Choosing to Write

Did I write in college? No. Middlebury’s English department, studded with black-clad dramatic types and buzzing with an intellectual intensity that was nearly palpable, might well have been the surface of Mars to my twenty-something self. I was terrified, and so I fled to the comparatively tamer moons of history, planted a flag.

And from there, it was law school and more law school.

And when it finally occurred to me that a court of law was too small to tell the whole story of a matter as most of it, and even often the pivotal parts, were considered irrelevant to a judge or jury, frustration grew. “Let’s talk about his mother, your honor,” I might argue in, say, a fraud case, but got nowhere with this, as technically the client’s mother was not involved.

In time, I left the halls of justice to tell the kind of stories that really were the truth and nothing but the truth so help us God. But by now, more education—albeit in the art and craft of the written word—was not what I wanted.

I wanted the café, the fashion show, and a pencil.

Looking back, looking around, I believe there is no right way, no one way, to begin. Whether with a degree in hand or a Starbucks receipt, any way that a person comes to their creative work is a beginning, and all beginnings count.

What matters is that decisive moment of touchdown, the hatch flung open, a leg tossed out uncertainly, and the first authoritative, commandeering, exploratory step taken, and taken as if one means it. It’s not for mankind maybe, or maybe so, but at least it’s decisive for the participant, the actor, the one who has gone from merely thinking of pursuing this kind of work, to overtly choosing it—the one who has planted a flag, come what will.

That person is now a member of the working ranks and should call himself or herself a writer.