Ok. So I’m really looking forward to May. Movies, time with the family, gaming, and finishing up the Introduction to Literature class that I’m taking online, which will allow me to focus more on my own writing and reading. The Intro to Lit class has been illuminating. So far, I’m getting an A. The online class format isn’t really my favorite method of learning, but there is something of note to be appreciated in the class. It’s opened my mind. Rather extensively actually. This is especially true after having taken Composition II recently.
Let me go back though, and explain the need for expanding my mind. Perhaps way back, but sometimes one must begin at the beginning.
When I first started school, I was more often interested in cool things like throwing bugs at my younger sister, crazy stunts on my bicycle, poking gross stuff with sticks, and eating anything sweet that I could get my hands on. Having to sit in a room and do anything besides finger painting or going to recess was awful. I wasn’t interested in reading or math, and school was a generally unpleasant experience. There were girls there, and everyone who’s in the age range of four to nine KNOWS that girls have GIRL GERMS. On top of that, when you have to wear glasses the thickness of the Hubble Telescope’s lenses, and you’re about as coordinated as a drunken mime on a fast-moving treadmill, social situations are hard. So, of course, when you’re forced to read aloud in class, life is pretty awful and reading gets some pretty unhealthy associations.
Fortunately for me, third grade happened. Somewhen (It is SO a word!) along the way, I had achieved a pretty awesome level of nerd. At the same time though, I was in an environment where teachers were supportive, the librarian was awesome, and Ryan (a random kid in my class who actually treated everyone decently) recommended a book to me when I was FORCED AGAINST MY WILL to not only read a book, but DO A REPORT on it. Gah! The inhumanity of it! The book he suggested was C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. At first, I was reluctant, but Ryan had suggested it, and so I read it. At first, I read it while pouting quite dramatically (A talent I had at the time.), but as I got involved in the book, suddenly I was walking right beside Lucy as she meandered about a mysterious snowy land. That first book report was the first reading assignment that ever got me a check plus (letter grades weren’t used when I was in the 3rd grade). After that, I found out something amazing. This C.S. Lewis guy hadn’t written just one book about Narnia, but a whole SERIES. All of them fantastical and amazing and imaginative and, best of all, an escape from being bullied at recess, feeling stupid in school, and worrying about how much money my family didn’t have.
I began to read quite a bit. I read Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” perhaps four times in a row. Each time I saw something new that I loved, and each time, I got better at reading. I eventually even decided that, just maybe, I liked reading. The next book I read after that was My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George (Wow! What a moniker.). I read it in one sitting, and was taken away. I could relate to the character, because I lived in an environment similar to what he experienced in the book. But then, I found out that there was an author that wrote brilliant fantasy and was “a lot like that Narnia guy”. I don’t remember who told me about Tolkien, but I think my teacher may have actually read The Hobbit to us aloud in class. Subsequently, I read the book myself, and moved on to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was followed by The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, and a slew of similar materials by Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony, Robin McKinley, and Grace Chetwin. I was driven by and addicted to high fantasy, children’s fantasy, low fantasy, sword and sorcery, and such.
All of this was a great and good thing really. My childhood became much more enjoyable, and my world had expanded. However; there is a distinct problem when one finds literature at that age, that parents and teachers should be mindful to address. A child at that age is picky, and “I don’t like that.” is the mantra used to defend against all new things. So, I never read non-fantasy outside of what was required for school. Sure, a smattering of Shakespeare got in there along with maybe a touch of other “classical literature.” Still, my mental taste buds were much like my actual taste buds. I only wanted the sweet decadence of fantasy. Even science fiction was not acceptable, unless of course there was a spell cast in the process. I had delineated what I considered fantasy very clearly, and I still feel that way as I categorize reading materials in an almost-obsessive manner. I’ll get into that some other time though. My main point here, is that I became closed minded towards anything but my version of fantasy quite early on as a reader.
My first attempt at college was deeply affected by this overparticular taste in written works. My love of reading had done wonderful things for me. It created a desire to learn more about the English language; which, I like to think have done throughout my life, though I still have much to learn. In addition, it had inspired me to become a writer. I desperately wanted, and still strongly desire, to be that person that writes a novel and has a child pick it up and have their world expanded for the first time. So, I attended Western Montana College (now *ahem* The University of Montana at Dillon – please note the use of radio voice). At Western, I registered for every class related to English that I could possibly take. Now, unfortunately, both the college and myself completely dropped the ball when it came to planning out my route to a degree. When one takes “Intro to Literature”, “Montana Literature”, and “Early American Literature” all in the same semester, and you’re the type to get finicky about your reading, school easily becomes an overwhelming miasma of classical broccoli with a side of liver and onions. My grades were pretty good the first quarter of the school year, but they quickly declined in the face of so much undelicious reading combined with hot college girls, drinking, and a few other distractions that shall not be named. (Stupid Final Fantasy III…) In short, I dropped out of school after my first year, and after a roundabout year or so, ended up on an airplane to Fort Leonardwood Missouri. Yup, the Army.
It took me fourteen years to get back to school. During that time I was stationed in Germany for two years, Fort Hood, TX for a little over a year and a half, had been engaged twice, had a son, lost my father, gotten married, had two other jobs that I thought had a future, discovered the awesomeness of roleplaying games (yes, I’m a bit of a geek still) and of course, read a great deal more fantasy. I learned a great deal about life during that time, or at least I like to think so. I had left the rural life I grew up with in Montana, experienced different cultures, realized that I was capable of doing important things, and experienced a lot of the practicality of life. Unfortunately, nothing had led me to expand my reading menu by any stretch of the imagination. The greatest thing I can say is that I had opened up to science fiction quite a bit more, and had started to devour some Anne McCaffrey and Robert Heinlein along with my Tolkien and Lewis.
When I started school again at Austin Community College (because community college is where the nontraditional – read “old” – student goes to get brave enough for education again) in 2009, I had learned from experience, and ACC guides their students along better than Western did in association with my first attempt at college. So, I focused on math. Having avoided math like the plague for well over a decade, I had some brushing up to do, even to get to the mandated Algebra that everyone must take in order to be considered educated. Unfortunately, I had decided to major in Business Administration rather than English or Mass Communication. My choice had been pragmatic, rather than impassioned. I struggled through the math, and actually did pretty well and perhaps I don’t hate it as much as I used to. (A huge thank you goes to Ms. Oralia Guerra and her wonderful teaching methods.) However, and doesn’t there always seem to be a “however,” I ended up in “Business Calculus.” What an ironic tragedy that was. The professor had immigrated from China perhaps ten years ago, and to quote her, “[Her] English not so good.” This was an understatement. After months of frustration, I dropped the class at the last moment and took a withdrawal on my transcript. Had I continued, my GPA would have gone from a 3.7, to, well, much lower.
On the more positive side, I’ve taken Composition II, with another wonderful professor, Carol Barret. The class focused on the analyzing of short stories with a very methodic approach that no class I’d ever taken before had used. I knew in general about plot, setting, and the use of descriptive words. I’d used them instinctively for a long time. Pun was a long time friend, ever since I had first picked up a Piers Anthony novel. But this was different. There was logic and reason for it all. The material that we reviewed didn’t catch my attention so much, but the concepts associated with the course itself did. Long story short, I started thinking about writing again.
In the time between then and now, I’ve started to discuss writing with several friends. Most notably Bon Steele (www.bonsteele.com) and Lance Lawhon. Bon will soon be published (again) in an anthology of awesomeness and light, and Lance has written a young adult fantasy novel (no beans shall be spilled here, as he is still submitting it to various folks for publishing, but it’s GOOD. Like, pizza to a seven year old good.). These conversations have made me realize how much I like being involved in something creative. That wasn’t quite the inflatus to get me going completely. My pragmatic side was still solidly looking at a future filled with suits, meetings, and brokering serious deals of some sort. To be sure, I was still looking at working in publishing with a retirement into my own book store at some unidentified point in time. Then I signed up for this class.
Long story short, or perhaps really long as I sit at 1851 words at this point, I discovered some things through this course, which were subsequently confirmed by my wife, Bon, Lance, and some coworkers whose opinions I have reason to put value to. The first thing, is that Edgar Allen Poe is known for being the father of the modern short story and the modern detective story. (Yes. Bon, I know. I should have paid more attention to him earlier.) The second is that poetry is much more enjoyable than I used to believe. I’ve dug around in sonnets, haikus, free form, and several other forms of poetry, and found a little something to enjoy in each of them. I’ve even seen a few Robert Frost poems that I hadn’t read before. Finally, all of those ideas that were started in my Composition II class a few semesters finally connected, and I feel that I grok (read R. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land if you don’t know the word) the concepts. As a result, I’ve started reading a lot of things which were previously out of my scope. Poe has shown me a bit of horror and macabre. Hughes has shown me that getting over it is a possibility. And Hemingway…well, he sucks still, but hey, at least I gave him a try. He was kind of like the liver and onions of literature. Dry yet slimy, and made me want to retch. I’m eating a more balanced diet now. Well, ok, once I finish up with some more Roger Zelazny. But a man has to start somewhere.
And oh yeah. I changed my major back to Journalism. I haven’t been so happy about my direction in a long time. Life is good.