Why | Why not
I inadvertently became a writer at age 21.
It happened on a summer vacation in Lake Tahoe, California. I was visiting a childhood friend who suggested we go on an adventure. He had heard about a fortune teller who was purportedly amazing and resided in Reno, Nevada.
Later that day, at dusk, I found myself in the living room of a small house. The interior had been converted into a makeshift chapel with rows of unfolded metal chairs serving as pews. The space was filled to capacity with a congregation of thirty or more curious souls ranging in age from high-spirited teens to the solemnly infirm. As guests, we were told by an usher to scribble random numbers on a piece of paper and deposit them, like a church offering, into a basket being passed down the aisles.
The appearance of our host surprised me. She was modestly dressed, middle-aged and cumbrous – the matriarch, a gatekeeper, the guardian of a daughter I had come to date. And it appeared, she was not exactly pleased. Emerging from the hallway, from a bedroom to center stage, her shuffle connoted a vocation based on obligation. She settled upon an elevated cushioned chair. She ignored her household filled with gawking visitors. Her attention went to the basket, her hand fishing through the offerings of numbers. Selecting a candidate, she closed her eyes and rubbed the wisp of paper between her palms. Silence was heard, the world turning, a few unsettled stomachs turning too.
She addressed us one at a time. She finally selected me (or rather my numerical deposit). Her eyes closed. She prefaced with, “I feel tension, like a rubber band being pulled taut – about to snap.” She then read the numbers. I raised my hand to acknowledge they were mine. Her focus on me was unwavering and unnerving. She foretold, among other things, that I had acquired a great deal of perception from an ancestor and this would help me as a writer. She envisioned me doing a lot of writing. Her premonition was perplexing. The way she delivered this visionary scoop on my future – to be a writer – didn’t bode well. By her tone, it would not be much of a joy ride.
I was in college, studying to be an architect, also a painter – an artist. A career in literature, literally, had never entered my mind. When I was a boy I rarely bothered to read comics, much less books, preferring visuals – making up my own stories. Words, for the most part, seemed a waste of time. Yet the day following this psychic intervention, I felt compelled to take pen to paper, formulating ideas with words. I filled an entire notebook. All of it discardable. Much like early sketches of an untrained artist who knows little about perspective, light and shadow, the relationship of matter and space.
Now, after many years, I am better skilled as a writer. I realize the power of this art. Along the way I found that words are like colors. They can be shaped, textured, tinted with nuance, exposed into lightness or darkness. They heal. They cause pain. Words are complex instruments charged with poetic ambiguity. They trigger emotional collapses – a catharsis, an epiphany, a shuddering release of tension that comes in a warm torrential rush. As well, they can alight, arriving delicately, as shimmering and magnificent as a butterfly emerging from its own womb. Like atoms begetting atoms that beget molecules, when uniquely linked, words form a DNA of indelible visions.
Whether this woman I encountered once, years ago, was truly clairvoyant (or merely able to influence the course of my life through the power of suggestion) is irrelevant. I became a writer, devoted to the art of fiction. And I found that, yes, this career path has not exactly been a joy ride. To be any good at it, you have to pass through hell to get there. But on the plus side of this journey, you get to experience heaven too.
Since I could hold a pencil, I have doodled, drawn and dreamed up visions and stories. Creating art. I can’t help it. It’s my nature. It’s the human condition.