How to Succeed in Writing IX: The Influential Writers, and Other Influences


Like any other person who has attempted to create something artistic, an artist’s appreciation of another’s work is limited and unique. An artist’s appreciation of another’s work is similar to an athlete studying game film on a future opponent. After repeated viewings, you understand their modus operandi. You are able to pinpoint what they do well, and their failings, and you’re able to learn from all of them. One author’s ability to characterize may impress another artist in one reading, and another may impress them with their particular brand of engaging dialogue. After another artist gets it, they’re usually bored with it, and they move onto another author. To use the sports analogy once again, the artist can usually spot the stitches on another’s fastball long before the casual observer can. This isn’t what artists are trying to do, it’s who they are. They would love to simply read another’s work and appreciate it in the same manner a casual reader would, but they can’t turn that portion of their brain off. An artist reading another’s work can get so hypercritical and appreciative of the little things another author does to move a story along, or characterize, that they can’t enjoy that simple, little story in total until they have thoroughly explored, and drained, whatever value they believe another’s work has for them.

Most writers will claim that their writing is now entirely free of influence once they’ve found their voice. Some might judge this self-promotion, and others would say it’s just impossible to believe. As any writer who has written a great deal knows, it’s almost impossible to escape influence. Whenever a writer turns a phrase, completes a block or dialogue, or characterizes, there was some influence there. If it wasn’t Chaucer, or Hemingway, that influenced the writer in this manner, it may have been their freshman Composition 101 teacher. If it wasn’t Stephen King, or Faulkner, who taught them how characterize, it may have been a movie or a television show that embedded that particular brand of characterizing deep in their brain. Something, somewhere influenced them in some way they may not know now that they’ve reached their twentieth year of writing, where their writing material that is so fresh, and unique, that they can’t even spot the influence anymore. They may have worked so hard, for so long to achieve a unique voice that they feel they’ve achieved it, and they may have to some degree, but there was a starting point that formed a foundation that is now so embedded in the manner in which they write that they can’t see the influence anymore.

Those who belong to the latter group believe they have reached the pinnacle of individualistic style, that contains no influence. They might dismiss this article as nothing but a point of curiosity, but the new writer wants to learn how we arrived at point D in the process, the following is a list of those influences who lubricated the slide:

10) Brevity. If “Brevity is the soul of wit” no one was funnier than Ernest Hemingway. An economist of words, Hemingway avoided complicated syntax, and it has been determined that seventy percent of his sentences were short, simple sentences.{1} Hemingway was the anti-Joyce (James Joyce) in this regard. Whereas Hemingway “KISSed” us (keeping it simple for we stupid people) with his prose, Joyce dangled complicated, multi-syllabic, and invented words before us, and he often teased us with a carrot on the stick of his words’ meaning. Whereas this may have made Joyce’s fiction wonderful, historic, and transcendent, most of us didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Whereas most readers need translation, and transports in time via a well-written guide, and a degree in Joyceisms to understand Finnegan’s Wake, Old Man and the Sea can be enjoyed in an otherwise carefree afternoon. This isn’t to say that Hemingway’s prose is not complicated and carefully structured for meaning, but with Hemingway’s fiction, meaning is derived upon reflection and through personal interpretation. The meaning of Hemingway’s prose is established through dialogue, action, and silences —a fiction in which nothing crucial or at least very little— is stated explicitly. He purposely avoided outright symbolism in what he called “the theory of the iceberg”. This theory stated that facts float above water, but the larger, supporting structure and symbolism that build the foundation do so out of sight.

Hemingway“No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in,” says Hemingway. “That kind of symbol sticks out like raisins in raisin bread. Raisin bread is all right, but plain bread is better.” He opens two bottles of beer and continues: “I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. The hardest thing is to make something really true and sometimes truer than true.”

Hemingway was more of a storyteller than he was a writer. The interested reader, who doesn’t have a whole lot of time on their hands, may want to consider reading either the short book Old Man and the Sea or The Short and Happy life of Francis Macomber. The latter is a short story that captures the essence of Ernest Hemingway, and it teaches every writer the greatest principle every writer should employ in their daily activities: Story is sacred and flowery prose is largely self-indulgence.

Carver9) Images. Raymond Carver was also a minimalist. Most of my favorite writers were. Carver employed evocative and provocative images to tell a story. Short stories were his forte. The short story Feathers captures the essence of Raymond Carver, better than any of his other stories in my humble opinion.

Carver’s stories, and poems, focused on misery and dirty realism. His characters were low class, beer drinking, hardworking, slobs that readers can’t help but picture in stained tank-tops. Carver claimed that he was inclined toward brevity and intensity. His writing focused on sadness, loss, and alcohol in the everyday lives of ordinary people — often lower-middle class or isolated and marginalized people.

8) Characterization. John Irving engages in the flowery prose of his mentor Charles Dickens, but he does so (for the most part) effortlessly. Irving is not a minimalist in other words. Irving’s John_Irvingworks teach us, more than any of the authors listed here, to work your tail off to hide your effort. One read through his magnum opus The World According to Garp teaches us that it shouldn’t be a chore to read through one’s work. No other authors listed here, save for maybe Hemingway, hides his brilliance better than Irving. The reader gets to know Irving’s characters in what I call a “Holy Crap!” manner. Irving doesn’t use physical characteristics to describe characters, and he doesn’t use the inner voice techniques that most of us do, yet the reader learns their characteristics in a story after story and a passage after passage manner, until we know them so completely that we say, “Holy crap, this author’s brilliant.” I realize this methodology is borne of the “show don’t tell” basic of storytelling, but in my humble opinion, no one does it better than Irving.

Irving has chapters of setting, primarily in the Northeast, and his settings can appear a bit laborious at times. Unlike all of the authors on this list, there can be large chunks of Irving’s narrative where nothing happens, as he frames you up for what’s about to happen. Irving does “a story within the story” as well as anyone in the business. As I said, though, Irving achieves his stature in the world of literature through effortless characterization.

It appears, unfortunately, that the drive to tell a story no longer drives Mr. Irving. His more recent books have become more and more political. Some could say that Mr. Irving has always been political, and if you read A Prayer for Owen Meany and Garp again, you’ll see that. If that’s true, he used to be a lot more subtle. Story used to be sacred to him, and politics used to be a secondary concern to him.

It’s almost become a cliché that writers of my generation claim Irving as a primary influence. Like most clichés though, there’s a reason claiming Irving as an influence has become so prevalent among those in my generation. It’s because he has achieved the bestseller list through almost effortless, beautiful writing, and by not conforming to current norms. Irving just does what he does, and we have all accepted this to a degree that he can do whatever he wants, and we’ll all greet him with open arms. Claim King or Koontz as an influence, and artistic writers will dismiss you with a yawn; claim John Grisham, and they’ll dismiss you with a laugh; but Irving has managed to keep a foot in both the literary and best-selling world, and he does it with rich, rewarding, and effortless characterization.

7) Asides.  Some may dismiss Chuck Palahniuk as a splatterpunk writer that engages in shocking prose that grosses out and titillates the reader. It is true that Palahniuk goes for the jugular in much of his writing, and some may say too often, but anyone that has read, or seen, Fight Club (they’re strikingly similar) knows that Palahniuk (almost) always has a story to tell amid the chaos in his works.

PalahniukPalahniuk may have some of the best, most interesting vignettes and asides in the business today. He is heavily influenced by Stephen King, as evidenced by his heavy use of refrain style use of repetition, but one should not mistake this influence as outright mimicry. Palahniuk has carved himself quite a niche in the literary world, with works like Fight Club, Choke, and Rant. Rant proved to be especially valuable to those writers on the lookout for a new way of telling a story. While the style is not unprecedented, Palahniuk used it in such a unique manner that those that have read the story considered it revolutionary.

Chuck describes his style of writing as “transgressive” fiction. Transgressive fiction, as defined by Wikipedia, “is a writing style that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways.”

After the novel Lullaby, Palahniuk began writing satirical, horror stories. His work is big on unusually dark and absurd philosophical asides that are so farcical that the reader can help but think of them as true. These asides are non-fiction factoids within his fictional works that, according to the author, “Are included in order to further immerse the reader in my work”.” {2} This author hates metaphors and similes. This author loves to mess around with the traditional styles of storytelling to presumably keep it interesting for him and us. Some of the times this methodology works, as it did in Rant, and some of the times it doesn’t, as it didn’t in Pygmy and Tell All. His forays into illogical, but fun, splatterpunk writing, works in most of his books, but anytime a writer puts their stock in shock they are going to try outdo themselves every time out, until they produce a book like Snuff in which the novelty of the over-the-top shock wears thin quickly.

6) Pace and Formula. No writer, in modern fiction, displays the virtues of pace better than Dean Koontz. I challenge anyone to read the first half of his book Intensity and say that this man is not in the upper echelon of thriller writers today. Koontz knows all he needs to know about architecture, gardening, and all the other minutiae of his Southern Californian locale to make his setting interesting, but Mr. Koontz can cause a reader to flip pages on pace with any of the great suspense/thriller writers of our day. He may also be the safest writer on this list.

Dean-KoontzWhy is Koontz safe? He strives for the mainstream. His books have mass appeal to most age groups and both genders. He is a publisher’s dream in that he knows how to knock out a best-seller on an annual basis without offending anyone. If you’re a writer who seeks the formula to mass appeal, and the bestseller list, I can think of no better author to read … this side of James Patterson. That having been said, there is a formula to Koontz’s writing. How can there not be in a catalog that lists 112 titles, with twenty-eight bestsellers among them, without an inoffensive formula? A formula is good to some degree. To some degree, a formula will provide a reader a solid foundation of comfort that the author can shatter in the pages that follow. There is a formula, and a relative level of comfort that Koontz readers have come to expect, and while we should try hard not to dismiss Koontz on this basis alone, it’s difficult not to do so. All of his characters are much too safe. His female characters are incredibly and consistently intelligent, and his male characters are “safely” reliant on the female’s intelligence and ingenuity … Even his bad guys are safely bad. Then, Koontz exasperates whatever problems his works have in this regard by trying to be funny. His humor is so safe, conformist, and pedantic that it almost seems to be self-effacing, nerdy humor, until one reads enough Koontz to realize that this is this man’s sense of humor.

If you’re looking for edgy, offensive, different material that most people are uncomfortable reading, Koontz probably isn’t your guy. He does write some edgy material, but he doesn’t do so on a consistent enough basis. If one were to gauge mental health by a writer’s fiction, Koontz would likely score higher than any of the authors listed here, but that has resulted in less dangerous, less angst-ridden material. He’s mainstream, and there’s nothing wrong with that if you’re looking to write mainstream fiction. One of the other exceptions to this rule, aside from Intensity, was the novel Life Expectancy. These two books are the must reads in Koontz’s catalog for any writer seeking the edgy and different.

5) Writing fiction. What can be written about Stephen King that hasn’t already been written? If you are a writer that hasn’t read King yet, you’ll probably want to get on the train. He’ll teach you the good, the bad, and the ugly of writing. While it’s almost impossible to read everything he’s done, most writers have an extensive King library. If they don’t, they should probably have at least ten of his books.

KingKing has it all, and most honest, seasoned writers will begrudgingly admit that he has had an influence on them at one point in their process. If The Stand is too long for you, then the writing community will require you to read Misery, Gerald’s Game, It, or any of his classic, early works like The Shining. Some artistic writers may scrunch their nose at King, because he is so ubiquitous, but his influence on modern fiction cannot be denied in just about every novel written after 1990.

Some say that King invented the common man horror, but many say that almost every piece of fictional horror involves the common man. King did work the working joe into his fiction more than most however. As stated earlier, King builds horror through repetition. He usually has a nickname for his monster that gets repeated often enough that the reader feels a horrified endearment to the monster. He also may have not been the first to work music into his horror, most notably nursery rhymes, but he did it more often and with more mastery than most, and it influenced a generation of horror writers.

4) Hodge Podge. As written in the introduction of this piece, writers read other writers in a unique manner. There are so many varied ways that a writer can reach point D in the process that attempting to catalog all of the influential writers, and their influential moments in fiction, would be book length, and very few readers would be interested in all of the ways in which this writer achieved that point. So in the interest of interest, we will try to whittle these moments down to a few of the most prominent. In the area of the influentially absurd humor, there have been few that captured it as well as Robert McCammon did in Gone South, or Gary Shteyngart in his work Absurdistan a book that was heavily influenced by the monumentally influential book A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy O’Toole.

As for horror, there have been few, this side of King, that have been able to capture common man, suspenseful horror as adeptly as Scott Smith did in A Simple Plan and Ruins. Smith’s ability to build to horror in a casually sequential manner is almost unprecedented. The only problem with Smith is that he has only written two books in twenty years, and while there is nothing wrong with the man’s quality, his fans would love a little more quantity. Although Thomas M. Disch’s M.D. was not the greatest horror book ever written, and it ebbed and flowed more than the other books on this list, the work provided moments that have influenced this writer as much as any of the pieces described previously. Some of the imagery Thomas Harris created in the Red Dragon book, and in Phillip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint (not a horror but just as laden with images), have led many writers to pound the table in frustration with their attempts to duplicate their provocative imagery. For various reasons, and in various ways, all of these authors had a huge influence on this writer’s attempt to get to point D.

3) Mood. Nothing influences mood better than music. Listening to music gives the writer a certain setting from which “different” fiction can be achieved. If a writer wants to write a period piece, for example, they can select the music from that era, and attempt to achieve that mindset. This is similar to the attempts that the main character in Richard Matheson’s Somewhere in Time to achieve time travel. In this story, the main character wanted to go back to the year 1912 so badly that he attempted to hypnotize himself into the belief that he was. He surrounded himself with 1912 in his hotel room, and he wore 1912 clothes, listened to 1912 songs, and ended up believing he was in 1912. Music affects me in the same manner. I prefer non-traditional, non-linear music to shake my brain out of the patterns it might fall into in long settings, until I can convince myself that I am non-traditional and non-linear. I, of course, do not make the conscious efforts to do this in the manner Matheson’s character did, but through repetitive listening of certain music, I have been able to achieve something “different” on a number of occasions.

I listen to a wide variety of music when I write, always switching to keep it fresh, but some of my favorites are Mike Patton, John Zorn, and Trey Spruance’s Secret Chiefs. These musicians (not rock stars) create an aura I find conducive to writing edgy, “different” material. These artists, like so many of the authors described above, created something that that seemed impossible before they did it. They are truly skilled in making the listener feel different, and that anything can be accomplished in a certain setting. Miles Davis creates an aura that allows you to focus at times, but his music can be a little too aural at times, and David Bowie’s music can be a little too focused, and this causes me to be distracted when I listen to what his music is doing. The band Pavement can create some chaos in your mind and shake you out of your doldrums, but they, too, can be a little too focused at times for that atmosphere writers need to create.

Everyone’s mom told them that distraction-free silence was conducive to concentration. Yet, every mind works differently, and I have found —much too late for success in school— that I need distraction to achieve focus. It may not make sense to those blessed with normal brains, but I need a Goldilocks amount of distraction —not too hard and not to soft, and not too aural and not too structured— for me to concentrate and focus.

2) Movies.  Most of the best storytelling being done today, we have to face it, is being done in the movies. If a Quentin Tarantino were born in the late nineteenth century, he probably would’ve been a novel writer. He, like all great movie makers of this era, has the storyteller’s bug, but he doesn’t have the patience to sit behind a typewriter/keyboard and compose prose that can take months and years to produce. These storytellers of our era are taking advantage of the technology offered them and telling their stories on screen. One thing movie makers can teach aspiring writers, that reading the Russian authors won’t, is to get to the point. Their audience, our audience, and the audience doesn’t have as much patience for brilliant prose as previous generations. We have a short attention span, and with a few exceptions (David Lynch, Wes Anderson, and Tarantino of late) most movie makers whittle their scripts down to the germane.

1) My writing.  Most readers would consider it egotistical to list “my writing” as the greatest influence on my writing, but that is not the intent. It is only added, because I hold my best writing out as beacons in my career that I want to smash the next time I write something new. It is important that every writer examine what they’ve written on a consistent enough basis that they always try to write better, and different, stories every time they sit behind their keyboard.

{1}http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Hemingway

{2}http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuck_Palahniuk

How to Succeed in Writing III: Are you Intelligent Enough to Write a Novel?


I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of (poor fiction),” –Hemingway confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1934. “I try to put the (poor fiction) in the wastebasket.”

The key to writing great fiction is streamlining your story. Cut the fat! Some of the greatest authors of all time have admitted that the best additions they made to their novel were the parts they deleted. Somewhere along the line, in their writing career, they achieved objectivity. Somewhere along the line, they arrived at the idea that not all of their words were golden. Somewhere along the line, they realized that some of their words, sentences, paragraphs, and even some of their chapters were quite simply self-indulgent, wastebasket material. These self-indulgent portions, or the “ninety-one pages of (poor fiction),” of any novel are usually found in the asides.

There are asides, and then there are asides. Some asides are what we enjoy in a novel. Some provide setting, pace, and drama. Some also build suspense by taking us away from the train barreling down on the main character to form a cliff hanger. Some fortify the characteristics of a character, and kill a novel. Most asides are unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. As anyone who has read a novel can attest, most novels could be written in forty pages, but that’s a short story, and short stories don’t sell as well as novels. They don’t sell as well, because readers want involvement. Readers don’t fall in love with snapshot stories. They want a world. They not only want to know the humans that they are reading about, they want to be involved with them. They want to see them breathe, they want to hear them talk to an employee at a Kwik Shop, and they want to feel the steps these characters take from place to place. They want to know these people, so when something happens to them, they can care about them. They want to know the minutiae of the human they’re reading about, but they don’t want to get so caught up in the minutiae that they’re taken off pace, and they don’t want to read a self-absorbed writer who thinks it’s all about them. Cut the fat! Get to the point already!

“I’ve met a number of intelligent people throughout my life, and I’ve met a number of people I consider brilliant. I’ve met very few that were able to combine the two.” –Unknown.

One such aside involved the author trying to prove how intelligent they are. The desire to be perceived as intelligent is a strong, driving force in all of us. How many stupid and overly analytical things do we say in one day to try to get one person to think that we’re not a total idiot? This desire to prove intelligence is right up there with the drive to be perceived as beautiful and likeable. It’s right up there with the desire to be seen as strong, athletic, independent, and mechanically inclined. We spend our whole lives trying to impress people. Even those who say that they don’t care what others think are trying to impress us with the fact that they don’t care.

In my first era of writing, I wrote a lot of these self-indulgent asides that contributed little to the story. I was a new student to the world of politics, and I was anxious to prove to the world that I was one smart cookie. I also wanted to show that half of the world that disagreed with my politics how wrong they were. So, I put my main character through an incident, and he came out of it enlightened by a political philosophy that agreed with mine. In various other pieces, I wanted to inform the world of all of this great underground music I was experiencing. My thought process at the time was: “Hey, if Stephen King can get away with telling us about tired rockers that we’ve all heard a thousand times. Why can’t I tell a few readers about a group they’ve never heard before?” Copy the masters right? I wanted the world to know both sides of my brain in the same artistic piece. After taking a step back, I reread the novel, and I achieved enough objectivity to realize that it was all a big ball of mess.

If I was going to clean this mess up and start writing decent stories, I was going to have to divide my desires up. I was going to have to cut the fat. I was going to have to discipline myself to the creed that should be recited nightly by all aspiring storytellers: Story is sacred. I was going to have to learn to channel my desire to be perceived as smart into political and philosophical blogs. I was going to have to channel my desires to have people listen to my “discovered” music into Amazon.com reviews, and my stories, my novels, and my short stories would be left pure, untarnished stories with no agendas. By dividing these desires up, I would be able to proselytize on the role of the Puggle in our society today, and the absolute beauty of Mr. Bungle’s music, without damaging my stories or boring the readers of my stories. I learned the principle the esteemed rock band Offspring tried to teach the world when they sang: “You gotta keep ‘em separated.”

There’s one writer, he-who-must-not-be-named, who never learned this principle. This author presumably got tired of being viewed as nothing more than a storyteller. This author knew he was intelligent, and all of his friends and family knew he was intelligent, but the world didn’t know. The world only knew that he was a gifted storyteller, and they proved this by purchasing his books by the millions, but they didn’t know that he was so much more. This author achieved as much in the industry, if not more, as any other writer alive or dead (It’s Not King!), but he remained unsatisfied with that status. He needed the world to know that he wasn’t just a master of fiction. He needed the world to know he was as intelligent as he was brilliant, and he wrote the book that he hoped would prove it. It resulted in him ticking off 50% of his audience. 50% of his audience disagreed with him, and his politics, and they (we!) vowed to never read another one of his novels again. This is the risk you run when you seek to be perceived as intelligent and brilliant in the same work.

thomas-mannBut politics makes for such great filler, and to quote the great Thomas Mann: “Everything is political.” Well, there’s politics, and then there’s politics. If you’re one of those who doesn’t know the difference, and you don’t think your politics is politics, you should probably be writing something political. If you’re one of those who wants to write politics into your novel simply because it makes for such great filler, however, then you should try to avoid the self-indulgent conceit that ticks off that half of the population that disagrees with your politics. You’ll anger some with this, you’ll bore others, and the rest of us won’t care that you think it’s vital that your main character expresses something in some way that validates your way of thinking. We will just think it’s boring proselytizing from an insecure writer who needs validation from their peers. Stick to the story, we will scream, as we skip those passages or put your book down to never read anything you’ve ever written again.

You will need to be somewhat intelligent though. You’ll need enough to know your punctuation and grammar rules, you will need to know when and where to make paragraph breaks, and you will need to know how to edit your story for pace, but these aspects of storytelling can be learned.

“I am not adept at using punctuation and/or grammar in general…” A caller to a radio show once informed author Clive Barker. She said that she enjoyed writing, but it was the mechanics of writing that prevented her from delving into it whole hog. “Are you a clever story teller?” Clive asked her. “Do you enjoy telling stories, and do you entertain your friends with your tales?” The woman said yes to all of the above. “Well, you can learn the mechanics, and I strongly encourage you to do so, but you cannot learn the art of storytelling. This ability to tell a story is, largely, a gift. Either you have it or you don’t.”

Be brilliant first, in other words, and if you can achieve brilliance, you can learn the rest. You can gain the intelligence necessary to get a thumbs up from a publisher, an agent, and eventually a reader, but you cannot learn brilliance. You cannot gain artistic creativity, and it’s hard enough to prove artistic brilliance. Why would you want to further burden yourself by going overboard in trying to also prove intelligence, and thus be everything to all people?

Let the people see how brilliant you are first! Gain a following. Once you have achieved that pied piper Wildeplateau, you can then attend to the self-indulgent effort of proving your intelligence. I don’t understand why that is so important to those who achieve artistic brilliance, but if I could understand their mindset better, I would probably be one of them. The preferred method of achieving all of your goals is to ‘keep ‘em separated’, but there are always going to be some who need to prove their intelligence and brilliance in the same Great American Novel. Those people are going to say Stephen King is a much better example to follow to the best-seller list than I am, and he achieved his plateau with a little bit of this and a little bit of that sprinkled in his prose. The question you have to ask yourself is, is he the rule or the exception to the rule? If Stephen King’s model is your preferred model, and these political and music parts are so germane, so golden, and so uniquely special to your story, keep them in. As Oscar Wilde once said, “You might as well be yourself, everyone else is taken.”

Something About Dreams


I used to think I would eventually become Batman, but I wasn’t willing to do the work it took. After reading the comics and waking up at six a.m. to watch the Superfriends cartoon to learn the formula, I realized that I would have to buy a number of gadgets. I was on a limited budget at the time, I think I was seven, and I realized it wasn’t going to be cost-effective. There were a number of other complications that arose that I won’t go into, but I never did become Batman. When I got a little older, I decided on the Fonz. He had a confluence of nerdiness and coolness that I could never quite tap into, but it seemed attainable to me, then there were my dreams of becoming Walter Payton and Johnny Jefferson, and finally Stephen King.

I was young, and these fantasies were powerful forces in my mind. I thought there was something special about me, and when I say special I’m not talking about Grandma rubbing my hair and telling me I’m special. I mean really special, I mean my whole world would be shocked when they found out the truth special. When I would get a bad grade, or when a teacher told me I wasn’t cutting it; when a bully would pick on me, or I would be ostracized from the ‘in crowd’ in some way; or when I went through those normal, insecure moments of doubt and indecision that weigh down the mind of an adolescent, I would fantasize about them finding out the real me that existed beneath what they thought they knew of me. I thought that I had an alter-ego that only I knew.

At a certain point in time, I realized that all I would ever be is me. Some have wanted to be more than what they are, and some have wanted to be less. I pretended like I was more, at times, to impress people, and I’ve pretended like I was less to gain their sympathy and empathy. It never did me a damn bit of good one way or another. I’ve thought I was more than whatever job I was working at the time. I’ve thought that the company was not using my skill set properly, and then I realized that I was the one not using his skill set properly. I was the one who chose this job after all, but I knew that I needed that alter-ego to get through the day and the job. It’s a part of who I am. I’ve also thought that I was less than the job I’m in. I see all these people around me, with their glorious numbers, and I would think that should be me. I have the potential, but I don’t have the wherewithal to get her done, and I didn’t care about all that at the same time. That’s not me, I would say, I know my potential, but is that potential the Batman alter-ego potential that they’ll never know, or that I’ll never know entirely?

I love to tell jokes that don’t get a laugh. I love to bomb like Johnny Carson and Andy Kaufman did. I’ve had people tell me I’m not funny more than once. My apologies to those of you who thought you were the first. The truth is I love that more than if someone were to tell me I’m funny. Yeah, I don’t entirely get it either. I loved David Lynch movies in which nothing seemed to happen and no one said much. People hate those movies. Trust me, I’ve talked to them and sat through the movies with them. Mike Patton’s music turns me on. People say it’s not music. They say it’s just some guy screaming and yipping and yiping for three minutes like Warner Brother’s Tasmanian Devil on crack. I’m not a tool, but rules are important to me. If you don’t know the rules, or don’t have them, what is there to rebel against? I used to religiously seek non-conformity, until I realized that there was a degree of conformity to the non-conformity I sought. I used to think that the key to intellectually superiority was in secular avenues, until I realized that I wasn’t even listening to the other side. When I began listening to the other side, I began listening to the secular, more liberal side again. When I began listening to the more liberal side, I did it for the sole purpose of appearing enlightened and open-minded, until I began to see the zippers in the back of their costumes. From that point forward, I listened to the more liberal arguments to strengthen my arguments against them and their agendas and formulas.

I’ve fantasized about becoming Batman, the Fonz, Walter Payton, Johnny Jefferson and Stephen King, but I wasn’t willing to put in the work to achieve what they’ve achieved. I’ve realized that while they may have some natural gifts that I have never had, they put in a lot of work to get where they are. Somewhere along the line, I began fantasizing about becoming me, and I realized that’s going to take a lot of work.

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