At 0230 hours this morning (2:30 am), I was awakened by screaming in front of my house. I heard two angry voices, one of them protesting, “I didn’t do anything”, and the other yelling “call the police!”
I went to my bedroom window and looked outside to see my neighbor, in his underwear, holding a young man down on the ground. The young man kept protesting that he didn’t do anything, while my neighbor said “You were trying to break in to my house.”
The struggle was pretty intense, and getting more heated as the young man grew more desperate to escape, so I ran outside, also clad only in my underwear (the shiny ones my wife bought me to sleep in, that may or may not have little hearts on them).
When I got outside, and stood beneath the street light in my shiny underpants, I didn’t have to do much. I told the struggling young man that the police were coming, to roll onto his stomach and stick his hands out where I could see them. My presence alone, and the affirmation that I was there to support my neighbor’s attempt to apprehend him, was enough to bring the young man around to the resignation that he was going to jail and to cease his caterwauling.
I can only imagine the sight that greeted the first RCMP member who showed up; two men, both heavily tattooed, shining flashlights down on a wimpering young man who was crying that he didn’t do anything. Regardless of that, it didn’t take long to explain the situation to the responding cops, and the young man was quickly whisked off to jail. No harm done, all is well, and we can sleep peacefully once again.
The thing that is still bothering me about the incident is all the lights that came on in the houses around us, and all the dark shapes bending the blinds and peeking out the window.
Our neighborhood has been victim to a rash of break-ins in the last six months, including the day a man broke into my house while I was sleeping. Everyone in the neighborhood is aware of what is going on, and has been asked to be vigilant. But despite that apparent awareness not one person, among the dozens who stood in their kitchens and watched the show for ten minutes while we waited for the police to arrive, even bothered to ask if we were all right.
This does not sit well with me, and of course it got me to thinking.
As with most things I observe during the course of my day, I use it as grist for my creative mill and draw parallels to my writing life. And this morning, after a sleepless night of thinking on this, something very profound – to me, anyway – struck me.
Often, when people find out I write, and I’ve been published, I get a variation on the same theme. They tell me they’ve always wished they could be an author, or they’ve always wanted to write something, or they have a story in them that they just have to get out. When they tell me this I ask them, “Well, are you working on it?” Almost invariably the answer, accompanied by a shrug, is “No.”
While I am no writing master, I am always willing to spend some time lending encouragement to a fledgling storyteller who wants to hear it. But there is no way you can help someone who lacks the courage to even try.
As I have said before, writing is hard. We all suck when we first start out, but that’s okay, because a story that sucks is still your story, and if you’re willing to work at it you will be able to improve. No one wakes up one day, decides to take up a mighty pen and cranks out a best-seller on their first try (well, some people do, but they’re mutants and we’re not going to worry about them).
It takes a lot of courage, and a lot of effort, to get your stories onto the page, polish them up and send them out into the world where people are going to turn their noses up at them. It takes a lot of heart to watch something you put your entire existence into get rejected, and to be told “it’s not that good.” It sucks, but it’s okay, because if you’re willing to work at it, it will get better.
To my mind, if you’re working on your stories, honing your craft, and putting your work out where people can see it, then you’re standing out in the street with me, making sure the right thing gets done. If you’re sitting on your couch, telling yourself over and over again that “one day” you’ll write that story, then you’re just peeking out your window.
So, come on out in the street with me, and I promise you it’ll get better. Just ignore my shiny underpants.
As always, thanks for reading.