Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where I'm from

Today is my birthday.

I won't say how old I am, but I will say this just to get all of the age jokes out of the way: When Washington crossed the Delaware, I was the guy on the other side who helped him tie up his boat.

The point of this post isn't to crow about my birthday, nor is it to bitch and moan about my age. No, today's entry is really about my life, redemption and second chances.

You with me? Hang on, 'cause I'm diving deep here.

See, I come from a very small place. Very small. Let's call it Dysfunction Junction. It's about three miles south of Hell On Earth. Seriously. No one from there ever went anywhere in life. No one. Quite simply, it just doesn't happen. Sure, you might graduate from high school. Hell, if you were really lucky and worked really hard, you might go to college.

But that's about it. Try to do more and you'll get branded a fancy pants show-off. Mr. Big Shot. It's all the sadder for being true.

Now before anyone in my hometown gets all upset and foamy at the mouth, please understand that Dysfunction Junction isn't a real town, per se. No, it's actually more of a state of mind. It's what I'm from, I suppose, rather than where I'm from.

But I know this -- it's a place where dreams don't just die, they don't exist at all. No, that's not exactly true. Dreams are discouraged. Period. We're all in this together. If I have to be stuck here, so do you. I heard and felt that my whole childhood.

All of my life, I've fought against this feeling way down deep inside that I'm not good enough. I'm not smart enough. I'm ugly. I don't deserve anything good. Hard work? Hah. Good luck getting anywhere with that. Smart? Hah. See where that gets you in life, Bucko.

I've been ashamed of who I am for my entire life. All of the cool things I've done? All bullshit. All of the good things that have happened to me? Not deserved. Pure dumb luck. Just wait, the other shoe will drop.

It's been a black hole that has sucked at my soul for decades. I've fought it like a drowning man fights an overpowering current, but in the end, the current always wins.

But like a man imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit, I've spent the second half of my life planning my escape. I was getting the hell out of Dysfunction Junction, or I was going to die trying.

Three years ago this week, I quit my job as assistant city editor of the newspaper where I had worked for twenty-five years. Think about that for a minute. Twenty-five years. And one day, I just walked out.

I was so burned out I could no longer look myself in the mirror. I had built a great career for myself, and I was proud of it. But of course, I didn't deserve it. And so, I walked out. I had reasons, good reasons, that I won't go into here. I promised myself when I quit that I would not disparage the newspaper or those who work there. And I've kept that promise.

I became a journalist back when Reagan was president because I wanted to be a novelist, a writer. It's all I've ever wanted to do in life. But over the years, I convinced myself that I didn't deserve my journalism career, that I wasn't good enough. And some at the newspaper, perhaps sensing I was as vulnerable as a gimpy wildebeest on the African plains, took great pleasure in pointing out just how bad I was, how much I didn't deserve what I had.

So one Tuesday morning, I walked out. Thus began the most frightening and exhilarating time of my life. I began to pursue my dream, my lifelong dream, of becoming a published novelist.

Thank God I have the world's most understanding and supportive wife, a woman whose faith in me exceeds her fear of bankruptcy.

So here I sit, terrified and exhilarated. Time, of course, will tell whether I really am good enough.

And man, that frightens the shit out of me.

But it's not as frightening as going to my grave knowing that I never tried, that I never even attempted to escape from where I'm from.

Watch out boys, I'm going over the fence.

YET ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: People. This post is not about any of the places I've lived. It's about me. My life. My hang-ups. My upbringing. It is not meant to denigrate any person or place. Anyone who should feel guilty probably isn't reading this anyway. So quit worrying.


  1. Happy birthday, Terry. It took balls to do what you did and that's what it takes to be a writer and not just a writer for someone else. It's inspiring what you did and I applaud you for it. Good things will come, I'm sure of it! Have a great birthday and a great year!

  2. Thanks Marty. Fortunately, I was born with more balls than brains! ;)