I was born during the Vietnam “Conflict” in 1968. My dad was stationed at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida. After serving a few tours, he was honorably discharged in 1970. I never knew my dad before the war, but everyone talked about how nice and kind he was. The only dad I knew was the violent alcoholic. I was sheltered from this for a while, spending most afternoons and every weekend with my grandparents. But as I grew older, the ugly truth was impossible to hide…the constant bruises on my mom couldn’t easily be explained. Over time, my mom turned from the occasional Valium to dull her emotions, to a full-on addiction.
At the beginning of my 2nd grade year in 1975, my teacher sent home one of those leaflets from Scholastic with assorted age appropriate books. I think out of guilt, my mom told me to order anything I wanted, no limit. Taking her up on her offer, I circled what I wanted, amounting to about 20 books on the list. She put the cash and the order slip in an envelope and I turned it in to my teacher the next morning.
A few weeks later, I came down with the flu and was staying with my grandparents. On Monday afternoon, my mom came over to bring me my school work she had picked up, along with a big box with my name on it. I opened it up and it was FULL of my books. I was amazed. Seeing them on an order form was much different than holding a box full of books on my lap.
I rushed through a week’s worth of school work in one day, and spent the rest of the week reading. By the following Monday, I had finished every book and asked my teacher when the next order form would be arriving. I was allowed to start going to the school library as often as I wanted/needed to check out books, instead of the once a week schedule for our class. Sometimes I’d check out 2 books at a time, reading both overnight, and exchanging for more the next morning.
Reading was my escape. The written word became my mind altering drug. My mom and dad would start fighting at night, and I’d go deeper and deeper into the characters and the plot until I couldn’t hear them. I didn’t see words on paper, I watched the stories unfold as movies in my mind, totally oblivious to the anger and violence that played out in the other room.
Over time, my parents’ situation worsened, with attempted murder charges filed against both my parents in separate situations. Eventually they divorced and THAT was the best thing to ever happen to our “family”.
When I was in 7th grade, my mom remarried. Steve had a Ph.D. in psychology. He worked for the State of Alabama as a probation officer and part time as a marriage counselor. Even though I was not allowed in his home office, I was a typical pre-teen and violated his rules. I found a bookshelf in his closet with all his college textbooks and the papers he had written. Over the next 2 years, I read every one of them. I never had looked to textbooks for reading pleasure, but it opened up the world of non-fiction to me. I may not be a psychologist, but I could definitely play one on TV. FYI…It took weeks after finishing his Abnormal Psychology books before I could sleep without nightmares. YIKES!
It was around this time that I first visited a book store. I grew up in a VERY rural community, so the best we had to offer was a library (originally funded by Andrew Carnegie…the sign said so). My mom was doing some Christmas shopping and we went to Birmingham to Century Plaza. When I saw the store filled with books, the angels started singing. I saw my destiny that day. My dream job was a bookstore clerk.
Ok, maybe not the loftiest of goals, but things changed as I continued down the path of maturity, and along with that, so did the maturity of my goals. In college, the neighborhood bookstores/coffee shops/hipster hangouts were gaining popularity. My dream evolved into owning one of these awesome little places. I’d grow a goatee, and have poetry night every Friday night. The only requirements would be participants must only wear black clothing and sport sunglasses…inside…at night.
The big box book retailers killed that, somewhat odd, dream over the next few years.
Life began to blur…marriage, kids, career, divorce…the dreaming stopped, but the reading didn’t. I tried to pass my love of reading to my kids, but it never became their passion. I think technology has performed a clandestine attack of epic proportions on reading time. Even though they are adults, I can’t stop myself from buying them books, that will collect dust and end up in a yard sale some day.
I married Christy in 2007 and the dreams started again. We’re very aligned when it comes to setting big goals and chasing your dreams (and she loves books almost as much as I do).
I’ve wanted to become a writer for a long time. People with whom I crossed paths with in life would tell me I need to write a book. I would sit down at the computer and begin typing out my thoughts, only to go back and read what I had written in shame. The voices of fear and self-doubt (Steven Pressfield called this The Resistance) would tell me to delete that crap and go back to the TV. I was an obedient servant. Countless times, I would begin a new project, and walk away, producing nothing but mangled paperclip.
Now, this dream has a life of it’s own. I’ve started the journey…this time more prepared. Fear has been punched (kicked, slapped, body-slammed & fed to the pigs). Fear hold no leverage over me.
I’m writing. And this time, I won’t stop. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I don’t write because I want to be published, as Jon Acuff said, that’s simply a result. I write because that’s who I am, not just what I do. Words are the most powerful force in the universe. The can evoke grief and pain, or laughter and joy. Writers paint their canvases with the range of emotion and give birth to themselves over and over through their written words.
My dream has grown legs and is dragging me down a path filled with wild flowers and bunnies. I’m not sure where the destination is, but I’m most definitely enjoying the journey.