To see me standing there, in the dim light of our basement, glancing around at the shelves and dark skyline of sheet-covered shapes, you’d have thought I was some rendered figure in a Lester Johnson painting. I was just, I don’t know…looking, the way you sometimes do when you’re standing in the doorway of a room you’ve just entered while having forgotten your reason for doing so.
Pre-kid days, I would sit at the large, salvaged office desk down here beneath the interrogation-style lightbulb on a cord and crank out words and sentences on my old, Russian Space Station Mir-sized desktop computer. With the blind appointing of some migratory bird, I was heading towards “something” that was novel length. When I write, I rarely plot anything out. Fine, maybe there’s a name list that I keep and/or a rudimentary list of plot notes that I create simply to avoid plot conflicts, but I don’t have the organizational skills to plot the course of a story from beginning to end. In other words, I don’t always know where I’m going with a story. Most of the time, I’ll write a few words or even a few pages and if I like how it sounds, I keep going.
There’s a line in the Danny O’Keefe song, “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues”, where he says, “you’re not a kid at thirty-three…”. In the spring of 2007, at the age of 33, I really started thinking about this. It’s true. The elevator only goes one way. As if my ten years in law enforcement hadn’t already revealed to me life’s true delicateness and ephemerality, I seemed to enter a certain “freak out” period where I suddenly recognized that I was already 1/3 of the way to life’s finish line.
I imagined a guy who had or was just about to turn 50 and the sorts of things he might be experiencing emotionally. And with this idea in mind, I began to pound out a few words on the computer. Soon, a few words became a few pages. Then a few chapters. And before I knew it, I had the beginnings of a decent story about mid-life crisis on my hands.
Over the months, I reveled at the sight of this swelling manuscript. Finally, I was writing something that, by the light of the new day, I didn’t entirely consider to be shit. I created characters I had developed a genuine care and concern for and after I had written the book’s final word, I felt a sense of loss. Of course, the story was saved and backed-up, both on my computer’s desktop as well as on a flash drive. But I also kept a hard copy around that I would use as a blueprint and make corrections on before correcting the corresponding part of it on the computer-saved version. Five revisions later, I had a manuscript that I felt reasonably confident in to begin pitching to literary agents. When I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference in 2013, it garnered the interest of no less than five agents.
They’re publishing it next summer and suddenly, I feel as if all the experiences and wins and losses that I’ve ever experienced in this soulful journey hasn’t been in vain, after all. It’s redeeming. But along the way, that original manuscript that I had printed off; the old clunky 300+ stack of papers that I carried with me constantly like an old friend, had gotten misplaced. Although I knew I never would have set it down and left it anywhere, it bothered me that I had no clue where it was or what I had done with it. So, when on a whim, I began sifting through the boxes of photographs and old personal effects in our basement, I was thrilled when I happened upon it. Thumbing through the old, tattered, coffee-ringleted, written-on pages, I reminisced, remembering even where I was when I had written certain parts of it. Remembering how Cody, my old beloved golden retriever who has since passed away, would remain loyally by my side as I continued to self-inflict psychic damage with my computer.
I persisted. I never gave up. And what I had written was something that beheld an elemental truth about life and the ways of the world as I saw it. When I wrote those first few pages, I had no way of knowing where the journey would end. But at the risk of sounding banal as hell, it’s true: every journey DOES begin with a single step. Your life is your journey. With bravery, and a whole lot of persistence, you can embark on one of your own.