Writing Again. For the First Time.
It seemed like $1 million. But it was more like $100. Either way, my first paid writing gig made me feel rich. That was more than 30 years ago. I'm still hoping for that million-dollar project, but in the meantime I've written about triathlons, accounting firms, mixed martial arts training, website-access technology, and refinery safety. Plus a few other things. So naturally, it's time for me to take a writing class.
I attended my first Creative Writing session last week. About 12 students fill the table in an old Victorian house-turned-artspace in Stillwater, Minn., my new hometown. We get assignments each week, and will share our work in class, commenting and critiquing each other every Thursday night. I want to make the class a little bigger. I'm sharing my work in real time here, and would love to know your thoughts.
Our first assignment was to write an "I am from" essay, a poetic or prose piece where you use "I am from" to describe yourself or something about you. Here is my effort, shared with you even before my classmates see it.
From Stories Not Published or Forgotten
I am from California. But I’m not. I’m not sun-scorched 100 degrees on Thanksgiving Day. Not the 405 to the 10 to the 5 South. I’m not endless discussions about sunny weather and perfect tacos.
I thought I might be, 15 years ago. I dreamed that dream; I panned for the gold. I was a preppy Midwestern Tom Joad with a slightly nicer car aimed at the same wildly hopeful western destination.
I am from Orange County. But I’m not. Because it was easier to just say that I live in north Orange County than to explain the “Inland Empire” and my 909 area code. I couldn’t afford Orange County – not yet anyway. So I was branded by three digits; I was just five miles across the county line and through a twisty canyon of understanding.
I am from motorcycles. But that’s not it either. I mean some of my early professional heroes held deep passions for RD400s, GSX-Rs and CBs, unanswered and unquenchable love for greasy and gassy machines. Oh yeah, my motor gets running when the bike’s engine is revving. And from the thin seat of a hundred horsepower lightweight two-wheeler, the colors of Zion National Park roar like that engine, and the heat of Death Valley burns like a hot muffler, the salt-and-cypress smells of the Big Sur coastline exorcise the sweaty odor of inner motorcycle helmet. Yet they’re all gone around the last corner, just memories as clear as a fogged-over helmet visor.
I am from my work, stories and images, magazines and videos, creative endeavors counted by rising invoice numbers and the increasing ache of … is that carpal tunnel? Indeed, that’s I’ve done. From my first published work recalling a rain-soaked camp-and-canoe trip down the Zumbro River, to a branded and logoed S corporation founded to build businesses and to pay taxes.
But where I’m from? West coast business executive? Powersports industry name and face? Agency owner? That’s not me, that’s not where I’m from. I’m not from area codes or accomplishments. I’m not from titles or throttles.
I am from tomorrow. I am from the stories my children will tell their children.
Like the ones I tell about fishing with my grandpa Mag, about watching him place the Lund fishing boat in the old blue truck – the same GMC that’s now in my garage 50 years later. Or the one about Grandpa Matt and Blackjack gum in the top right drawer of his rolltop desk, the drawer only he could open. Or the recent story about driving to northern Wisconsin with mom and dad to place fresh flowers on the graves of their folks - Mag and Esther, Matt and Jane. So many stories about so many people, their lives, and love, and loss.
I’m from tomorrow’s stories. The ones not yet told. The ones we’re still creating, interesting or boring. The ones that don’t get edited, printed, published, or forgotten.