Posted in Health

Just Beneath the Surface

That is just a small pile. These are the most immediate books on my ever-growing, “must-read” list. I think I have read almost every article by Ta-Nehisi Coates available online. I have watched YouTube videos of him speaking. But I have yet to crack open one of those books. The Autism book I have been working on for weeks. But I have not made nearly as much progress as I would like. Annie Dillard has been on my list for 20 years!!! On the Kindle sits a mystery novel by my friend Anita. She sent it to me in December. I promised I would read it. And I will! But I warned her it might be a while.

‘The person who doesn’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.’ This maxim, often misattributed to Mark Twain, has stuck with me since the first time I heard it, around the same time Annie Dillard went on my must-read list. Like a lot of disparaging remarks meant to encourage someone to do better, it can often have the reverse effect. I know the good intention of the dear friend who first lobbed this quote at me. He was trying to inspire me to read more often. But like my father often asking me as a boy if I wanted a shovel at the dinner table, it had the reverse effect. I read less; I ate more. Often at the same time. I’m multitalented like that.

I recently spent some time exploring some of the deep reasons that I don’t write as often as I would like to. This isn’t another exploration into the deep-seated fears and anxieties that hold me back from writing more, especially in public spaces. This is an admission of what lies just beneath the surface: While I don’t write as much as I would like, I still write more than I read; and so, I don’t believe that I deserve to be read.

This is why I hardly ever work on the memoir. It’s why I never submit my poetry to journals. I have been writing – for escape, safe harbor, and the sheer enjoyment of it – ever since I could string two sentences together.  I have really only been attempting to read – for the sake of learning, enrichment, and enjoyment – since about my mid-twenties. And it has always been a huge struggle.

I love reading, nearly as much as I love writing. It is just a lot harder for me. And that is not to say that the writing comes easy for me. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Anytime you have read one of these entries here (usually between 700-1,200 words) you should know that I have spent at least 3-4 hours on it. And I still end up with typos, grammatical errors and dangling participles.

In grade school, I was always sent off to the special education room for reading and writing assignments.  In ACT and other standardized tests in high school, I always scored lowest in reading comprehension and writing. Yet, throughout school, my grades were always highest in English and composition classes. In nearly every subject, my grades were highest when I could write papers.

With a fire under my ass, fear in my heart and a goal in mind I earned a BA in religion and an M.Div. I read the books. I wrote the papers. And I earned really high marks. I spent an inordinate amount of time on each and every assignment. And most were submitted at the very last possible second. In retrospect, I am still utterly surprised that I made it a year in college, let alone earned two degrees.

But then came Greek. My second time out getting halfway through Greek on the verge of failing, my seminary decided I needed to be tested for a reading disability. The result: “unspecified learning disorder that impedes the reading and writing process and seriously encumbers learning another language.” This was a basic test on the seminary’s dime. The psychologist who administered the test said that while I exhibited some “dyslexia-like patterns” in my reading and writing skills, it was in likelihood not dyslexia, but some sort of attention disorder. I opted out of paying for a more detailed test on my dime to tell me that I have ADHD or something “like” it.

In place of Greek, the seminary allowed me to take two upper-level theology classes. These classes required a lot of reading and writing. It was painstaking. But I did it. And I excelled at it.

I have never written about any of this ever before. Anywhere. It is one of the biggest kept secrets in my life.  I found it much easier to write about my sexuality, my divorce, my crumbling faith, my struggle with my weight, my social anxiety and my struggle with depression. I figured if I am going to write about my daughter’s disability openly, the very least I can do is be honest with myself and others about my own.

But it goes just a little deeper than that. I am a writer. It is what I was born to do. It is the only thing I know – I mean really know deep down – that I am good at. I also know I have a lot of room for improvement. The first steps on that journey to improvement are reading that stack of books above and not stopping there. No matter how difficult or time consuming, or how many times I have to re-read the same damn paragraph. And I have to start attempting to publish beyond the scope of my personal blog. But I will never do any of this if don’t first hit publish on this post and get really honest with myself about the difficult but rewarding journey that lies ahead.

Posted in Health

Lent 20

Halfway! I have taken up various writing challenges before. In 2011 I set out to write a series of posts on the release dates of the many, many (so MANY) fantastic albums that were released in 1991. I wrote a big introductory post talking about the Smashing Pumpkins Gish, Pearl Jam Ten, Nirvana Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik, A Tribe Called Quest The Low End Theory, Ice Cube Death Certificate, U2 Achtung Baby, Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion, the beginning of the end for mainstream big stadium rock and the birth of Lollapalooza.

I wrote one post on R.E.M.’s amazing album Out of Time. Then I threw in the towel.

I have set personal writing goals many times: journal everyday, write a new poem a week, a month. It sticks for a time. Then Something comes up, life gets busy or a week goes by and the muse doesn’t visit. Then I take an overly long break.

The break is never a respite. I need to write. I just do. There are things on the inside I have to get out. There are stories begging to be told. It is a gift. And a curse. It is a passion. And it is a discipline. On the discipline front, I have done a lot of self-evaluation and found myself lacking. That used to just create an even greater wedge between me and the words. There have been periods of months, whole seasons of life where the pen did not touch the page. There was not one key stroke for anything other than a Facebook post. But I’ll say it again, guilt – in all things big and small – produces a sick cycle of repeating the undesired behavior. So no more.

I have been, for some time, working on a memoir. The access point is my slow walking away from the church pulpit to the open mic at the corner bar. It is a reflection on community: the good and the bad to be found in the “sacred” and the secular. And from that vantage point I look back on some of the happiest and some of the most painful moments of childhood, adolescence, marriage, divorce and fatherhood.

I have one great introductory chapter, an outline of the rest and a book proposal that has been on my pc for over a year. But I don’t want to read a writer who doesn’t read or practice his craft, even if he or she has “the gift.” I figure others don’t either. So there are three books and a journal on my night stand, getting more use than they have in years. An there is this.

I started keeping a blog in September of 2005. It was on the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing. I was determined to start something meaningful. This past January, I copied all the poems, religious diatribes, cries for help and late night philosophical BS into Word documents and deleted every post before June 26, 2015. Heroes. That is where I finally found my voice as a writer, finally began telling the truth that had been filling up the pages of my journals for decades, shared quietly with close friends over coffee or recklessly in the mixed company of loved ones and strangers over beer.

Over the last year & half I have been racing to fill up my most recent journal like a madman. I have had some important sprints here on the old blog. But far and few in between. With this – this 40 day exercise – I am finally jogging at a steady pace. I am finally readying myself for the marathon that is coming. I can not really remember a time when I didn’t write. But once upon a time I was inconsistent, sometimes lazy and very, very afraid. Now I am committed to writing my words on the face of today. Come what may…