Monday, February 23, 2015
How Reading and Writing Showed Me How to Live
As part of my time in college, I took English Composition I and had to write a few essays. Three of them were a major part of my grade. The first essay was the Personal Narrative Essay which was turned in on Sept. 10th. 2014.
I ended up getting a 98 out of 100 on it. The final comment said, "Your essay provides ample everyday imagery and detail to fully address the prompt. Your ideas are complete and engaging. Watch out for sentence fragments and grammar."
Anyways, many people wanted to read it for themselves, so here it is, I hope you enjoy it!
10 September 2014
How Reading and Writing Showed Me How to Live
Writing has always meant something to me. From a very early age, I created stories and fantasies in my head, and as I progressed through life, many showed up in some kind of physical format. Poetry did not show up in my life until a much later age, but stories…. Fictions, those are the things that have driven me all my life.
I did not enjoy reading for a very long time. I would pick up a book and it just would not hold my interest. Tolkien’s stories are flat and poorly told, Shakespeare is clunky and overly complicated, and children’s books were written for a more undeveloped mind. Even though I was a child, my brain had always seemed to crave something more.
I do not know how young I was when I first found the Dragonlance series, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, but I vividly remember reading them. Epic fantasy truly grabbed me. I had a friend in high school who had read them as well, and we bonded over this massive series that continued on forever as multiple authors took up the series and simply ran the quality into the ground.
At that stage in my life, I realized, I was hooked on the idea that there might be amazing writing out there. Series where main characters die, drama played out on a grand scale, and betrayal cut deeply into my soul. Eventually, that same friend suggested a book series that would change my life.
The Wheel of Time is a series by Robert Jordan. My parents bought me the entire series, that had come out so far, for Christmas. From the very first page, my world changed. I met characters who did not just exist on page, but within my life. To this day, the characters are not people I read about in a book, they are close friends that I experienced so much with. The characters grew up with me. After Robert Jordan’s death, in 2007, the series was concluded by another author, Brandon Sanderson, who wrote in the foreword to the first book of the final trilogy, speaking in response to Robert Jordan’s widow’s request for him to finish the work, “…though when the request was made, my answer was immediate. I love this series as I have loved none other, and the characters feel like old, dear friends from my childhood.”
My senior year of high school, I woke up; as if I had been a dream my whole life. For the first time I could see the world around me and I wanted to participate. I still had yet to write anything of true meaning to myself, but I had found books to seek my solace in. I fell in love that year, with a woman that would destroy my heart. I knew she would ahead of time, but we had a chemistry neither of us could deny.
Friends surrounded me, from all walks of life, we existed within a ‘cliqueless clique.’ Jocks, nerds, preps, losers, and musicians sat at our table. We were all somehow friends with cheerleaders and teachers. I got to know many of my teachers that year, talking to them as if they were human beings, even the English teacher who almost failed me my Freshman year was an interesting person, deep down.
Finally, I started looking back on my childhood, seeing my writings, seeing the creativity that came out of me during my mid-teen years as I dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons. I started to really look at the books I was reading and realized I wanted to try to tell a story, my own story. It was slow going at first, then things happened to make it stop for a time.
High school ended for me in the summer of 1994. That summer was an odd summer for me. A work program at my dad’s place of employment took me in and I became a grounds keeper. My first real love destroyed my heart by pushing everyone she ever knew away and I turned to my friends for solace. But solace was not to be had, as the University of Texas in Austin loomed upon a horizon that rushed towards me at alarming speed.
I moved into a dorm that had a larger population than my home town, and the city of Austin itself became the only place in Texas that I would ever enjoy in the slightest. To say there was a culture shock would be an understatement. In my home town, we did not even have MTV, and during the early nineties, teenage culture was defined by the network. I was beyond a stranger in a strange land, but I still had books.
The waits between Robert Jordan’s novels had become too excruciating, so I looked for something else. I researched the publishing house Jordan used and found they pretty much specialized in epic fantasy. And a new author had just come on the market.
The cover to Wizard’s First Rule wasn’t all that impressive, neither was the name of the author, Terry Goodkind. Two things, though, hit me when I first opened the book. In the Acknowledgments, the author wrote thanks to “…two very special people, Richard and Kahlan, for choosing me to tell their story. Their tears and triumphs have touched my heart. I will never be the same again.”
He thanked the main characters, two fictional people, for their story. For the first time I truly understood what being a real author meant. This touched me deeply. Then came the first paragraph. To this day, this paragraph speaks to me as the most vivid and amazingly written first paragraph I’ve ever read. It instantly sucks you into the world he is writing, making it a tangible place where you get to live.
As an overall story, the novel is lacking, but what Goodkind loses in originality and story, he makes up for in emotion. I have yet to read another novel where I empathize more with the characters. Richard and Kahlan became more than people I knew, they were people I loved. I fell in love with them both. When they shed tears, I did as well. When they celebrated their triumphs, I found it hard not to cheer out loud. Until Wizard’s First Rule, I had never openly wept while reading a book, nor had I laughed out loud.
It was also the first novel I finished in under a week. I spent days in my dorm tearing through the text while my life tried to fall apart around me. I was failing college but I was finding a voice of my own. I contracted love again while I was writing extremely long, extravagant letters to old friends who were still in high school, or stuck in the old home town. Those ten to twenty page letters sent emotions and feelings along with hopes and fears home to people who honestly cared. One who cared more than anyone else, one who challenged me more than anyone else….
The decision to leave college tore at my soul, luckily I had books to comfort me, along with my own ideas. It might have been a delusion of grandeur, but I did it. I left college and started writing. What followed was the most intense artistic period of my life. Coupled with depression and self-destruction, I wrote like a man possessed.
All this led to, the second time in my life, I lost in love. This period was nothing but a lesson that would teach me the most valuable thing I would ever learn. For well over a year, I was devoting days and days of hours and hours to writing, and the woman I was courting noticed. She realized I was not a part of society, draining my parents to chase a dream, and not truly being anyone worth knowing.
She found love somewhere else, and I went to the book store. I was browsing the aisles when I picked up A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. It had just came out in paperback, and the cover looked interesting. But across the top was a blurb by Robert Jordan, praising the novel. The same Robert Jordan that had opened me up to how good epic fantasy could be. Before that time, he had never added blurbs to novels, A Game of Thrones was one of the first.
Very quickly I learned that lesson which would stay with me forever. I learned that art wasn’t true art unless it was truly inspired. A dream is just a dream unless you push it through to reality. The rest of my life waited ahead of me, and I was finally focused on living it. Less than a month after my twenty-first birthday, I loaded everything I could into my convertible (including my hopes and dreams), and escaped my home town. Life is the grandest adventure I could have ever embarked on, and at twenty-one, it was high time I got after it.