I didn’t exactly fit in with the other kids at school. I wasn’t the one being shoved into the locker every day, but my interests were in things other than football and basketball. I remember chasing bees and picking dandelions in the outfield at baseball practice (where I spent the majority of my baseball years). In other words, I didn’t keep my “eye on the ball.”
In high school, I found my outlet in music. I was interested in the arts, but my redneck high school didn’t exactly offer a lot of programs in that genre. When I moved away to attend college, I was exposed to a full spectrum of arts all at once, and though a little overwhelmed at the time, I really got into creative writing. I was drawn in not just by the craft, but also by the outcome—something intensely life changing. That marked the beginning of a grueling yet beautiful journey to find and harvest good qualities in myself and the world.
As a beginning writer, I was determined to catch up to other students who had been writing for years. I read twice the amount of poetry as other students, and eventually made it into the university’s literary journal.
While other students were busy experimenting in things I won’t mention here, I was experimenting with different types of poetry. It was an entire world of art—different forms and meters, connections in nature, poetry readings, YouTube videos…the more I read, the better I wrote. As my world of poets and authors expanded, so did my appreciation for art, and later, for the struggles in life. After all, a great poem keeps speaking to you far after you’ve read the last line.
With a solid creative writing professor, I continued to grow. He was tall and sarcastic and his office was filled with old lamps and antique suitcases (we got along great). I remember sitting in his office once as he shook his head despairingly looking at my poem and said, “This one just isn’t working.” He was brutally honest just when my head began to grow, and he was encouraging when I began to doubt why I ever started writing. This was an important part of my development (and still is) because it offers subjective direction for my poems, and a lot of really practical life advice when necessary.
As this new era of my life opened, I began to find things within myself that I had never sensed before. The shy and insecure boy began to develop, through writing, rewriting, and publishing, into a more confident man. I made friends that I had things in common with—friendships that would be based in respect and conversation instead of just a mutual commitment to something temporary. As my confidence grew, I was comfortable enough to begin submitting my art to professional literary journals. To my great surprise, I had a lot of success with publishing. For every twenty or so rejections, I began to place some of my poetry into legitimate magazines.
As college came to a close, I came to realize that my writing and publishing was more than just enjoyment—it offered a way into the professional world as well. Even though many poets don’t make a full-time living simply writing (other than, say, maybe Billy Collins), I realize that the ability to write and edit could lead me into a career where those skills were necessary and valued. Poetry offered a unique way to express some things I see about the world. It’s more than writing about my dog dying because I feel emotional. As Emerson stated in his famous essay, the poet “turns the world to glass,” offering a new perspective on how to see the world.
Writing has helped find things within myself and the world around me that are beautiful, despite life’s hardships. It allowed me to develop deep and meaningful relationships that fostered understanding and conversation. I wasn’t just a better writer—I was a better person. Writing helped me begin to step out of that cookie-cutter persona I thought I had to be and step into the shoes that fit.
I began to appreciate things I didn’t fully understand and respect others with different perspectives. As an artist, I began to find ways to put art into the world even through some difficult life circumstances of my own. Writing in even some of the most basic forms allowed me to zoom out and see a bigger and more beautiful picture of the world while honing my skills as an emerging artist.
If I were to offer advice, I’d say open your mind to new experiences and new ideas. Maybe there’s something out there that will change you like writing changed me.