I’m going to try to sell you on something that I’ve belileved since I started reading stories.
My first book, Tom Swift and his Spectromarine Selector, read in 5th grade, 1972, while attending Holy Spirit School, Mt. Carmel PA, the year Sister Petronia asked our religion class, “Why is the day we remember the Passion of the Lord called ‘Good Friday?’ and I answered cheekily, “Because we have no school,” and Sister Petronia slapped my head and face around so hard that I cried and my ears rang for a week. I read most of the Spectromarine Selector on detention. But listen, that invention of his could cipher out trace elements from, and follow trails through, the water at the cold bottom of the ocean. Our young Tom Swift discovered a lost Atlantis, and I went right along with him. I found it riveting. 10 years old. (Never again.)
But, I’ve been absolutely convinced, ever since I began to read books and to write things on my own.
First poem, a naïve and pretentious droner called “A Child Should Be A Fish” that I wrote when I was 19 and thought I was “bottoming out.” But I was living in a Franciscan seminary at the time and really didn’t know anything about bottoming out, except, maybe, that I was horny a lot. But you see? I just had an inkling, from all those books that I read in the years after Tom Swift; the Hemingway, the Plath, the Kerouac; that “bottoming out” was something a person just had to do to live a legendary life. So I wanted to, you know, hop right into that one as soon as possible and save myself some time on that account (because I so wanted to live a legendary life, I suppose.) In that manner, I managed to brood away what I’ve come to know as the most peaceful and carefree years of my life— when I lived as a monk, and thought I was bottoming out with hopeless tentpoles under my habit every quiet morning. And I tried to mark this wonderful breakthrough with an epic poem called “A Child Should Be A Fish” that was a meditation on longing and loss, about which, as I’ve said, I mostly knew dingle. But I’ve since come to see that it’s such a world we’re liable to write ourselves into because we simplistically think, “Well, that’s just the way that story goes.”
Which brings me to my point, what I’ve learned from reading and writing (and wondering now if you could possibly agree with me); namely this: We are all stories of souls, skulls and skin. Where I grew up, we were first-drafted by moms, pops, priests and nuns. Circumstances will differ. But, I’m convinced that, at our individual best, we will always struggle to wrest the pen away, maybe sneak it away even, to take it rightfully in our own hand— and from there on, we dare to write our own story for our own selves, nothing to prove. And what I call a life is me and every person I ever meet taking our stories from the crib to the church pew to the desk to the page to the street, to the classroom, the bedroom, the board room, the barroom— the wild and wicked spectrum of all our stories that can only be read and puzzled over, and maybe even loved, for the duration of our limited, respective seasons. And every time it’s you opening the book and being whoever-in-the-world you are. Every single time, it’s just you and me saying, “See? This is who I am. Isn’t it strange? What do you think of my story?”
That’s just how I see it, and hear it when we talk.
I believe in books, and see them everywhere.
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