When I was in the forth grade I read a biography of Thomas Paine. Actually, I gobbled it down in one sitting. For those who remember Tom Paine, he was the patriot from Philadelphia during the American Revolution who wrote the pamphlets Common Sense that laid out the arguments for disassociating with England in clear terms and helped create consensus among the people of the British Colonies that they deserved independence. Since I red that book, I have always told anyone interested that my hero is Thomas Paine. I like how he fomented change with his pen and appreciate that he wrote for his fellow citizens in the here and now. Thomas Paine played counterpoint to his more poetic peer, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote for the ages.
For all that I admired Thomas Paine I never considered emulating him; my dream of being an architect was deeply entrenched even by age ten. But nearly twenty years ago, when I was at my limit of understanding a deep personal crisis, I sat down at a picnic table in Provincetown and began to write. A novel. Simple as that, starting on page one. The writing helped me escape my present and simultaneously understand it better.
Sing Out Loud is not very good novel, but it’s not all that bad either. For three years it kept me saner than work or therapy or family. Before I finished it, another plot seeped into my head; for the next five years I worked on Weekends in Holy Land, a much better effort. That led to Men of a Certain Age (before the TV show of the same name). About seventy pages into Men I can to a full stop. I’d run out of juice. There was no more fiction in me. So I started writing stories, very bad poems, and essays. I developed a rhythm that cadenced at about 750 words. Whenever life tossed me something I couldn’t quite frame, I sought clarity in writing about it. I began my devotion to yoga, keyed into the awkward pose, and that term became the metaphor for my search.
Meanwhile life as an architect grew less engaging. The projects got bigger, my role less direct. Being the master facilitator does not offer the same satisfactions as being the master builder. Then I went to Haiti where I was the master builder once more, and after that, I lost all interest in being a cog in the American Healthcare Industrial complex.
Fifty years after I first met Thomas Paine, I’ve decided to follow in his footsteps. Of course I’ll never exert the influence he did; heroes are to be emulated, not equaled. I’ve quit my job, I’ve enrolled in some journalism courses, I plan to write full time about whatever I see that deserves more attention that it’s getting. Not for posterity but for the present.
So far I’ve enjoyed some beginner’s luck. I’ve written a memoir about my time in Haiti, which University of Missouri Press will publish in fall of 2014. WBUR’s Cognoscenti has accepted me as a contributor. It is a refreshing forum for interesting voices from the Boston area. I hope to write for other print and online publications, and of course I will continue posting to my blog, at least weekly.
I am energized by the prospects before me in 2014. I appreciate all of my readers and your comments. Writing is its own reward; having readers is sheer ambrosia. I wish you all equally exciting prospects to brighten your new year.