My story is a writer’s story. It involves major detours into un-writerly topics like publishing technology, farming and pancakes, massage therapy, the Thai health care system, how science works, professional regulatory law, and more — but in my head it’s all just stuff that happened to me while I was trying to figure out how to make a living as a writer.
I am a writer, nose to toes, skin to bone. Everything else that goes on my life is just grist for that mill. I am not “passionate” about writing; it’s automatic and unavoidable for me, like shitting, often rather satisfying, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes slow, sometimes fast … but never optional.
I was one of those weirdo kids who showed an uncanny attraction to a profession from an early age. I was writing stories and crafting little books — folded, stapled, book imitations — by the time I was five. I was submitting elaborate typed creative writing assignments to teachers by the fifth grade … whether they were assigned or not. I could pump out 80-100 words-per-minute on a typewriter years before most other kids ever touched one (I usually do 110-120 these days). The first noise complaint I ever had from a neighbour was my first week of university, banging on my keyboard late into the night until the kid who lived below me started banging on his ceiling and screaming at me to knock it the hell off.
I was awfully serious about writing for a teenager. In my first creative writing class in university, Professor W.D. Valgardson held up a copy of The Writer’s Market and asked the class, “Who knows what this is?” Not only was I the only one there who did know, but I had my dog-eared 1989 copy on my desk in front of me. I had been actively submitting my work to magazines for a couple of years at that point. I was so proud of that!
And then he sold his first novel and moved to New York? Not so much.
Pathetically, that smug moment of precocious superiority in a freshman writing class was my high-water mark for a long time. It was downhill from there for many years.
I was kind of a nutter back then, frail and weird, and not in a wholesome Glee-Club-dorky kind of way. I was half-crazy with dark mood swings; impulsive, idealistic schemes; delusions of grandeur so grand that, if you tried to guess how far gone I was, I promise you would underestimate. I wrote about everything, but not well, and I finished nothing. Above all, my style was ruinously self-absorbed — and so it’s ironic that I am now writing something so autobiographical, but this book won’t hold a candle to my youthful obsession with me, myself, and I. If I met a kid like that today, I’d find it tempting to lobotomize he, himself, and him, for his sake and mine.
It took me seven years of thrashing to realize that I was a hopeless mess. I hit bottom in 1996, by my 25th birthday.
And “bottom” is where every good story should begin — with someone in a pickle. Although this story is mostly about the five years or so that it took me to build a business, its roots reach a decade deeper: broke and heartbroken in my mid-twenties, after a year working as an itinerant farm hand, defeated and disoriented, returning to live with my parents in “the Pig” — PG, Prince George — the small logging city in northern Canada where I’d grown up … and sworn never to return to.
Next: Chapter 2: The Expensive Farm …