I enjoy writing – I didn’t used to. For starters, I’m left handed. If you’re not left handed, then this won’t make any sense to you but – if you are – then I’m guessing that some of you lefties are, as I am, a ‘hand dragger’. This leads to everything you write being smeared to varying degrees by your ‘following’ hand, behind your ‘leading’ pen-wielding, fingers. It pretty much sucks as bad as it sounds. The nuns especially hated me for it, and ‘handwriting’ was the sole item preventing me from perfect report cards in grade school.
So long-hand, for me, was a nightmare. The other problem that I had (have) was (is) that my brain could (can) assemble words and sentences far, far more quickly than my hand could (can) impart them permanently on paper. This led to some of the world’s sloppiest handwriting which I still exhibit today, much to the overt consternation of my co-workers, wife, and anyone else who falls prey to having to decipher it. Seriously: it’s practically a crime against nature.
For Christmas in 1987, I asked for a typewriter. I had fallen in love with the clean and concise way in which these simple machines could transform my handwriting into something more palatable to the masses. My step-mother had an old Remington model that I found in the basement one weekend at my Father’s place, and I began using it on a whim, soon to be pumping out random item after random item. Humor to amuse myself, mostly.
So, when Christmas rolled around, and I did indeed receive a Brother electric (with word-correct!), I was a happy little camper. I immediately began typing most of my papers for school, and also worked on amusing myself with more elaborate original stories and humor. Mostly? They sucked. But they existed, and that was what mattered most to me.
During my time at the slightly-more-than-normally-progressive Kennedy Middle School, I was fortunate enough to have two strong influences in my continuing, budding romance with the written word. Mrs. Nancy West (7th Grade) encouraged me to refine my work, while also challenging her students to write about topics that she chose – forcing us out of our comfort zones. Mrs. Heimer (8th Grade) was a free-spirited, and – frankly – unique individual who a lot of kids made fun of. Me? I did my fair share of this, in an effort to fit in (which I was already miserable at, so why I bothered I have no idea.) Secretly, though, I found her to be an amazing woman who always had some positive reinforcement for everyone (and especially for me, who took what I could get and relished the uncharacteristic attention), and a knack for unique items of trivia.
High school saw my first forays into longer works. Mrs. Victoria Sleger (who recently passed away at far too young an age) made it known that she saw in me some potential and – in fact – went out of her way to let me know this. I turned in a ‘short story’ on one occasion that topped out at 31 pages. No one had ever done anything of this magnitude before, I was told, and she further went out of her way to take me aside and divulge her enamor with the characters. I was both shocked and humbled. Everything that I turned in that year was the very best I had to offer. I felt that her confidence in me deserved nothing less.
The fire was lit, and the kindling was smoldering. Enter the proverbial log: Mr. David Ross. Mr. Ross is eccentric, in the best possible ways. More to the point, he was different, and unafraid to be unique and his own man. And I admired him for that. Known for his super-wide, super-loud ties, he was a man who could make anyone feel like an important piece in the machine of the world, rather than some nameless cog. He taught me the nuances of poetry (something I still wish that I could write well, but never seem to have gotten the sinuous knack of), as well as completing the process of breaking me out of my self-induced shell.
On one occasion, we were tasked with writing a series of projects. Once he had reviewed these, he would privately take the writers aside and divulge whether he felt them worthy for submission to The National High School Writer for publication. I had no preconceived notions that anything I would ever write would result in one of these one-on-one encounters. Mostly, I wrote bad poetry (the poetry was assigned – the ‘bad’ part was just me), and stories that were right in my wheelhouse: humor.
So, imagine my surprise when, one fateful afternoon, I was asked to hang out for a moment after class. I never even saw it coming. I had written a ridiculous piece of social satire about the state of cereal prizes, a kid who becomes an incidental super hero, and ridiculous mysticism. It was meant to be nothing more than outlandish. It turned out that this was the sort of thing the publication ate up, because the younger set just wasn’t producing enough of it to satisfy their needs. Who knew? So, Mr. Ross inquired whether I would care to submit it for potential selection for publication. And, honestly? I thought he was not only nuts, but a bit foolish. Who in their right mind would publish something so borderline dumb? I let him know that I appreciated his enthusiasm (privately thinking, ‘misguided though it may be’) and let it go at that.
A few weeks passed. And, then, the morning announcements brought a shock. I was congratulated on my selection for publication in The National High School Writer, the most recent edition of which had arrived the prior afternoon. I was stunned.
Apparently, Mr. Ross had believed so strongly that the story deserved a chance in the wide world that he had submitted it, even in the face of my negativity. A kinder act had seldom ever been bestowed upon me. I was as elated as I was confused by the whole thing, and I can’t help but consider that my life would be very, very different without this single, fulcrum act.
My elation was exceedingly short-lived, however. As I have mentioned before, I was nobody in my school. I had few friends and, truth be told, few knew that I even existed. Conversely, there was another student – in many of my classes, and in my same graduating year – named Keith Albers. Keith had come from Keith Country Day School, and was wildly popular. As such, he was afforded a multitude of congratulations for his story being published. Me? Everyone assumed it had to be him, so I got pretty much zip. It was one of the most defeating times in my short life to that point. I was crestfallen because the world had handed me a shining beacon of hope with one hand, and viciously bitch-slapped me with the other. To this day, folks still think he’s me, and tell me how great I was in some play (most recently) or other things I have no notion of because we’re still two different people. I’m just happy for him for receiving that which I never did – genuinely, I am. He’s a decent and genuine guy.
After high school I wrote for pleasure, churning out random items, stories, philosophical musings, or ‘whatever’ to amuse myself. I began writing a book about 13 years ago, only to hate what I had written, and start over. This was to – a decade later – become my first published work, “Terminal Beginning“. Still, the work went through numerous permutations before I found my footing. In hindsight, it’s not a terribly strong work. I’m even sort of embarrassed about a lot of it, having grown so much as a writer in the passing years thereafter. Still, everyone needs a beginning, and that work was mine. When I found out I had actual ‘fans’ of the work, whom I had never met, it was one of the highlights of my existence.
In 2006, I began to keep a blog (which, unfortunately, has suffered of late, due to my over-extension of time afforded to other writing on numerous fronts). This was around the time that I had become fairly introspective about my Grandfather’s waning memory. I considered all of the things that I had seen, the places I had been, and the life events and funny stories that I would have wished captured for posterity, but had since been forgotten, as his would soon be. In high school, in fact, I would – on rare occasion – document major life-event stories in my spare time, literally writing them to my ‘future self’ in an effort to not forget something that I felt was important. I still have these, and – one rainy day – I will read them, and know that I’ll enjoy them. And probably make a goodly amount of fun of my younger self to boot.
On the heels of my first novel, I began a second work, entitled “Time and Time Again” – a work that fizzled out about a quarter of the way through before I abandoned it, wondering if I was a one-trick pony. This led into our business (Digital Ninjas Media, Inc.) being founded, whereupon I developed a series of Facebook Groups to aid and educate our consumer base with a number of specific, targeted, streams of information. The first of these – and also the most successful – was the ‘Guerrilla Business‘ group. Guerrilla business is, at its core, using predominantly inexpensive tactics in an effort to garner awareness of business for your enterprise, regardless of what it may be, while using tactics developed by other business entities in a way that tailors them to function in one’s own business model. I worked for months on end, researching and writing these entries. And they were more well received than I had ever dared imagine. I had used the techniques learned in my earlier BBS days to develop a strong digital presence in mere months – going from no one, to someone everyone seemed to have at least heard of. It was a coup that I never saw coming, but I called it a win, just the same.
As the fire was fueled by positive feedback, and my love for the work, I continued to write short articles for this forum until such time as I felt I didn’t have any more bases to cover in the short term. It was at this point that I realized that I had enough content to form a book. Inadvertently, I had written my second published work, on a topic that – only months ago – I had known nothing about. This was “Guerrilla Business“, and I was fairly pleased.
Coinciding with this, I had begun writing a new novel, entitled, “Last Rights“. This book began one morning, after waking from a dream, and finding a solid concept remaining in my brain. I immediately escaped to my office writing area, and sculpted the beginnings of what would become the work that – God willing – I will issue as my third published work before the close of the year. Already, it is more than 2.5x larger than my first work (a feat which I honestly never thought would happen to me) and – I feel – is a stronger work than the first, though not as ‘light and loveable’ by any stretch of the imagination. Time will prove that out but I’m fairly confident that I’m correct.
About this time, I also began some ‘writing exercises’ in the form of short stories (the first being “The Battery Man“), as well as allowing my crazier side to run free with my ‘Plinky The House Elf‘ blog, as well as ‘The Mr. Phillips Screwdriver Chronicles‘, ‘Paper Or Plastic?: The Cashier Chronicles‘,and ‘Weird Uncle Pete‘ (a character who took on a life of his own, after being the ‘Goofus’ to my ‘Gallant’ in many business articles written for the Guerrilla Business Facebook page).
This year also saw my first foray into the field of editing – something I’m still not completely adept at. I have had to edit all of my own work, with the help of my genius wife (and my part of things sort of show). As I became more adroit, I found myself called upon to edit college papers, and other things. A few months ago, I was asked by a long-time, dear friend, to edit two of her micro-books, “Pendulums” & “Madame Lenormand & Her Cards“. It was an interesting, educational, and flattering experience that I still don’t feel that I deserved – but I gave it my best, just the same.
And that brings me full-circle to the here and now. Months ago, Dan Creviston (he’s the guy who founded ‘The Rockford Blog‘, for those of you living in a cave, on Mars, with your fingers in your ears, to quote Sideshow Cecil Terwilliger of Simpson’s fame) offered an open invitation for content providers for his then breakout outlet about the city he so loves. I felt it would be a good opportunity to write something different (and shorter) and offered to do so, should he feel that my submissions were worthy of publication. He has graciously allowed me to grandstand about my life in Rockford, and about the positive influences that I experienced growing up there, with special emphasis on other individuals whom Rockford should be proud to call their own. And – even for all my rampant Narcissism – I’m humbled, nonetheless by the act of faith on his part, as well as the acts of kindness of so many Rockfordians who have positively shaped the individual who I am today.
In closing, I want to thank all of those kind souls who encouraged a nobody kid with few friends to write. It’s a love that has blossomed beyond casual reckoning and something which I cannot imagine not doing in my day to day life at this point. So: Thank you, one and all. It meant more to me than you will ever know, or than I may ever express.