program that used at least a thousand lines of BASIC to paint the screen with rudimentary images from Star Wars, building the images out of basic shapes like squares, rectangles and circles, to play the sound track from the movie, to display text, and to receive simple user inputs. It was a Choose Your Own Adventure game- or the beginnings of one.
So, anyway, I have been doing some creative writing this year and have arrived at the conclusion the next thing for me to do is share it. I have set up a new page here called “Fiction”, and once in a while new stories will appear. The first one is in position as we speak. I don’t know how many or how often, but that’s where they’ll be. I am at the beginning of “taking myself seriously as a writer”, as my friend Mari aptly puts it, so these efforts are what they are. Efforts. Practice. Explorations. They don’t do well hidden away, so I will set them out here on this site to cool.
One of the gifts I received for Christmas was a collection of the short stories written by J.G. Ballard, who Anthony Burgess describes on the jacket as being “among our finest writers of fiction”. I have read about half of the stories, and am finding them indeed quite enjoyable. I was struck, however, by where his mind went- to worlds dominated by over-population and cities so vast ‘free space’ was an altogether foreign concept, to characters seeking to remove the wasted time of sleeping from their lives, to a recurring reference to a tumbling metabolic rate of human beings over the past hundreds of thousands of years, as if we’re ‘winding down’. Around the same time Mari was sharing her thoughts with me about a story I had written and asked her to read, and in which she was discovering these linkages to parts of my life. I realized that I write what I write. It is probably for all practical intents and purposes beyond my ability to “help it”, just as Ballard surely wrote and thought what came to him within the context of being J.G. Ballard.
What I end up typing onto the screen is probably in some way unique, and sharing what I write, even if not ready for prime time, is probably a powerful way to share who I am, to provide a foothold for the discovery of who we are in relationship to it. This realization helps assuage the part of the mind that grades all of one’s efforts on a strict pass-fail system, where pass means it is at least equivalent to the latest Nobel-winning piece of literature… There’s a long-standing need to put that type of thinking behind me.
Anyway, as I was thinking along these lines, about the way sharing our invented stories is perhaps another way of sharing who we are, or at least sharing who we are wrestling with becoming, my WordPress pal Marga sent me this quote from Neil Gaiman, “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams.” That about clinched it. Hopefully the windows, despite needing a washing or two, despite being of variable thickness and shape and thus distorting the view beyond, are still clear enough to transmit some of that pure light.
And if your particular way of viewing time involves rolling over a New Year tonight- may it be a good and blessed one.