Tuesday, April 25, 2006

I Was A Teenage Nerd: National Lampoon's Vocation

I suppose I should talk a bit about my decision to be a writer.

Not that there was really much decision to it. I made a joke once on CBR about sitting in my study late at night when Peter David suddenly flew in through my window, and like most jokes, it reveals a bit of truth about the nature of the thing it’s making fun of. The bit of truth is, I didn’t decide to be a writer. Decision implies some sort of mental effort. I would have to decide NOT to be a writer. Instead, I decided not to decide not to be a writer. And even that wasn’t much of a decision.

But I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to talk a bit about why I never needed to decide.

I don’t remember not being able to read. I suppose, logically, such a time must exist, but I don’t remember it. I was eating up those little Disney books on tape by the time I was 2. I think I’ve mentioned the Johnny-Jump-Up* picture here; I use that one as a standard for baby pic contests, and people always pick it out as me. My parents gave me books to shut me up in restaurants, on car trips, and even in church. I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was in fourth grade. It goes on like this.

Like most kids, I told stories with my toys. Unlike most kids, I came up with plots, scripts, and continuity. Granted, the plots were usually variations on either the villain swapping brains with the hero or the heroes all getting cryogenically frozen (my parent’s Amana made great strides in the science of human preservation). I even came up with an explanation for all the various remodels of my Ninja Turtle figures (Disguise Turtles, Hollow Shell Turtles, Transforming Turtles, Movie Turtles, etc.): robot clones. (Michelangelo got a brain transplant into robot clone body of his own after my brother threw him into a door.)

I showed an affinity for writing in school, as well. Creative exercises, storytelling and world-building, were always my favorite things. I was in the district’s Gifted and Talented program, but that focused largely on analytical, math/science disciplines. My favorite part was actually recess on G/T days, because the building we went to (a disused school building from a time when the city was more prosperous) had a much more kickass play area, with an overgrown section that could be a jungle, and a playset** that doubled quite well as a spaceship, fort, pirate ship, pirate spaceship, pirate fort, space pirate fort, or anything else we might require.

But my favorite assignments (besides book reports; I was freakin’ awesome at book reports) were the writing ones. On occasion, my teacher would hand out a creative assignment based on something we’d just read. I ate those up. Looking back, it was fanfic of the worst order, but I had a hell of a time doing it. I even kept it up; for three weeks in high school, my weekly writing assignment was a section of a prelude to Final Fantasy III (VI to you purists) I came up with. There was also the eighth grade science report I did on stars’ life cycles that I dressed up as a Starfleet document for the hell of it.

All this congealed shortly after my dad came to me one Sunday afternoon and said, “There’s this guy in the paper every week you should read. You’d get a kick out of him.” The guy was Dave Barry, and many kicks were gotten. Like I usually do when I get a new reading obsession, I quickly sought out and devoured all the Dave material I could find. And somewhere in there, I picked up, almost through osmosis, the idea that Dave got paid for this stuff. This man made a living writing what was essentially drivel. It was good, insightful drivel, and he was good at it, but still… people got paid for this?

The word "journalism" was peppered throughout Dave's work, so I started getting involved with that. After two years on two different schools' staffs, though, I soured on it, mainly because the advisors stressed winning awards for page design over little things like content and proper editing. When we moved to Houston, I decided to take a crack at theatre. It was there that I finally realized consciously that I didn't give a toss about writing about the world as it is. Not that it's not a worthy subject, but I found I much more enjoyed the world as it isn't. Non-fiction, or at least the non-fiction I was being exposed to, insisted that things were just horrible, that there were no happy endings, dreams didn't come true, the game was rigged everyone in general and against me specifically, that the best you could hope for was to die old and decrepit and surrounded by money. Fiction, or at least the fiction that with its swooping arcs of character and plot and its happy ignorance of the fact that no one ever "meets cute," said things about the world that really mattered. One said the world wasn't worth the trouble of living; the other said it was.

So that was pretty much it. I knew I liked to read, I knew I liked to write, and I knew what I liked to read and write. The rest was pretty simple. I won't say there haven't been bumps along the way, and lord knows I've still got a long way to go, but in retrospect, I can't see it turning out any other way.

Addendum: I managed to avoid, for the most part, writing awful poetry, largely by realizing at a younger age than most that my poetry was awful, burning it, and resolving not to write any more. I did, however, give in to my baser literary urges in the summer of 1998 and write a country music song. Now let us never speak of it again.

*Digression: Those things should be outlawed. Not for any defect in the product, but because they make it impossible for a tot to escape an older sibling with pinching on his mind. I still get flashbacks when I see one.

**Digression the Second: Modern playground equipment sucks. All this “safe” plastic crap looks so damn fake. None of that pussy shit for us; our playground equipment was made of wood timbers as big around as your head and solid steel. Going down the slide on a hot day was an adventure in the laws of heat transfer. Hell, it’s not even worth trying running up these modern slides; too much traction, too easy. No pussy walls or rails on the upper levels, either; we had a little thing called balance and coordination. And our stuff was proper height, too, with monkey bars worthy of the name. Your goddamn arms practically doubled in length with one round trip. And don’t get me started on this gravel/sand crap they stick in the playboxes. We had goddamned granite rocks as big around as your thumb. You got tripped and fell on that stuff, you damn well knew it. I walk past the playgrounds they have here in the city and just shake my head. Soft bastards, the lot of ‘em.

No comments: