Oct. 9 2003 03:02 PM

Redemption: Writing heals the wounds-and sometimes it helps pay the bills

It's not every day someone comes along and not only offers you the opportunity to do the one thing you love doing best but is willing to pay for it as well-but that's the deal I've got going here with CityBeat, soon to be San Diego's most talked about new addition since the birth of Hua Mei.

It's taken me a long time to get here folks, with more twists and turns than an early '60s sock hop; at this juncture in my life I think it's time to start cashing in on some of the chips. I say this because I have been known to write for free-good for the ego, but not for the pocketbook. If you're one of the millions of writers secretly hacking away into the wee hours of the night, then you have some inkling of what I'm saying. To the others, I can only try to explain.

Writing is an addiction and, like all addictions, it defies logic. In a moment of angst, you sit down and scribble a few incoherent words. It feels good and so you start to dabble; a few words here, a few words there. One day you wake up with a sentence in your head and then have to decide whether you are going to get up out of bed and start writing or lie there and drift precariously toward boredom and self destruction for the rest of your life.

You choose the former. You get up, make some strong coffee, then sit at your desk and start typing. Pages fall from the calendar like in an old movie and you soon have a file cabinet overflowing with unfinished novels, short stories, poems and reviews, not to mention more diary entries than Anaïs Nin-anything that will keep the fingers moving across the keyboard. Somewhere along the line you dream of riches and fame, of being someone, but then there are all those insecurities, and the work stays hidden. After years and years of struggling-it just doesn't matter anymore. You do it for the sake of doing it. Early in the morning, late at night, Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you just do it. You've aged, mellowed some. You're acceptance is almost Zen-like.

With any kind of luck and honesty, you write yourself in a circle, right back to the origin of the addiction. In my case, it narrows down to two specific incidents of childhood: my father's typing and a few kind words from my mother. It's a long story that basically goes like this. I would lie in bed at night, terrified of falling asleep lest the devil come along and drag me off to hell, soothed only by the sound of my old man's pounding on his Underwood. He could do a good 70 to 80 words per minute, and in a house devoid of music, the rhythmic sound of his typing was a more than adequate substitute. I was lulled by the melodious tapping and the bell at the end of each line, followed by the ratcheting sound of the carriage sliding back to the next line. The fact that he was typing also meant that there would be no yelling or screaming, no anger to fill up the small, three-room apartment.

And then there was that night, standing in the kitchen with my mother. I had a Landmark book under my arm, one of a series I'd fallen in love with and which the library seemed to have an endless supply of. I told her rather flippantly that one day I was going to write a book.

To my amazement, she actually replied; in fact, she showed enthusiasm. She told me that writing was a good thing and that if I was serious, I should start writing short stories, as most writers did. My jaw dropped with disbelief, but inside I was beaming like a Star Trek transporter during an evacuation. The exchange only lasted for a few moments, but the ripples still linger. It's the small things in life that propel us, right?

I have this theory that all artists are damaged goods and that their need to create is simply a way of healing themselves. I see them as Humpty Dumpties who have fallen off their walls, and rather than waiting for all the king's horses and all the king's men, the writers decided to put themselves back together again. And so I sit here now, typing away to heal the wounds inflicted by the very nature of existence, thinking that if I can create my own music, then perhaps I can attain some sort of redemption from the flaws of being human. Seeing one's name in a byline can do that.

The story I want to tell is a simple one-this is where I came from and this is how I got here. I've always believed that if I could tap into that tale, I would have tapped into the mother load of humanity itself, a rather grandiose idea to say the least, but one which I still believe to be true. Fact or fiction, serious or sarcastic; it all springs from the same proverbial well.

The true power of creation lies in its ability to touch people and make them see through our eyes. Whether I succeed or not is for others to decide; for me, it's the journey that's important. Right now I'm just trying to keep those checks coming. The way things are going out there in the real world, they might just be the difference between my eating from a can of tuna fish or eating from a can of cat food.


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