SECOND JOURNAL ENTRY, MARCH 21st, 2017
“Times are bad. Children no longer listen to their parents, and everyone is writing a book.”
– Ceirco, circa 43 BC
There is a certain quiet sound eyeballs make when they roll back into someone’s head. It is a sound that you’re able to hear only when you’ve heard it enough – and you must be swift and acutely attentive to catch it. Most people don’t even realise they’re doing it. It’s too instantaneous, too involuntary for them to notice. It’s a reaction, not unlike a sneeze, though unlike a sneeze it’s sneaky and sly, but if you’ve witnessed it enough, and listened carefully enough, you’ll forever hear it. It’s a sound I have become familiar with lately; it is the sound I hear every time I tell people that I love writing, and that one day want to author a novel.
Did you just do it then?
I can’t blame you. There are few things more obnoxious, pretentious, and trite as the desire to write – and I’m not alone in this desire. I have met oodles who have told me they want to do the same, and inevitably, and most likely, I have rolled my eyes at their want as well.
We all have a novel inside us. That is absolutely true. We all wish to tell a story, and I truly believe we all should. But why would anyone want to write books for a living? It’s a long and lonely process, with little chance of success at the end. I’ll admit the lifestyle has been romanticised, and idealised (and still seems perfect in my mind) – yet I promise you, it isn’t. Be prepared to like your own company. Be prepared for others not to like you at all. But importantly, prepare to hear that quiet sound, prepare to catch the quick and reflexive eye rolls from friends and family alike. I sometimes wonder why I do it. But I wonder more why I can’t stop. So, let me tell you how it all began.
. . .
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be an author. For me, being an author meant telling stories – and it is the story that is my true love. You see, stories mean more than the world to me. I’m a slave to a good tale. Even in real life, I often forgive the most heinous trespasses, so long as I’m fed a decent narrative. I believe stories are universal and eternal; they bond us, bind us together, they transcend borders, and boundaries, classes and cause, they can cross time, reality, life, death and space, they are of us, about us, they teach us, and revere us. Stories don’t care how old you are, how educated you may be, your social standing, the look of your face – everybody can tell a story in some way or form. They way I see it, before we were engineers, astronauts, and rock stars; we were all storytellers – and to be part of that noble lineage is something beyond desire, it is need.
I’d like to tell you, that from the first moment I took a pencil in hand I started sketching my own tales, but more likely, I just shoved it in my mouth and sucked that toxic thing bare. Rather, I began my love affair in the usual manner, the way we all first fall in love: through observation, in this case, through listening. I’m sure (though I have no memory) that it was love at first word the first time I heard a story. The sense that there was more to the world than what I saw, was – and is – a fantasy that I hope will last within me till my final breath. That opportunity to slip into a realm beyond the everyday, and live amongst myths and legends has forever enchanted my soul, and the poetry of plot is by far the greatest intoxicant in which I have ever indulged.
. . .
My mother was a teacher, and encouraged my love of literature from early on. I remember her reading to me in bed. I don’t recall the book, or the author, but I remember clearly how the story made me feel. It was her, more than any other influence, that stoked the fire inside of me. She gave me a love for fiction, and I – as much as I can remember – gave her a headache in return.
From very young, I always carried a book with me (a trait, I’ve thankfully not grown out of). Every night, I’d bring at least one to the dinner table, and read while I pushed my food around the plate. Once I was released to watch television, or play in my room, I did so with different book in hand. I’d stay up late at night reading – far beyond my bedtime – and hid novels under my pillow when I heard my mum approach to tell me to sleep.
Mum was strict. She had rules, and she banned me from bringing books to dinner. I guess she didn’t enjoy watching me finish my food hours after she was done. We’d always fight about bedtimes, I’d bargain with her to allow me to stay up later and later. “But I’m reading,” I’d say, “ – don’t you want me to read?” I’d taunt maliciously, knowing well and truly that she, being a teacher, couldn’t help but submit to my manipulation. But it wasn’t long before she saw through the rouse, noting that I so enjoyed books, and given the option between that and watching television late into the night, I’d always choose the book anyway, she thus tailored her penalties toward my reading.
This was a gift. You see, I am something of – let me rephrase that – I am a complete contrarian. There is nothing more I adore than playing devil’s advocate to any situation (even those I happen to passionately agree with). So, when my mother ensured my bedside light was out, at what she deemed a reasonable time, this punishment brought exciting opportunity, and reading therefore, became an act of defiance, and as a result, I read more – a lot more.
. . .
Though, despite my love of books, I was never very good at reading – the actual act of reading, that is. I was slow, and awkward when reading aloud (both traits I’ve never shook). I remember the first time I tried to read in front of my class. I failed miserably. I stumbled and stammered, became tongue tied and stuck on every sound. The worse I did, the worse it got. I can still see their eyes, about sixty of them I think, though it might have been six thousand, glaring up at me, condemning me, thinking me stupid and I broke into tears, until another student – more learned than I – took over the task for me. It was in that moment – and those miserable hours after – I realised that I’d rather be behind the words on the page, than ever having to be in front of them again.
I was never very good at school either – much to my mother’s chagrin. It wasn’t that I wasn’t studious, it was simply that I was so bored. I never get bored. Not even once have I ever been so at home. I get bored when I’m trapped, and school seemed like the biggest trap of all. I loved writing, of course, though I was never a wizard with spelling, grammar or even basic punctuation. It was the chance to make my own narratives, the characters, the twists, the intrigues, the situations, and the resolutions, that I adored. But I never believed I had much of a talent for my passion, and thus I hid it tight, within me.
I never shared my proclivity with anyone – perhaps a few close friends here and there, but I never made it public. I’d write in secret, from early the days of primary school till late last year. During my years at high school I feared it would’ve labelled me a nerd (a badge, however I’ve worn with honour since leaving). At home, my parents begged me to go outside, play more sport, interact with my friends, but I had very little interest.
I’d hide my writing in my room, sneak it under textbooks, and quietly jot it down on scrap paper. I took my writing to school, and while the other kids were doodling, graffiting, and scratching their names and profanities into the wooden desks, I’d sneakily write stories. I had an extra workbook that I’d keep under the rest. That was where I wrote, away from peeking eyes, far from the judgements of others.
Once, in math class (where I did most of my surreptitious writing), the teacher caught sight of me. He walked to the front of my desk, removed the notebook I had hidden under my math problems, and inspected without a word. Once he realised what I was doing, he looked at me with a face of odd disgust, as if I was the biggest geek that he, in all his years of teaching algebra, had ever seen.
. . .
The greatest gift I received during those years was a computer for my room. I used it not for pornography like every other young teenage boy (well, that is, not pornography of flesh, but certainly for pornography of the mind, and I hid it just the same), it was mine to write with. At last, I could compose my stories easily, in greater volume, in deeper secret, and later into the night than ever before. I’d sit for hours before it, telling mum, when she came enquiring at 3am, that I was doing homework.
In Year 9, I finished my first novel. Two hundred and something thousand words of terrible, techno-thriller inspired, garbage. I wrote it in one semester, before, during, and after school. I’m still proud of that one time achievement (even if the story now makes me cringe), but the school didn’t see it that way.
When the teachers started writing notes home, I’d hide them. When they gave me detention for incomplete homework, I had to come clean. Mum questioned me about it, I told her – brimming with pride – it didn’t matter, because I had written a novel instead. She looked at me the way Jack’s mother looked at him when he told her he’d bought magic beans – except my beans would never grow, and I was promptly grounded and confined to my room (which, wasn’t a real punishment to be honest). After a long week of uneasy hostility, she asked me if she could read it, and I told her: not yet.
. . .
My resume reads: Bartender, 2003 – current. When I left high school I went to work in a pub. The odds of me becoming a published author weren’t good, and that was all I wanted to do. I never had much interest in pursuing other forms of writing. Professional, corporate; making briefs for mundane meetings, writing mission statements for pointless companies, or worse, lie-laden press releases for products or persons I didn’t give one shit about – that wasn’t for me. Neither was journalism, though I have always flirted with the idea (and sometimes regret not pursuing it). But writing other people’s narratives never excited me. I only wanted to write my stories, and people weren’t going to pay me just to do so, nobody, but me, wants a door-to-door storyteller.
So, I became a bartender in procrastination. I lived the wild lifestyle, but I could never shake that nagging need. Even when, during the years I saturated my brain with every narcotic and intoxicant available, I would still wake the following day, and through a befuddled fog, have a head filled with a thousand new ideas. I continued to write because I didn’t know how not to. It’s like breathing (if breathing was super hard and I was unsure of my ability to do so). I wrote, even for no reason. No one has ever read my work before, and I didn’t mind if no one ever did – I still just wanted to write.
My job’s lifestyle gave me ample chance to do what I love. I started work late in the afternoon and finished early in the morning. The time before and after my shift, when all the world is quiet and whispering in their beds, I wrote – deeply, thoroughly, and without fear of interruption. And though I knew I may not ever be successful, it meant I never had to give up my dream.
Mum would always wonder, why someone with such a proclivity for writing would choose to askew university, and she’d ask me everyday thereafter; when I was going to get a real job. I’d tell her I knew what I was doing, and that one day, I’d make her proud. I always believed I’d publish a novel, dedicate it to her, and prove my life was not wasted.
But as she lay in that hospital bed, there was no time for poetry. There was no cinematic end to it all, our story never came full circle. I never read to her as she did to me as a child. I could barely bring myself to visit. When I did, there was no warm close, only weariness, misery and regret filled that room, as I sat in stunned silence, and watched her slip away.
Before she went, I asked her one quiet question, but I never received an answer. She died never reading a single word of mine. She passed before I could make her proud. I know, deep in my heart, should I ever achieve my ultimate dreams, it will meaningless, and hollow. The one question I wished was answered, will never be so, and I’ll lead my life, a failure or a success, never able to consider myself either. Thus, the dedication to ever novel I’ve began since her passing, has always read the same. I write, in her father’s Italian, this simple consecration:
– Se stai leggendo questo, vuol dire che ho fatto qualcosa con la mia vita –
. . .
At thirty, I caved. I told myself, my twenties were there to get all fucked up and become interesting – and to practise writing (I say only in hindsight). This little need of mine, this grand passion I keep from the world, must be more than something simply to pass the time. I must pursue it. It’s time I at least tried, to share it with the world. After all, this is what has always made me happy, this is my link to the past – this is what I love to do.
So, I took my other names – Christopher (my middle) and Sangiolo (my mother’s maiden) – and I got to work. My goal is to publish a novel, that’s it – that’s all. I don’t want riches or fame, I only want to write well, and dedicate it to who inspired this dream. But no matter who, if anyone ever reads my work, I always know the person I want most of all to read it, never will.
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