Sunday, July 24, 2011

JK Rowling, the Pomeranian, and Me

I watched the JK Rowling story tonight on Lifetime. I now know how to properly pronounce her name, and what the J stands for.

I also learned a couple of other things, and at one point I started crying. It was a man-sob, nobody saw it, and I held the Pomeranian up to my face to shield my eyes and I don't think anyone noticed, except maybe the dog and she won't talk, but I cried nonetheless.

Hold on. I gotta fetch a beer. Grab one, too, will you...

Ah, okay, better. I'm drinking a local brew, a "Munich-Style Helles Lager" that tastes a lot like feet. I bought it not knowing how it tastes, but I'm a soldier, by God.

Now, back to the Pomeranian tears.

I knew Rowling had submitted an even dozen times, a wonderfully magic number, before being accepted.

I knew she had been a welfare mom and I know how rich she got off the book.

(I take the show as fact, so please excuse me if the show is incorrect.)

What I ~didn't~ know is that she was top of her class in high school, and that she didn't get into her college of choice. That sort of got me, because I was top of my class, and I didn't get into my college of choice.

No big deal, though, that happens to everyone. It's called reality.

The scene with her dad, though, when he explained to her, and I paraphrase, "You can't be a writer! You'll live off the state. You need to do something practical, like math--" and that's where I broke down, right there during that sentence, at that word, that's where I picked up the Pomeranian and held her to my face and let her lick my forehead.

See, because I was top of my class, I earned the valedic scholarship. I began majoring in Biochemistry-Pre-Med at the University of Texas at Austin.

After my freshman year, I changed my major to Literature-slash-Philosophy, intending to study books and Greek mythology. Maybe it wasn't Philosophy, but it was something like that, Greek Mythology maybe. I don't remember, because it didn't last but a couple of weeks.

I went home and as always at the end of the semester sat at the bank in front of my scholarship benefactor and explained my grades and my plans and how I intended to spend their money.

"I changed my major," I said.

"To what?"

"Literature and philosophy."

Man, I remember the look on his face, those steepled fingers. My aunt worked at the bank and it's a small town and everyone knew me and my parents and my brother and cousins and God help us all, my Grandparents, who practically shut down the bank every time they stopped in to chat. My aunt sat at the desk next to him, but she wasn't there just now.

"Literature," he said. It wasn't a question.

And let me pause here. He was a good guy. He died a little after I got out of college, and the advice was sound, but it was a helluva a thing to hear. There were no malice in his words.

He shook his head. "You can't major in literature," he said.

"Why not? My mom is a librarian. She has a library science degree and taught English. I've been reading since I was in the womb. I'm a shoe-in."

"I won't argue with that," he said, and he couldn't, because he knew mom and he knew how freaking smart she is. "But you can't major in literature. You're too good at math. Not everyone has that talent. You need to major in something you can make a living at, like math or science."

Now, I'm eighteen just turned nineteen, an April baby and sober to boot, because I didn't start with the booze until I hit my 21st birthday, on the day, and haven't stopped since. But I didn't possess the emotional fortitude to handle what he had just said.

Hell, I knew I was good at math. Math is easy. It's just numbers. I like it all right, but that's not what I was angling at. He'd just hit me in the head with a bag of Stephen King books, It maybe, or Pet Cemetery.

"I'd really like to be a writer," I said to him.

"I'm not saying you can't, but you need to major in something we can invest in. Literature is a bad investment for this endowment."

"What does that mean?"

"It means, Eric, that if you major in literature, I'll stop funding your scholarship."

Hells on a stick, that got my attention. I was a poor white boy scraping through college on scholarships and work-study and loans. If I lost the scholarship, it was game-over.

The word FUCK went through my mind, but I didn't say it. I knew he was bluffing, and he was bluffing (I assume), but I got the point.

"All right," I said. "What should I major in?"

"Have you thought about engineering?"

I left the bank, and I left town, and I drove home. Home was Austin since I stayed, keeping my job, and so I went back to Austin and up to my brand-new adviser and said, "I can't do literature. I have to change my major."

I can't even remember if the adviser was a he or a she. It only lasted a couple of weeks, such a short-lived and fucking BEAUTIFUL relationship. I felt for those few weeks like I had wrapped God around my finger and He was doing MY bidding.

One of my senior gifts, from high school, was from my Aunt, the one I consider the grandmotherest of my relatives. She bought me a Brother Word Processor. I wrote this story for her and she was kind enough to tell me it was a great story. I don't remember what all I wrote on that thing, but you had to write a paragraph and then print it, something like that. You couldn't write but maybe 500 words at a time, but at least you could edit before you typed. I went through a lot of ribbon and I have no idea what I wrote, but I fucking wrote by God.

I lugged that thing up to college my Freshman year, left my drum set at home but I took my Brother Word Processor, and I banged on it every once in a while. I submitted to Playboy. They turned me down, which didn't surprise me, because like any good writer, I know and accept that I SUCK.

I hacked my way through that Freshman year in Austin, and at the end of it knew science was a good gig and all, but it was the Brother Word Processor that I looked forward to, not my HP calculator.

I was tried and tested, and I found my gig. It wasn't math. It was writing. It always was writing. Always from the beginning of always, and when the teachers read my story, or the girls passed around my stories, or people cried when I wrote, there I was with God on my finger again, a white-robed ringlet nodding up at me saying, "That's what I created these fingers for, boy. That's what I created you for!"

And I get to the bank and the scholarship benefactor, and I'm told it just isn't the right thing, forget your talking finger-God.

So I said FUCK YALL! and dropped my Lit major. Romeo just dumped Julie, baby! End of story!

I had already scoped out Chemistry, Organic Chemistry (which I loved, but didn't want to major in it), Biology, Zoology, and the other softer sciences.

So I went a few buildings down on campus and rang up the math prof. We talked about actuarial science, which is statistics and I still love statistics, but I didn't want to major in it. It sounded too easy, actually, and I was good at math, by God, I needed to use my talent, not squander it analyzing stats for insurance companies!

I tried physics, but that science has always seemed somewhat impractical to me. You learn so much about things that may or may not be true, that you probably can't prove, that nobody will believe, that are untrue not long after you learn them, but trust me, there really are black holes we just can't see them. I'm a PHYSICIST, BY GOD! I JUST SHAVED SHRODINGER'S CAT WITH OCCUM'S RAZOR!

Yeah, whatever.

So I went over to the engineering department. Civil, Mechanical, Aeronautical (one of my current characters is an Aero Eng), they didn't sound tough enough, and so I kept on a-moving.

I finally whittled it down to two majors: Electrical Engineering, and Chemical Engineering.

Me and electricity never have been tight, but my whole family is in the oil field, so I chose Chemical Engineering.

Plus, everyone said Electrical and Chemical Engineering were the hardest majors on campus, and to be honest, the EEs at work still raise their eyebrows when I tell them I'm a Chem E, sort of a Holy Shit look, and then they expand my personal space a few feet.

I figured Chemical Engineering would suffice, and it would use my aforementioned God-given math skills to my benefactor's liking, and so I called him up, told him of my change in major, and he said, "That's more like it."

"Fuck yeah, it is!" I didn't say that, but I thought it.

And so here I am, a Chemical Engineer who has NEVER quit writing.

I am a writer. I always tell people that first, after a father I am a writer. I work days as an engineer, but I am a WRITER.

And when I saw that scene in the Rowling story, where her dad said, "Writing is too impractical. You're too smart. You should major in something like math."

Man, I broke down and dabbed my eyes with the Pomeranian's belly. They only have eight nipples, you know, not ten like big dogs, or at least that's all I could find on her and I just checked again.

Anyway, we've all had those moments, haven't we, where people say, DON'T BE A WRITER!

"Sure," they say, "go ahead and write. I love your stories and all, but don't quit your day job."

Even writers say that. Family, friends, everyone.

Because that would be so impractical, wouldn't it. People don't even read anymore.

How about you? Have you ever been discouraged from being a writer? Do you have God on your finger, or is He shaking his head because you are doing something you were not meant to do?

Thank you for reading this post. It was somewhat of a torrent for me.

And don't quit writing. For the love of finger-loving God, don't quit writing. Not now, not ever.

- Eric


Just Another Sarah said...

Yes, I totally understand. I think all of us do. Writing is so completely impractical...but it's not! It's so important. I so love that you posted this and also that you watched a documentary about JK Rowling and and also that you cried, just a little. (I cry at everything. Everything.)

I was lucky that my parents supported me in everything I have done...but you still hear it. And it doesn't help that, as you mentioned, like a good writer, I know my writing is terrible. Rowling's story is a dream to me. She was one of my biggest inspirations, I think--I started wanting to be a writer around the release of Harry Potter in the US.

This is a terribly long comment. But your post means a lot to me.

dolorah said...

You're deep Eric. Obviously the education wasn't wasted :)

Yeah, I was told how impractical it was too; that the only thing I'd be good at is secretarial work and having babies. I did both - very well I might add - and it took me a very long time to attempt writing anything in my adulthood. Outside of assignments for college classes, that is.

It took a long time for my writer dream to be acknowledged. I tell myself it has happened at the right time in my life for me to appreciate it.

I'm so glad you never gave up your writing Eric.


Joshua McCune said...

Love the story within the story. As a fellow engineer (a lowly MechE, ha!), I understand, though in my story, the banker telling me to get my shit together was inside my head until I told him to fuck off.

Then again, the MechE major was a lot easier than the English/Physics major I originally signed up for.

MC said...

Wow. I had no idea, man. I'm really proud of you for stepping up and chasing this one, though.

I think we've all had a point in our lives where we told "you can't do that". It drives me. It makes me do what I do. Never tell me what I can't do, because I will probably take a lesson from Mr. Tyson and punch you in da mouf'.

Good luck and looking forward to seeing y'all soon.


Stephanie Lorée said...

First off, you can't shave Shrodinger's Cat with Occum's Razor without producing some sort of singularity, even if you can't see it.

Just sayin'.

Secondly, after the Guy in Suit diagnosed me as a baby genius (which is a lot like being diagnosed with schizophrenia—people treat you differently, they want you in special programs, and no matter how much they love you, you get the feeling that you’re not “one of them” anymore) everyone told me to go into science. Forensics was my top choice until I discovered a severe aversion to corpses. So I opted for Political Science; it's got science in the name right? I soon realized Poli Sci is boring junk taught by dried up old dudes. I switched to Criminal Justice with a focus on penology and white collar offenses. I was gonna be a mini-Superhero, fighting crime and locking up bad guys.

Now? I work foreclosure/bankruptcy law. *I write.* I make beautiful music with a bunch of cool old dudes. Dead bodies still freak me the hell out.

Wine and Words said...

Damn, you had a lot of choices Eric. Me? I had one choice. There was only one major that required no math credits. Interpersonal Communication. And I'm pretty damn good at it, but that just comes naturally. Math. That's like passing a daily kidney stone. Fuck no.

I remember when I decided to start my own company. It was out of the garage first, so no one really gave a shit. But when I announced I was opening a store???????? Every damn neighbor and my parents to boot had something to say that rhymed with "you'll never make it."

By God I did too. I hella made it. Fifteen years of made it. Nine employees of made it. Sold it when I tired of it made it.

Inspite of your declicious affirmation to the contrary, I'm no writer. I'm no Director of Marketing. I am undefined and as yet exploring all I can do. I do a little of a lot of things well, but seem to excel at nothing i particular. Perhaps, by God, because I would get so easily bored with one title, or even two.

But what I really wanted to say was, damn fine story. Pretty ballsy to submit to Playboy as the first attempt. It always is/was about the articles :)

Friggin loved your "man sob into the eight nipples of a Pomeranian." That's the working title of this short. Ha!

Cynthia Lee said...

I majored in English and I was never discouraged from it nor was I ever discouraged from writing.

I was however strongly discouraged from ever quitting my day job as an administrative assistant. I consider this sage advice.

curious_girl said...

Epically Beautiful. As usual. :)

Unknown said...

Wonderful post.

I majored in creative writing. Then I took law--at your alma mater, in fact.

I figured that way I could write, and also eat.

So far, I'm more successful at the eating than the writing. (Because like any good writer, I know and accept that I SUCK.)

Sometimes I wish I was impractical. (Read, Brave.) But for now, I'm keeping the day job.