Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I Write

As I lay in bed this morning, unfortunately mere minutes before my alarm was supposed to sound, I had one question and one question alone on my mind: Why write? There are a ton of professions I could long for, many different dream jobs I could aspire to. So why do I write? It’s a simple question to think about really. Why do any of us do the things that we do? Why are we compelled or driven rocketing towards one goal while completely avoiding others? I often find when we’re exploring things that should be the most basic we find that the answers are not so simple. For instance, why I write.

Proof of early drawing skills
I would argue I write because I cannot draw, paint, sculpt or compose music, but I can compose prose. I never gained the discipline to do any of those other things, and yes I do understand that it takes a certain level of talent to master them, but I never got out of the starting gate. If I went back in time and asked my eight year-old self, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I can tell you right now unequivocally it would be an animator for Disney. That eight year-old never found out about Cal Arts though, never knew that there is a path to chasing that dream, just was told, “Good luck kid, you’ll need it.” I didn’t get this advice from my parents, who were both hard working individuals with nine to fives, supporting my brother and me. No, it was the world that answered back in kind and sadly I bought into it. I believed I would never be a good enough artist to draw for Disney so why even try? And the funny thing about life folks is days turn into weeks, and weeks into months and months into years and now here I am sitting at my computer twenty-four years later very much not an animator at Disney. “But wait,” you might say, “it’s never too late.” And you’re right, it isn’t. I’ve only spent thirty-two years on this earth and with any luck I have at least thirty-two more (many more than that I hope). I could start drawing every day and really polish up my skill, build a portfolio and become an animator late in life. Dreams are realized every day, why not this one? I think I asked myself this question as well as pose it to you. Is it because it would be too hard and that’s not what we look for out of life? Sure we love a challenge, but don’t we like a little calculated risk? Very seldom do we feel comfortable laying it all out on the line in order to achieve something that we really want. It’s a hell of a lot easier to stay unhappy but comfortable. And in all honesty that’s where I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life: unhappy but comfortable.

My son visiting me at work.
Until recently, I made a darn good living as a Lead Standardization Crew (LSC) two man as a fulltime member of the Vermont Air National Guard. I joined the guard back in 2001 when I called my father up from Atlanta Georgia to say I needed some direction in my life and, more importantly, I needed help. To digress a little bit (I promise I’ll pull it all back together) I wasn’t the strongest of students in high school. It’s not to say I couldn’t do the work, I could. It just didn’t interest me. I had my life to live, or so I thought. I didn’t have time for classes. Besides, who needed them? I was going to be a rock star (did I mention I was in a band?). When high school was at its end and I was finally done with all the stuff I had to do, it was time to set off into the world and do what I wanted to do. Only, that’s not what happened. I found myself working, which is what happens when you mess around in high school and don’t have a career path to rocket towards. While my friends were off at college (I should say some of my friends, others were and still are just hanging out) I moved to Woodstock Georgia with a girlfriend to continue work at Costco Wholesale. First off, Costco isn’t a bad gig. It pays well for what it is, and how many other companies would give a nineteen year-old an opportunity to move anywhere in the country and have a job waiting? Yeah, the answer is not many. The problem was I wasn’t a rock star; I was a Costco employee. Sure I made good money and had benefits, something someone with barely a high school education should’ve been psyched for, but I wasn’t. I had what from the outside looked like a good life but I was unhappy; I wanted more. I didn’t want twenty years of my life to go by and have money but a deep feeling of unfulfillment.

From left to right: My Uncle, my father and me deployed together in 2006.
I called my Dad who was still in Vermont and did something completely out of character for me; I reached out and asked for help. Admitting I was wrong and in way over my head isn’t something that’s easy for me. I’m more of the suffer silently type or, if you’ve read some of my other blogs, the suffer not so silently type. I picked up the phone, asked for help and help was given. Before I could blink I was back in Vermont and walking down a very different path, a path that my father had walked down himself, a path that he understood. He brought me to see an Air National Guard recruiter and traded my soul for a backpack and a glass mug with the 158th Fighter Wing logo on it (If you’re reading this Dad I left both of those items behind for you). I jest with the soul comment; it’s more of an inside joke between my Dad and I. The truth is, I joined something that day. Something that I didn’t fully understand until I woke up at four forty-five this morning and knew I had to start writing this. I joined a family when I joined the military. Like all families, they have their own set of rules, their own internal politics that you don’t necessarily understand and authority you most certainly question more than agree with, but it’s a family, and families don’t always get a long. For the past twelve and a half years (thirteen in February) I’ve served as an Airman in the Vermont Air National guard. Because of my military service I’ve traveled all of the country, seeing Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, South Carolina and Virginia for the first time as well as having the pleasure of visiting such splendid countries as Qatar and Iraq (full disclosure: Qatar isn’t that bad). I was able to attend college even with my less than stellar high school performance and then after college, I was able to move on to grad school. I was able to marry my soul mate, and yes I might’ve been able to do that without the military but hey, they did foot the bill so I’m going to give credit where credit is due. I was able to buy my first house with a VA loan and they covered the cost of the birth of my first child. Not bad when you sit back and look at it. Most importantly, it also allowed me a place to grow and mature and offered me life experiences that I might not have ever gained elsewhere or if I stayed on my Costco path. But just like Costco, the military had an expiration date for me. It was always supposed to be a stepping-stone and I had overstayed my welcome. I remember the exact day I thought of this and it was admittedly many, many years earlier on one of the trips previously mentioned. Mid-shift I got a lunch break from the flight line and walked into the chow hall. Sitting there was one of the crustiest Technical Sergeants I’ve ever had the pleasure of laying eyes on. His wrinkles had wrinkles and I’d be lying if I ‘d guessed he was a day over seventy. He was forty-two. That number stands out to me, one because it’s the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything, but more importantly it’s the age I would’ve been when I reached my twenty-year mark and was able to retire from the military. It meant that staring into the dead milky eyes of this sergeant was like there by the grace of god, go I. I shutter now to think about him and I hope for his sake that he was just having an off day, but I doubt it. No, I knew that I needed to get out and I needed to do it immediately before my eyes matched his, or a lions at the zoo still missing the plains of Africa. Sure you’re alive, you can walk around and be paraded in front of strangers, but you’re dead on the inside.  Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? And I’m not dead yet, but I am a sum of all my parts. As much as my military time wasn’t all happy days, the military is still part of who I am and part of how I see myself. So what does that have to do with the question that I posed: Why do I write? The short answer is because that’s the medium I’ve found I can express myself most clearly. Yes I have a conversational tone, and no I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I enjoy reading pieces where I can clearly hear the writers voice and understand just what part of them they’ve poured into their prose for the whole world to see. I promised you before when I went off on my long diatribe on my military time it would tie into why I want to write and here it is: because for twelve and a half years (thirteen in February) I haven’t dreamt of anything else. And I write this sitting here in Los Angeles California no longer a resident of Vermont, and no longer the LSC two man because I’ve taken that leap of faith and begun the long and arduous journey of becoming that writer. That’s right, I jumped and now I’m free falling through life and if you want to know if it’s hard, it is. Is it scary? It is. Do I find myself questioning my choice of taking the road less traveled? I do. Will this all be worth it in the end to see a dream realized? It will.

But Travis, what if you fail? Asks the voices in my head daily as well as concerned friends and family. I might. I mean, in all honesty the chips are stacked against me; there is a much higher chance of me failing than ever being a successful writer. But the thing that’s bugged me, that’s literally nagged at me for years and years is this; there’s that chance that I might succeed as well.  Mind blowing, right? Okay, not really, but that is the simple truth. I might fail and yes there is plenty of opportunity for that, but there’s that very slim chance that I might not. And that has been enough to keep me awake at night and hungry. Hungry enough to walk away from a steady income and relative job security to roll it all on a dream. These are trying times my friends and more often than not I find myself staring at a blank page with nothing but self-doubt and self-hatred swirling through my head. Have I made a huge mistake? Am I wrong? Is this just some delusion of grandeur I long ago dreamt up? I don’t know. I guess only time will tell. But I do know one thing: even after all I’ve been through and all that I’m currently facing one thing still holds true. I want to, no, need to write. So why do I write? Simply because I have to. I feel driven and/or compelled to create stories because I can hear my characters talking to me, and because I need to leave my mark on this world. I write because I can’t draw, paint, sculpt or compose music. I write because it makes this world make sense to me. I write for my own sanity and happiness. And I think if I can remember that last one I might actually overcome my fear of my inner critic and defeat the blank pages that lie in front of me. So now you know the score, you know why I’m here and why I’m writing this. I’ll leave you with some words that, if you know me you know what they mean to me, and if you just met me through this post I have a feeling you now know what they mean to me as well.

“Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived or he who has stayed securely on shore and merely existed?” –Hunter S. Thompson

Well fellow readers, we are off of the shore now. Let’s see what the storm of life has to offer, shall we? Don’t worry, now that I got this off of my chest I’ll get back to talking about videogames, movies and beer.