The following is the first in a series on my journey as a writer, from when I made the decision to go to college and became a reporter, and all the in-between, including becoming a community playwright and actor, going through a variety of jobs and, finally, writing my first novel.
This past Friday, I completed a task that I had set for myself upon writing my debut novel, ALL NATIVE, which was to gift a copy of the book to individuals who had played an important role in steering me onto the right path.
It was a beautiful sunny day as I drove to the home of retired teacher, Mike Crawford. He was the last person on my list. He lived on one of those streets in Rupert where you need to slow down and make evasive maneuvers, due to the many parts of it that were sunken in.
As I parked across from his house, he was mowing his lawn, perhaps following the chore-before-a-treat rule as I knew he had an afternoon of golf planned. As if on cue, he turned off his mower to take a break and seemed to be headed into the carport when I called out his name. He turned to me and smiled.
“Got my book?” he smiled as I approached. I held it up as I neared him and he added, “I hope you wrote something inside.”
Of course, I did write something. I thanked him for being one of the people who gave me a nudge or, in his case, a kick in the ass to get me doing something with my talent besides producing a smart-ass underground school newspaper (which was a lot of fun, though!)
It was 1981 and I had already flubbed my first attempt at graduating and was looking like I was going to sabotage myself again through gross truancy and unfinished assignments when I had a fateful run-in with Mike. I was making a rare appearance at school (and in the morning for once, to boot) when he happened to be walking by the front entrance. As soon as he saw me, he spun around and came right at me.
“You!” he snapped. “Let’s have a talk.” And, making it clear that I had no choice in the matter, he placed a hand on my shoulder and forcefully ushered me into his office (besides teaching Social Studies, he was also a guidance counselor), which was nearby.
He shut the door as I sat in the chair in front of his desk, having a good idea of where the chat was going to go. He plopped down in his chair, glared at me, and said, “what are you doing?!”
I hesitated then shrugged, “What do you mean?” – a question I didn’t ask because I wasn’t aware of my struggles in school but, instead, because he could have been referring to something else, any of a number of other stupid things I was involved in.
He sighed. “You’re not going to graduate, you know.”
The words hit me like a punch in the gut. I straightened up. I knew I was in jeopardy but I was unjustifiably confident that I was going to get it done. His statement made me nervous. “What do you mean?”
He shook his head, then explained, “You’re behind on your work. You’re never here. You’re failing,” he said and, upon seeing that he had gotten my attention, proceeded to explain to me exactly what I needed to do to turn it around. And, then, he took it a step further.
“And what about after school? What do you want to do?”
And there it was. The question we’re all asked at some point. When I was a kid, it was the classics, fireman or astronaut. In my early teens, I thought about being a lawyer, based on the courtroom dramas I had seen and my ability to nail people with zingers during informal debates. I had different thoughts now but I rarely mentioned them because the person I was at that time didn’t seem to have a realistic shot of doing anything ambitious. It was a dream, and not one for a teenage ne’er do well, alcoholic. But Mike had opened the door and I thought I should at least peek through it.
“I thought it might be good to be a reporter,” I said. Mike raised his eyebrows. Then, I added, “I’ve noticed that a lot of novelists used to be reporters.”
This was a first for me. I had said my dream out loud to someone else besides my buddies. I wanted to be a writer and, specifically, a novelist – but there is no such degree or diploma. There is a diploma for a reporter, though, and that would arm me with all of the skills and experience that a novelist should have, besides an imagination and a way with words.
Mike struck while the iron was hot.
“Okay,” he said, with an emphatic nod. “Well, how about I look into journalism schools out there and you come back tomorrow, see if we can find one for you?”
Huh? Uh …
I was taken aback by how quickly he was moving and was tempted to say “tomorrow’s not good for me” so I could think about it more and, of course, put if off. But I was also excited and, so, I told him I would come back the next day after school. He smiled, “okay, then,” and led me to the door.
I walked out of the school that day feeling different, like I might have a future, one that I dreamed of, after all. Of course, I was still an idiot, an alcoholic, and would make many wrong turns along the way, but I would become a reporter and I would write that book.
The road to my dreams, though, had many bumps and turns, and went to dark places. That, though, my friends, is what makes a good story!
NEXT: Nudged again, from an unlikely person, from out of nowhere