As I sit here attempting to write an editorial or two, I find myself looking at the shadow stretching over the balcony that eclipses the buildings and highway.
It reminds me of a time that I snuck out of my family’s vacation home at Grand Lake in northern Oklahoma. More often than not, I would go over to the shore in between the openings of the old oak trees and I would stare at the glimmering water as the moonlight danced upon the night.
Even then, I always knew that the daytime was more deceptive. The night and the shadows allowed us to be strong, to be true to ourselves with just our soulful convictions to keep us strong.
There is a struggle when it comes to creating something that you know that others will be reading and judging you on. No matter how often you tell yourself that it won’t matter and that the approving nods mixed with sneering, disdainful glares mean nothing; it’s always potent and powerful.
That being said, I recall the times in my life when I felt most productive, and I cannot help but notice that some of my finest moments of writing have come at my lowest points in my life.
Now, that is not to say I am a walking, talking mantra of depression.
The Mayo Clinic’s website, Mayoclinic.org, defines depression as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” Depression has such a negative connotation attached to it that it almost seems toxic to the touch, and God forbid someone be stricken with it.
But that’s one of the faults of society; people are always so damn quick to judge without even an iota of understanding. In this life, we only have the reliability of our own words to speak about our past and how it affects who we are today.
There is no doubt in this conviction: reading and writing saved my life.
A bold statement, I know, but nothing short of a truthful one. Weaving and waxing some poetic scene from a Dickens novel would be appropriate now, but that’s simply not true. It all began with a rough day in school, a bush in the backfield, and a stack of discarded X-Men comic books.
Growing up being the epitome of an introverted child, the times to express myself were few and far between. Too often there would be a gang of grunts who felt it was necessary to throw my books over the fence or toss me into the woodpiles because I was “in the way of it all.”
The only person in the world who would save me from it all is my roommate and my best friend in this wild world: my brother Austin. I still attest that if it weren’t for my big brother protecting me, there is no telling what the future would hold.
Though there was a handful of friends, they could not understand why one of their kin would just walk away from everything and sit alone on the bench apart from everyone else. Or worse, would sneak back into the library in the middle of the school.
One particular day drove me to run for the back lot of the recess area toward a bush. There they were: a stack of fraying X-Men comics, about 20, lying alone as I was. In the shadows of the bushes, I escaped a world that I didn’t quite understand. I nearly missed the bell calling the kids back.
Those comics kept me sane.
Every so often, I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t tell my parents or an adult what was going on. The words always latched to my throat as they throbbed for an escape. It would not be until high school that the truth behind all the bullying would come out. By that time, theater and debate had filled the voids and the shell had long since broken.
As the years passed, creativity, no matter how introverted, began to flourish into a hidden bud shown only to those I deemed worthy. Teachers, from elementary school all the way to college, have always been particularly hesitant to have their words by a kid writing his own stories on a scrap piece of paper.
Even as a child, I would seclude myself from friends and family for the sake of reading or writing. It was never intentional; I just became engrossed in the worlds I created. They were worlds that accepted me for who I was and not for my “potential.”
This is not to say there weren’t people that loved me for who I was. My family, particularly my mother, my father, and my brother were the cornerstones of what kept me going in the times I wondered if the world would always be made of cruel people with even crueler intentions.
There hasn’t been a day that has passed that my mind has not crossed over their wellbeing and reminisced about the words that peaked my interest and healed my heart in some form. That’s the heart of it all; at least in my mind. As my father, Toby, once told me, “Life is going to be one of the hardest and best things you’ll ever do. It’ll make you smile one minute and curse it the next. But you always gotta keep livin.”
As much as we would like to carry those who will support us around throughout the day, life was never made to be traveled that way. I do remember one thing my mother, Kimberly, said when she saw I was upset one day after school.
She placed her soft, warm hand on my heaving shoulder while I tried to stop salty tears from streaming down my reddening face. Her kind eyes looked at me and she said, “Why are you upset?” I began to tell her but her smile soothed it all. “Baby, I want you to know something,” she said. “I don’t care what anyone says to you, you’re the only one who can make you who you are. Be yourself, keep your head up, and you can do anything in this world.”
There hasn’t been a difficult circumstance in my life when either of those words were not ringing in my head.
As I was growing up in the public education system, I couldn’t help but question anything and everything they were teaching us. Raids throughout the library and writing my own curriculum were a few reasons some of the teachers were not my biggest fans. I wasn’t necessarily a rowdy child; it was just peculiar for one of the smallest kids in the class to have the biggest sense of sarcasm in the school.
Years passed and the reading and writing grew from infancy. I had written two plays and a multitude of short stories and read most of the books provided by Yukon High School. The repertoire of friends and lifelong companions exploded in high school and life was turning toward the unforgettable times of youth.
Although I was great at writing and would often sell my work in school, I began to sneak drinking beer and liquor close to my sophomore year. Reading was never an issue, but as drinking began to take precedent over some things, writing fell to the wayside. This slowly but surely came collapsing before me on the night of June 25, 2016.
I have thought extensively about the coming months to this climax of cataclysmic events that had happened that night. It’s one of those things that you feel it creeping on you but you try your best to tame whatever beast is lurking in the dark. Call it pride, I’ll call it being a stubborn man for there were too many times I had a talk with my parents and my brother about this issue. The occasional, “Yeah, yeah I’m good. C’mon, I got this.” would roll across my lips as I rolled my eyes in the same breath. Whether or not you wish to believe in Karma, we can all agree in some irony to show our errors in life.
While I was attending a bonfire party for my friend, cartons full of different liquors and beer were met in revelry. Hours passed and I felt myself slipping from the world around me. The last thing I remember that night was looking at two of my greatest friends and telling them I loved them. Nothing mattered…it was all black.
Waking up in a hospital bed you don’t remember getting into is an experience I can only hope no one ever has to go through. My parents filled me in on the details and I cringed and cried over most them. I was 3 points away from alcohol poisoning and 2 points away from death.
After a week of reflection, I locked myself in my room and didn’t leave until I wrote ten short stories and the plot outline of a book that is almost done. There are more times than I care to admit that I crave the wisps of whiskey to tickle my tongue.
Since then, I read a book every two weeks, I am writing for a news source I couldn’t be prouder of if I tried, and I am working towards fulfilling my dream of becoming one of the greatest American writers of all time. Call it a lofty goal, if you’d like. I call it as it is: survival.
Artistry in any form is a means to live by the souls that were given to us as lofty as the gift of life itself. Ask any artist and they’ll tell you, we create so that we can brave the world that has been brought forth to us. We may be shy, introverted, or unabashed in our beliefs but, when we are artists, we are fearless like never before.
Life belongs to those just crazy enough to live it to the fullest. Without a sense of remembrance, who would we be but people floating aimlessly toward a goal not yet set in our minds? That’s why a shadow is imperatively important. They tell us where we have been, and they’re the moments we grew from to be who we are now in the light.