In an event which my inherent conceit interpreted as something akin to flattery, I was asked recently about my life before writing. While still less than a month into what I sincerely hope ends up being my personal reckoning with serendipity, it still feels difficult to actually picture myself as a writer. I would, however, like to oblige that request. Twitter is rapidly becoming my most effective social media tool, and 140 characters at a time is woefully inadequate to tell a decent story, so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone and pad my article count for the month with something autobiographical.
I was born and raised in New Hampshire, and, for the sake of disclosure, hereby admit a life-long bias toward it being the greatest state in the country. Its people defy description in terms of attitude and politics, but for the sake of summarizing, I suppose you could call them NIMBYs; that is to say that you can do whatever it is you want, but “not in my back yard.” The spirit of the sentiment in encapsulated in the legal philosophy of being the country’s only state not to require the use of seat belts for adults or motorcycle helmets. The psychology behind it is not to unnecessarily restrict the activities of others, so long as they leave you be to pursue your own. The idea is immensely reflective of my personal life philosophy; maybe even a guiding principle, of sorts. Later on in my life, while I was temping for a Hewlett-Packard lease return center, I would hear a similar refrain often from my more urban co-workers: “You do you.” I see the similarity of intent and appreciate those words also.
I grew up rather poor. In a comparison only to be understood by other American children of the 80’s, I only owned one Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figure in my life (Michelangelo), and one G.I. Joe (Pathfinder). They tired of fighting each other quite rapidly, though later served as superior BB gun targets. In more universal terms, I never owned more than two pairs of jeans or any name-brand sneakers until I got my own job at 15, washing dishes. In a throwback to Dickensian times, my parents would save the drippings from whatever the cheapest cut of meat was to make us “gravy sandwiches” for lunch. As such, after completing a predictable teenage refutation of my early life, now that I’m an adult I am quite satisfied with cheap living. Before I gave up drinking entirely, I was a sort of slum sommelier, offering tasting notes of St. Ides and Steel Reserve fine malt liquors. I have absolutely no resentment. My father worked incredibly hard my entire life, to the point that I did not see much of him in the early years. My mother was psychiatrically disabled, having had the latent gene for schizophrenia enabled from a bout with postpartum depression. My sisters and I grew up somewhat feral.
Suffice to say that throughout my life, I was a horrible student. Simple presence at school was inadequate to command my attention. I would bring a paperback novel to class and read on my own, oblivious to my teacher’s frustration. I should mention at this point that I am diagnosed with ADHD, although I view it more as a personality quirk than a disability. The primary noticeable effect of the diagnosis is that I am a voracious reader, to the exclusion of the outside world while I am between the covers of a book. Where both of my elder sisters acquired scholarships and attended universities, I did not finish high school regularly, but rather through night school while I attended the United States Job Corps program. After completion, I went on to dedicate my life to factory work, which I pursued the majority of time from the age of 18 until just about two months ago. I do actually quite enjoy having the perspective of knowing what most things take to be made, and find what little I have gleaned of engineering to be terribly fascinating. A machinist, the last position I held before abandoning my life of factory work, is something like a spiritual partner to a mechanical engineer. I retain the ability to make sense of CAD/CAM programming, and can manually program G Code and Mazatrol for Mills and Lathes. If that does not make sense to the reader, I apologize, but there is definitely not space to explain further. Suffice to say it is how you make machine tools cut other things.
So, in an attempt to reign in the arrogant impulse of enjoying talking about one’s self, I will try to bring this to a close. Four years ago, I moved to California to fulfill the implicit promise of a long-distance online relationship. I did not meet my wife on a dating site, but rather an online forum. We started out messaging each other, than talking on the phone, and after a year it stopped making sense to do anything but fly to the West Coast to meet her in person – to see if there was really something there. I proposed to her on the ferry to Alcatraz, though the ring had to wait a bit longer. This is our happily ever after, as I find myself rapidly approaching middle age and still incapable of thinking myself a day older than 20.
Life evokes the true meaning of all words prefixed with “awe”. It can be awful, awesome and awe-inspiring. It has highs and lows, but ultimately, serendipity awaits around some unseen corner as long as you leave yourself room to accept it. The best understanding I have come to of life, and the one that has enabled me to pursue writing at this time, is that to own your life and take control of the decisions within it, you have to be brave enough to make those decisions yourself before fate forces your hand. You have to place yourself out in front of it. As long as you can do that, and as long as you can take personal responsibility for the times things come up short, you will find yourself empowered as the master of your own destiny. You, individually, always have the power to swim against the current or to walk uphill. You always have the ability to find faith in yourself. Sometimes, being where you want to be in the world requires risk. Just do it – fortune favors the bold. As an American citizen at this exact point in history, nearly nobody else who ever lived has had as extensive of a societal safety net to hedge against the possibility of failure. If you, like myself, want to write, then write. If you want to sing, sing. All you could possibly gain by taking the “safe” path is regret. I implore you to summon the courage to own your life. We spend so much of our time with our faces pressed against the storefront window of where we want to be, that we forget what street it is on. Every time I have taken a risk, even if the result was short of perfect, it was still my life and there was still something beautiful about it.
I should also add that the Guardian Liberty Voice accepts writers with no professional background as long as they can successfully complete a two-week “boot camp” certification process. I am in no way encouraged to promote the publication by saying so, and it has never been asked of me to “talk them up” in any way, shape or form. It is just the simple truth of the matter that I went looking for work in writing, and they are what I found. I have also never been encouraged to do any specific story, but am completely enjoying my free will to write what crosses my mind (provided that it is correctly categorized and adheres to style guidelines). If a reader of this post had, similar to myself, harbored a dream of writing, then this is one example of the multitudes of opportunities that they could find if they decided to take the plunge.
Blog by Brian Whittemore
Sources: Personal Experience
Photos by, or property of, Brian Whittemore