There is a time for everything, so they say. Whoever they are, they have a point.
The average life expectancy in Canada is 82 years. I will be 63 this year. In my calculations, not factoring in things like smoking tobacco and consuming alcohol and illicit substances for 15 years, a quadruple bypass and a whole wack of early childhood trauma, no matter how I cut it I am into the fourth quarter of my life.
That is one of the reasons I was able to finally begin putting this memoire project together. I guess I finally reached a stage in my life where I realize what you may think of me is not as important as what I think of me. That may not sound like brilliant realization to you, but to me it is.
As a writer by trade, the fact that my mortality gig may be coming to an end demands of me to be more open, more honest about how I made it from point A to point Z, and all the various points along that route.
No matter what you think of my trajectory.
I literally had a man tell me once that I had no courage or conviction in my writing, lest I would have gone to Ottawa or New York to chase my dream of becoming a journalist. There may be some kernel of truth to that. Now, the reason I didn’t chase my career abroad and up the totem pole was more about staying home to be near the kids when the marriage broke up, but I got his point. I never did believe fully in my skill set. Low self-worth was one of the products of growing up in and out of foster homes, in poverty, in addiction, in violent, sexually abusive situations. I am not about to pretend I had a healthy self-esteem. The truth is for much of my life I have viewed this writing thing as just something I do, something I stumbled into when I was in my 20s.
But at some point, I need to talk about my interactions with the word ‘destiny’. That sense that life is a movie, or a script written by someone, some thing, some preordained path, built perhaps before I was even born. It was just a sense, a feeling I had from my earliest memories. That I was being watched. That there was a purpose.
Before I got sober, I tried to not look at it. I was afraid it was God, and if it was, because of the crap I had seen and done, oh boy I was going to get it at some point. I was going to have to pay a price.
Once I cleaned up, I owned all my shit, at least what I could recall, shared it out loud to myself, a series of pastors, counselors, and sponsors, and to my invisible eye-in-the-sky God. I prayed for guidance, I tried to do the right things. When anything good or anything bad happened, I came to believe it was all part of a plan, destiny.
Somewhere around the 25th anniversary of the start of my clean time, (I’ve got over 33 years now), I stopped praying. I stopped believing in this invisible up-there God. I even began to believe there was no God.
I had always had a sense that there was this energy of goodness and darkness in the world, in the people around me, but somehow I just stopped equating those types of energy to God or Satan. I prefer light and dark. Kind or mean spirited. Thoughtful or selfish. Along with the fading monotheism philosophy downloaded in my youth, the concept of destiny disappeared too, replaced by the sense of just do the right things, and for the most part, right things will happen.
So, at the risk of being judged by you, I write to describe the process of one man’s life, I guess. It is self centred, it has to be. But I like that my life was never boring, so there’s that.
When I got sober in 1986, I took stock. I had a Grade 9 education and if I wanted to ever make more than minimum wage in a job, I would need to rectify that. So, I did. In fact, I spent the first three years of my recovery in school.
The first year I got busy completing my high school as a full-time student at Alberta Vocational Centre near downtown Calgary. While taking Grade 12 English, I was tasked to write an essay on an event or place that affected me psychologically. I wrote about the impact of a port visit I paid to Nagasaki, Japan. I still have that essay. It is filled with spelling and punctuation errors, but the gist was communicated. That city, its importance in the history of the world, affected me. There was no mark on the paper, just a whole lot of red ink, and comments from my instructor, one Cindy Hudson. What I learned from that essay was two-fold. One, I am a terrible speller and needed much work on the conventions of the written English language in general. But two, I have an ability to communicate in such a way that my writing can impact others emotionally.
Trust me, I was as surprised as anybody to figure that out. Depending on my mood at any given time, to this day I often question that ability of mine, despite being published many, many times in papers from Halifax to Victoria and a raft of cities between. I have always left room in my skull for doubt.
The point is, other than five years where I morphed into an addictions centre counselor from 2007 to 2012, I have used a keyboard to make a living. I have done this for a living most of my adult life.
My first job after college was working for a well-known Western Canadian newspaper columnist. Jack Tennant hired me right out of school precisely because I was green. He needed an editor for one of his two papers he owned at the time, and he knew and assured me he could teach me exactly how to do things his way before my head got polluted by other journalists or publishers. One of the first lessons Jack taught me was this; He said “There are communicators and there are writers. Be a communicator.”
I took that to mean don’t get caught up in the polish, don’t be obsessive about the typos, the conventions, the dos, and don’ts of writing. Don’t be all flowery and cute. Just avoid cliches, tell the truth, get both sides, and do my job. But first and foremost, write. Put your thoughts down. Let the editors tidy up the scrawl. He was my editor and publisher, along with spellcheck.
So, write I am. I am nearing the finish line on my memoire. It has been a daunting process.
I can tell you one of my favorite lines from a talk I attended in Banff in 2012. He said, ‘you know, I ain’t much, but I’m all I think about.’
One thing I know for sure is we all have a story. I believe we are all philosophers, and we are all revisionists. I love to hear and read yours. In fact, I love to write yours and help others read them, too.
This time it is my turn. That’s all.
For this project, I went deep into the vault of my past. I hope you can relate. It contains my version. My truth, at least the way I saw it.
I hope you check it out. I’ll let you know when it’s ready for consumption.