To the list of crimes committed by the George W. Bush Administration, add this:
It turned me into a writer.
I’d always longed to be a writer. I had majored in journalism as a college freshman and had made some abortive, laughable attempts at fiction in my youth. During the 1970s, I dabbled in (unpublished) film criticism, some of which was not bad. However, career and family began to take precedence, typing (and editing) on a typewriter seemed more trouble than it was worth, and I began to suppress any artistic impulses. When the 43rd President took the oath of office, I hadn’t written a creative sentence in two decades, yet somehow the Republic survived.
Fast-forward to March 2003, when Bush was about to invade Iraq. A few weeks before the invasion, my brother sent me two op-eds from The New York Times, one supporting the invasion and one opposing it. He told me that he found both of them persuasive. How did I feel?
I knew how I felt and I wasn’t shy about expressing it – Iraq was going to be a major foreign-policy blunder. On the spur of the moment, I decided to write my own op-ed opinion piece as my reply.
I assembled it old school. I wrote down my main points, labeling them I, II and III, and underneath each I included sub-points a, b and c. I double-checked some facts online, swiped a couple of relevant quotes, strung 1500 words together and voila!
When I read it back, I was impressed with myself. It seemed cogent and coherent, the language flowed without being repetitive, and it expressed my opinion firmly without being strident. Here are a couple of excerpts:
“There’s another vision for the coming conflict, however. The American advance bogs down in bloody urban fighting in the streets of Baghdad, resulting in high casualties…."
"After World War II, we successfully rebuilt Japan and the Western European nations. However, in that case, we were dealing with countries that had strong national identities, and (in most cases), a strong democratic tradition. This is not the case in Iraq.”
(By the way, I post these excerpts not to show how smart I am, but to show how dumb the government leaders were/are.)
The essay was supposed to be a one-time thing. After completing the essay, however, my long suppressed creative urge awoke, like Rip Van Winkle, and shouted, “Hello, is anybody out there?” I’ve been writing ever since.
Looking back, it’s ironic that much of my early writing consisted of straight political opinion pieces. I seldom write those anymore - I'd much rather approach the subjects with humor - and as a reader, I often avoid them. My writing has changed because I have changed. A deep bout of depression caused me to re-evaluate my life, forced me to accept my personal flaws and pushed me to be more honest about myself. In retrospect, writing about public matters seemed like a way to avoid thinking about private ones.
I wrote for 4-5 years before I even gave a passing thought to writing for publication. My sensitivity to rejection would have smothered my ambition in its sleep (and a lot of my early writing was crappy). In fact, until I began posting on Open Salon in late 2008, I’d written for six years without letting anyone beside immediately family read it. Even after joining OS, it was another year before I developed what I consider to be my own voice.
Many of my growing pains as a writer were experienced privately, out of the public eye. If you’re posting on this site, and you’ve just started writing, you’re braver than I was and I applaud you. If you’re experiencing self-doubts – and self-doubt is as omnipresent as oxygen – remind yourself that you’re going to improve. After nine years of writing, I am now a columnist at Does This Make Sense, I have written the introduction to a friend’s book and I’m trying to assemble material for e-Books. It may not sound like much - my checking account concurs – and I still experience days where my self-confidence curls up in a fetal position, but nine years ago when I began tapping at a keyboard, I couldn’t even have conceived that it would become the center of my life. Whatever else may happen in the next few years, I’m satisfied with the last few.