July 4th, 2013

my mountain

So what if you have a day job?

I fell in love with the Black Stallion when I was ten years old. Loyal to The Black, I refused to read about any other horse, even as I consumed any and all non-equestrian books to cross my path. I read constantly, voraciously -- at home, in school, while walking down the street. I was nearly hit by a bus during a climactic scene in Johnny Tremain.

My small town's library was a dragon's hoard of treasure. I would get nine or ten books at once and, unable to decide which to read first, would spread two or three on my lap and read a few pages from each in turn. I smuggled books to read under my desk during math class. I never did learn the multiplication tables above ten, but I finished Where A Red Fern Grows in two days flat.

The only place I couldn't read was in a bus or car. Cursed by an overly excitable inner ear, I was forced to stare out the window and tell myself stories in my head. Eventually I started telling these stories to my friends. Then I began writing them down.

Writing, like reading, was an escape. It was fun, challenging, exciting, occasionally frustrating, frequently hard work. I loved it, but I never saw it as a career. My parents were both liberal arts majors, and after seeing how that worked out, I decided to go into physics. But I never lost my love of reading and writing fiction.

Through sheer stubbornness and a refusal to give up I achieved first my bachelor's degree, and then my master's degree in medical physics. I earned an "A" in honors calculus by writing a short story about Smith's Theorem.

By my senior year, however, the struggle to keep up with my science classes had all but obliterated writing from my life. I still read whenever I could, but my creative output was diverted into my physics and engineering assignments. As a grad student, I wrote code in a basement cubicle, a world removed from The Black running free on his deserted island.

I didn't write again until I was out of school and in my first job. Working late one night, I picked up a pen in a fit of boredom and started jotting words on scrap paper. It was like activating a muscle that has lain dormant for a long time. I could feel the creative neurons firing up in my brain.

I shared those first, fitful stories online, and soon I'd gathered a following of fellow word-lovers, geeks like me who can't stop writing even when it's hard, even when the demands of work and school and family mean you have to get up an hour early to write before your day job, or stay up late after everyone else has gone to bed, struggling to find the perfect word to craft a sentence when your eyes are too tired to see straight. You get up that hour early, you stay up late, because you have to. It's hard, and sometimes it's frustrating, but there's a part of you that will not let it go.

Even when you have a responsible day job, your passions will out.