Patrick Healy is a writer who is currently writing the introduction to his blog. You are a reader currently reading the introduction to his blog. Wow, you guys are an awesome team.
I didn’t sleep as a child.
On good nights I’d lay in bed and tell myself stories about space adventures and cyborgs. Elements of science fiction would work their way into my fifth-grade class. Sometimes I would get the girl, sometimes she’d flaunt another relationship in front of me. At least I had some grounded expectation of what reality would be like.
On bad nights, I’d work the shortest path from where I lay in bed to how I might die the most grisly and unfortunate death. And I was a screamer. On those nights, multiple times I would end up calling out to my mother, needing her to talk me down and rationalize existence. I remember talking one scenario out and realizing it had all started with a sketch I had seen on the Comedy Channel.
Back when there was a Comedy Channel. Spoiler alert, I’m old.
I wanted to be a writer. I saw myself as a man one day, behind a typewriter like my father’s, striking keys against a single, unending sheet of paper that spewed from the mouth of the machine, curled back into the air and fell in a pile of building story around my desk. I didn’t quite have the hang of endings.
I still don’t.
Sometime in the seventh grade, a friend of mine had mentioned that he was writing a short story. I felt so betrayed by myself. Why was I waiting to be an adult to write anything? I went home that night and returned to him not long after with thirty pages of a story about him and me and all the other kids we went to school with, and a kid who looked just like me but was evil and controlled fire. He looked at the stack of paper, with the perforated sides decorated by the holes my junky printer used to crank sheets from it’s spool. “My story is only three pages,” he said.
To be honest, he’s probably somewhere else in the world, a far better writer now than I. After all, he apparently needed no one else’s actions to goad him into writing and he likely chose his words and events with greater care. Me? I already had three sequels planned, beginning with the immediate resurrection of my fire-throwing villain and ending somewhere in a horrible Terminator/Last Action Hero rip-off.
I didn’t have a video game system. I’d seen all the movies that I wanted to see.
I spent my nights from adolescence to adulthood in my bedroom writing people that felt the things I feared, that kicked the hornet’s nests that had always stung me. Those I’d lost I recreated in pages so that my heart could learn to let go. Unhappy moments were turned into plagues that could be escaped or overcome. You know, cliche crap.
Now what keeps me up is worse than being torn apart by aliens and brought back as a cyborg. It’s a truth worse than what made the sounds of footsteps in my bedroom as I hid beneath my covers. What keeps me up now is nonfiction.
Things I did not get to say, opportunities that eluded me. The imaginary world that surrounded me before has receded inside of me. Now, somehow, I’m the giant to all that is important to me, yet the maggot to the real world.
None of these things make me at all unique. I’m sure every writer at some point loses control of the narrative, and the tiny part of the brain that tells you to run when there’s no one actually behind you, begins writing a fiction that can no longer be discerned from reality.
Unless you can wrestle that narrative back from your drunken fear-center, you will never control the story. In effect, a story must be written to acknowledge in a waking sense that, yes, the world offers its share of terrors no matter how mundane. It’s up to us, not just the writers, to take those terrors and frame them in such a way that they can be managed. We must acknowledge the truth of vulnerability while championing the ever-present, if not often unseen, ability to overcome.
For me that means exercising a narrative ability to create both a problem and a solution, both in life and on the page.
But you have to trust everyone to find their own meaning. What’s yours?