August 27, 2012

It's about...

   Fiction has been a passion of mine for a long time. As I've mentioned many times I'm currently writing a novel of my own. It's currently being proofread by my sister, who consequently is doing a fantastic job. I was sitting around thinking about my life and career choices. I think sometimes when I try to think about these choices objectively I feel like I've made a lot of mistakes in this area. But when I stop and remember why I love fiction I remember why I made them and why given the opportunity I would make the exact same mistakes again.
   In the past ten years of my life I have worked in a number of jobs. I've had a lot of relationships outside and in addition to these jobs. In many, if not all, of these I have received an identical feedback. Everyone seems to think I should have a career in [fill in the blank with whatever they do]. When I worked with engineers I was told often that I should go back to school and become an engineer because they believed I would be good at it. I once had a counselor (well more than once) tell me I should become a counselor.
   I'm not writing all of this to brag. I'm just trying to create a setting. The fact is I'm not good at everything I have done or attempted but I excel at a great many things. This leads people to think I should become a person who does one of those things for money. Okay, maybe a little bragging. In my current and nearing complete job there are many people who have come to call me a modern renaissance man because I've become known as the person who can do anything that needs doing.
   The most tempting of these things is counselling. Particularly clinical social work. You get to help people with problems they are facing in this line of work. But there is a huge downside. You have to help people with problems they are facing. The burn out rate for this is about the same as accounting. I understand it's something like 7 years. Not a long career for something that would take me an additional 4 years of schooling minimum to get into.
   I'm not trying to say I don't want to help people. In fact the opposite is true. I love helping people. In fact I think this is central to my personality. For some reason I have this personality that others find approachable with their problems. I like to think over the years I've helped a lot of people with things. In some cases complete strangers.
   Let's talk about problems. Problems are important. We all have them. In fact today I was reading an interesting post on an old friend's blog about their personal financial problems. I found their post to be important. It's important because financial problems are an opportunity for character growth. It's also important because their my friend and I can relate to this problem.
   And the real importance of dealing with problems is in relating to those problems. In my younger years I was often met with unbelieving stares from adults that couldn't believe a teenager could relate or understand their adult problems due to lack of life experience. But I could. I can. I have always been able to relate to people and their problems very well.
   The way I see it there are three ways to relate to problems other people are having. First, you have experienced it yourself. Second, you haven't experienced it but have experienced enough hard things to understand how hard a thing must be. Third, you can feel the pain of the person experiencing a problem without having any prior experience. I'll explain that one later.
   As a teenager I think I had a lot of life experience that was unusual for people my age. I believe this was mostly due to the fact that my parents were much older than the parents of my peers. A lot of adults used to say I shouldn't know some of the things I knew about. Whatever.
   Moving forward in my life there is a singular experience that has been more valuable to me than any other when it comes to problems. I battled deep depression as a teenager. I know this is probably common today. But let me relate the story as it relates to where I am going.
   When I was 16 my parents moved from Vallejo, California to Orem, Utah. The adjustment was hard for me. I left all the friends I had in Vallejo. As a sidebar these friends are still my closest 16 years later. In Orem I had no friends. There were kids in my neighborhood and in my school. Most would not talk to me. The few who did were somewhat polite but not friends. In fact I can barely remember any of their names.
   So for the whole year between 16 and 17 I was depressed. It was caused mostly by a feeling of being an outcast. It didn't help that my sister left for college in Idaho almost the moment we got to Utah. My parents were overworked at the time and often spent weeks at a time in London doing work. I was a loner and the other kids in the neighborhood made it abundantly clear that they didn't want to change that.
   I turned to fiction at this time. Not that I didn't like to read already. I loved to read as far back as I can remember. I loved to read Indiana Jones novels and Star Wars novels from as young as 11. I just never engrossed myself in it as much as I did at that time in my life.
   I started listening to punk rock in earnest at this time. It wasn't as important to me as my books but I almost always had something running through my head.
   At this time in my life I really remember feeling terrible almost all the time. I felt like people just didn't want to be around me and I couldn't figure out why. I spent weeks at a time with minimal human interaction despite going to school and working fast food. It got to the point where I was honestly considering suicide at one point. Before you get alarmed this time passed. The point of this is how it passed.
   When I read books filled with rich characters and amazing plots I felt like my world of problems were less significant. I actually didn't even feel my problems as long as I was engrossed in others problems. I especially liked fantasy novels because the problems they faced were often things that seems insurmountable. They helped me feel like my problems were only temporary. And in truth they were. Before the school year ended I had a friend. He was sort of strange in his own right and outcast a bit by his former California home.
   So I learned that problems are often temporary. I learned that they can often be waded through with help from a good book. I learned that I wanted to belong. I also realized that I wanted to share this with other kids who needed to learn that they could also wade through troubled times with a few words penned by a caring author.
   To this day I think the very core of Punk Rock is a sense of belonging for those who don't belong. Nobody who ever met me would guess for a second that I was a punk. I've never looked the part, ever. But when I'm at the show I belong. Put me in that mosh pit and I belong. The kids there and the adults there know me because I'm them. I'm the outcast. The thing I have come to understand as I grow older is that we are all their screaming and spinning and taking an elbow in the chin. In the mosh pit we all know that we are the bruised and the broken. That's why when we get knocked down the guy that knocked us down reaches down to pick us up and give us a hug that speaks volumes about our collective sense of belonging with those that don't belong.
   Fiction is Punk Rock. It's where we belong when our problems seem insurmountable.
   So I think back on my choice to write stories. It was a choice born out of a belief that I had to share the escape. I can't play music but I can weave a tale on occasion. So I feel it's my responsibility to share that story. From time to time I think it's also my responsibility to listen to your problems. Because your problems and my problems are the same. That's the secret to being able to understand adult problems when I was a teenager. I realized those were my problems in the future. It wasn't hard to put myself in those shoes and think them through if as an outsider in some sense.
   So to finish the title, it's about belonging. It's about remembering we are all human and we all share these problems. It's about remembering that your problems were once my problems or may one day be my problems. Fiction is about us.