Saturday, September 18, 2010

Seduced by the Muse

I fell in love with the world of books, not because I wanted to be smarter than others, nor because I wanted to conquer the great halls of literature, but because the muse of literature herself lured me in, seduced my imagination, and showed me a forgotten part of myself.

I’m twenty-seven years old right now; and I didn’t read for the first twenty-three years of my life. That’s my confession. It’s not that I couldn’t read, just like I didn’t do well in school not because I wasn’t capable of doing well. I didn’t read because I didn’t see why I should; I didn’t have a reason or desire to. Yes, of course, I did know books as a young child, even occasionally read one – I remember reading a few of “The Boxcar Children,” several of the “Goosebumps,” and one particular children’s story called, “A Castle in the Attic,” which had a profound and lasting impact on me. But all these were mere remedies to childhood boredom, or acts of behaving properly in front of adults, or following an accepted social/cultural norm. Truthfully, I would have much rather been outside playing, or inside playing, in fact, anywhere playing if the choice was up to me.

I remember playing with my action figures, or those little plastic soldiers and cowboys-n-Indians you find (well at least you used to find) in the super market. When I had no Lego’s, no action figures (GI Joes, etc), and no plastic super market figures I improvised. I would turn things, random objects and such, into the figures I wanted to use in my plots and scenes. Sticks, leaves, bark, rocks, grass, household figurines, Christmas decorations, chess pieces, even a stack of playing cards could act as a great substitute for a vast army (The ranks are already drawn out for you!) These dramas would be enacted with complete casts – royalty, aristocracy, peasants, military, rebels, tribes, even wizards witches and the like – and the dramas were unpredictable and varied greatly. Sometimes I would reenact a movie or show I’d recently watched, other times I would just wing it, coming up with my own plots. That’s what I did to entertain myself as child. I’m even a little embarrassed though not ashamed to say that this hobby continued on until around the fourth or fifth grade, a time I remember when it was no longer cool or ‘normal’ to still be playing with action figures, and especially playing army with a deck of cards – If ever that was even normal! I would sweep away my armies, like Zeus in “The Iliad” if I became alerted to someone barging in on my play world – my brother, my sisters, anyone. I suppose any of us who can remember being a child playing silly games can relate with that. I was shy and embarrassed about this kind of hobby, yes, but I was also satisfying a part of myself that needed some form of expression, that needed to be recognized.

That is what I mean when I say I would have rather been playing than reading books as a child. And if I was not in the midsts of one of these fantasies, I would be acting out similar ones with my friends. Not that I had much else to do, as we were very poor, and I often needed to escape from the dysfunctional home I lived in. My father was an abusive drug attic, dealer, and alcoholic. My brother and two sisters often sided with one another, leaving me feeling indifferent and outcast; we fought a lot. My mother was busy, young, overwhelmed, helpless, and poor; but she was also loving, accepting, wonderful, and always there for me no matter what. She is an incredible person and mother. (Despite this early conflict, my family and I are on excellent terms today, though my father has long not been in the picture.)

Like most children eventually do, I grew out of those childhood fantasies. I was a catcher in baseball for over a decade. I was a linebacker in football. Throughout my youth I got into a lot of trouble in and out of school, and was in general (or more accurately in image) a tough guy. Sort of like the heroes of my childhood fantasies, I always found my way into conflicts and fought my way through them. I became burnt out with life fairly early on. I’d say I was spiritually burnt out by sixteen not having anything in life that intrigued me; and mentally burnt out by twenty and physically burnt out by twenty-three. And that’s when I perhaps began to listen to that child within me once again. Perhaps that’s when the muse of literature, whom upon reflection seems to have watched over me in my childhood, once again came to watch over me. For the most part I withdrew from the life I had created in my first twenty-three years. I became pretty reclusive, depressed, well absorbed in my guitar playing, fairly antisocial, and I was ambitious to get back into school – to do something positive and productive with my life.

The muse lured my in via my mother’s book shelf. Occasionally I’d glance through it, but on one occasion, I picked up a book that changed my life, “The Hobbit.” This story captured my imagination, fulfilled some forgotten longing I had, and gave me a breath of fresh air in a life I had been suffocating in. It only took me a couple days to finish the book, but its affect had been unleashed in me. I’m not really sure what happened to me during this time of my life. Perhaps some lost or forgotten part in me had awoken or re-awoken; maybe I was taken away from my turbulent life for awhile, as though I fell into Middle Earth and found that for a time the problems of my life seized to exist. Whatever it was, I can never be wholly certain what the actual impact reading this story had on me. But at that point, I began to realize that there was much more to life than what I’d known and experienced so far – sort of like Bilbo Baggins did.

Within two weeks I had finished both the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. With the assurance that I could actually read and set myself to something and see it through till the end, did wonders for my low self-esteem. I moved on to other fantasy books and the enchantment continued. Tad Williams, Julian May, and a few other’s works found their way into my imagination. Apart from Tolkien’s epic saga, one other author had an epiphany-like impact on me: Christopher Paolini’s, “Inheritance Cycle” – the most popular book being Eragon, named after one of the last dragon rider’s in Alagaesia, Paolini’s fantasy world. It wasn't the greatness of his story, or his writing that had such a profound impact on me. It was the fact that he was only nineteen years old when it was published! I was reading a book that was published by someone five years younger than me. This struck me right in the heart; if he could do something that great at that age I could definitely do something great too!

Though it would still take me a couple years to find out that I really was a writer, the seed was planted, and I was inspired to do something with my life. I got into school shortly after reading Eragon. Determination can take you a long way when other things fail you; I was determined to find out what I wanted to do in school, in life.

Being a pretty good musician and comfortable playing for others, I began college enthusiastic about following a musical path. Had I played any instrument other than the guitar I might have found a place in the school’s orchestra. But the academic musical culture being what it is, the guitar is somewhat in its own category. Most instruments in the field follow musical notation – this allows everyone to know what the musical notes are, what the time signature of the piece is, and, in general, the who what where and when of how it’s all meant to be played. Guitarist read tabs, a different kind of musical notation, unique to the guitar, but nonetheless does all the same kind of stuff. This fact alone does not alienate the guitar from the rest of the instruments, there are other factors too – like the guitar not being a part of the classical music world through much of classical music’s history, and thus it was not included in the scores written by the early composers. In short, the landscapes of the academic and professional classical music worlds are kind of already set against guitar players, especially self-taught players life myself who learned by memorizing classic and alternative rock songs like the Beatles and Tom Petty. This still did not deter me; I was determined to mastering my instrument.

As I continued on in other classes, however, having to write essays and others assignments, I began to get in touch with my writing voice. I had no clue that I could write, and definitely never allowed myself the possibility of actually becoming a writer. I began college with around a high school sophomore level of reading and writing, so I had some catch-up classes to complete before I could move on to college level classes. I took the same teacher for all of these English classes. She was a young professor, very kind, very empathetic, and great at connecting with students. Her feedback and encouragement helped me to appreciate my ability to write and inspired me to want to write more. After two years of taking her classes I had switched from pursuing a musical career to a writing one. I knew then that writing was what I wanted to do.

In the last few years I’ve expanded in my writing and am currently working on my first novel, Sparrow Ridge. It has evolved from a short story, written for a fiction writing class. I’m three quarters of the way done with it and it will likely undergo one final revision before I send it off to be published next summer. Like when I was younger making my actions figures perform and creating imagined civilizations out of playing cards, I still have a need to express this part of me that loves to create dramas - that writer has always lived within me.


  1. My confession - I don't usually read long blogs. But, wow, your journey is compelling. Fantastic when you said you started "to listen to that child within me once again". That kid is always there. How great that you knew it was time to listen.

    Congrats for making it through.

  2. Thank you, Robert. Glad you read it!

  3. Hi Jason, I'm so glad that the Muse came your way. I also found her via my mother, who is a great storyteller. We used to listen to her tell great tales late at night.

    Good luck with your novel!! ;)

    And, I have an award for you at my blog, please do pop by when you get a chance.

    Happy writing! ;)