If you don't start running... a follow up, of sorts...
If you don't start running...
A little more than a year ago I wrote a personal essay, or really more of a personal rambling, for my friend Julia's blog Paper Air Planes Never Fly in Straight Lines--the original post you can find HERE. I wanted to make sure the post was archived here on my own blog as well--you'll find it below this short post.
I'll try not to give too much un-needed context for the little essay, but in short, I was asked to write about myself. About something going on with me and where I was in life. So I wrote this little informal thing as honestly and conversationally as possible. This was shortly after I decided to take writing seriously, and is about me taking the leap of faith to pursue it.
Since writing that post:
I quit my IT job. I took a massive pay cut in order to go back to school for creative writing--thank God we were in a position for me to be able to do so. I work part-time at a local Library--a place I feel at home working because I believe strongly in the mission and purpose of libraries. And, of course, I'm pursuing my writing seriously. I've written a second novel since that post. I write and submit regularly and with more joy and passion poured into it than I ever would have been able to in my previous career situation. I hope to either teach creative writing, or continue work in the library world post-degree--and continue to pursue my own work.
And you know what? I'm as happy as could be.
If you don’t start running… -- Austin
Published on November 18, 2016
My friend Julia has asked that some of her friends write about their life — where they’re at right now, things they’re learning, etc. Due to all the negativity that’s been in the air recently, I think it’s a great idea we all share a little bit of ‘life’ with each other. It reminds us we’re all still human.
I promise that this post will end on a high note, so forgive me if it starts low. Also, this post might seem a little selfish. It is. This is about me realizing I need to chase my dreams.
I hope, that someone who reads it can relate. And maybe, just maybe, it helps someone else make the leap I did.
In November of 2015 I sat in traffic at the intersection of 291 Highway, and Kansas Street in little old Liberty Missouri. I drummed my thumbs hard on the steering wheel and tried to take a deep breath. That sinking feeling was welling up in my chest again. And — oh, yep, there it was. Tears. I’m driving from one location to another at the IT job I work, and there I am sitting in the middle of traffic starting to cry.
Four months ago, my father died. Colon cancer. Fourth stage. After a long and grueling battle lasting twenty-two months. At most jobs you get five days off after an immediate family member dies, in order to grieve. Then you can spend whatever vacation or personal time you’ve got. Let me tell you in case you don’t know; that’s not enough time. There isn’t enough time to recover from what cancer puts your family through.
Losing a loved one makes you think. But losing your father when you’re nineteen makes you reconsider EVERYTHING.
So there in the car I was finally beginning to think. The shock had finally faded, and what life looked like now was coming into better focus.
Now I didn’t decide life was short. That wasn’t a conclusion I came to on my own. That fact had been SHOWN to me. Presented to me as an undeniable truth.
I started thinking, where will I be at Dad’s age? If life didn’t change course, I’d work in IT until the day I died. Would I be happy with that? Is that really the legacy that I want to leave for my future children?
“Oh yes children, follow your dreams — but only if they’re sensible and pay well!”
Life is short.
What did I want to do for the rest of my life?
Life is short.
What makes me happy? As I started wondering, a few thoughts came to mind. I started to put puzzle pieces together, I unearthed what I’ve always known that I love to do, but never had the guts to pursue.
Those who know me know that I am a huge geek. For five years I organized and ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons. For five years, every Saturday we could, my friends and I got together to cooperatively tell fantastic stories about characters fighting their own demons — and literal ones — as they trekked through mystic realms. Some of my fondest memories were in those five years, seated at a table, and narrating epic tales.
When I was in elementary school, I had an imagination that was always carrying me off into other worlds. I had been a detective with his own business cards, a ghost-hunter and buster, a spy, and a superhero called ‘The red phoenix’, all before third or fourth grade. You’re damn right. I’ll put my fictional resume against anyone else’s. In fourth grade I was chosen to go to a special young writers’ conference, and there I discovered storytelling. Myself, and the one other student picked went to workshops and were told, — yes told by adults — to write whatever we wanted! Spaceships, Dragons, Zombies! I was in heaven.
I’d always been writing and telling stories. If it wasn’t for our D&D game, it was the beginnings of a novel. If it wasn’t a novel, it was a short story. And when I wasn’t writing, I was reading, listening to audiobooks, or dreaming up something else in my head.
That day I realized what I actually love to do. I love to tell stories. I felt like an idiot for just now putting all the pieces together. It was obvious that storytelling is what I love — but that’s just not something you pursue as a career, right?
At a young age, teachers and other adults tell kids they can be whatever they want. But, as you get older… “Oh, that’s nice… but how about you have a backup plan?” They can sometimes beat your dreams out of you. Writing (and other forms of art), are hobbies that for whatever unfounded reason, society doesn’t value unless it makes money. You don’t see a bunch of people playing basketball and go up to them and say, “So when’s the NBA?” or, “It’s nice you get exercise and all, but when are you gonna make money doing this?” But as soon as someone hears you’re writing a book, there’s an eye roll. “Oh, so when is it going to be published?” or, “How much money will you make from it?”
That’s why it never occurred to me to really chase what I love. Society doesn’t make it seem pragmatic.
I put the puzzle pieces together, and started listening to some of my favorite authors talk about writing. To my surprise, I found it’s not impossible to make a career, and yes, even a living. Is it hard? Absolutely. But not impossible. In fact, it’s far more likely than most would have you think. You simply can’t give up. The ones who make it write five or thirteen books before they sell. The ones who make it put in years, maybe ten. The writers making a living didn’t quit. They kept going because they love telling stories.
In December, I talked to my wife. That was scary. We had been married for only days, and I was about to tell her I had just totally rethought what I want to do for the rest of my life! Now granted, Ali and I had been together for five long and wonderful years at this point, so I should’ve known not to worry — but I did anyways. I told her I found what I want to do for the rest of my life — what I want to pursue, regardless if it ever pays a single bill. She has absolutely been the most important piece of support I’ve ever had.
So, I was shown that life is short, and I decided to do something about it. Spiritually, mentally, and physically, I know now that I’m doing what I should be. I’m doing what I love, and telling stories. With a new set of eyes and a far happier outlook on life.
A year later I’ve completed a novel — it’s now in the hands of awesome beta-readers, helping me improve my craft — and I’ve started another novel. I work a day job to pay the bills, and treat writing as seriously as a part-time job. I come home, sit down, and write. A thousand words, or four hours. And I love every moment.
Will I ever pay the bills with my writing? Will I ever go full-time? We’ll see.
I’m not giving up. And if I die with 60+ unpublished novels, I’ll be happy. Very happy. Because I chased my dreams anyways. And you’ll never know if you would have caught them, if you don’t start running.