There are a lot of reasons why I got into a career in law enforcement, and no small part of them have to do with the fact that I got my ass kicked on a regular basis when I was a kid. I was punched, kicked, slapped, spit on and stuffed into garbage cans, although I was too wide to be stuffed into a locker. I was a chubby kid, very socially awkward, and acted out a lot in order to get attention. I’m sure my peer group found me to be a troublesome annoyance, but regardless of how annoying I might have been, I’m not sure I deserved to be bullied in the manner I was. I lived in more or less constant fear, wondering when next I would be surrounded by a group of other kids who would beat on me, steal articles of my clothing, or taunt and ridicule me until I would sit down on the ground with my hands over my ears – and likely be poked with sticks.
When I grew to manhood, as well as growing several inches and discovering a love of weightlifting and Karate, I decided the bullying was going to stop. Once I figured out how to take care of myself, I signed on to be a lawman and figured I’d make the bullying stop for everyone else, as well.
My original intent, when I first took the three oaths, was to stand up for the people who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I was going to seek out the things (mostly people) that went bump in the night and be the one to bump back. It was unfair, I thought, that anyone should live in fear of the malice of others, and I wanted to be a light in the dark.
My original plan of taking on all the evils of the world might have been a little ambitious, but I still try to hang on to the general feeling I had when I first started. The problem I’ve run into, especially recently, is that police work is more about combating human stupidity than the forces of evil. Most of people’s problems are the result of a continuous series of their own poor choices, and it’s difficult to protect people from themselves. Real evil is hard to come by, and mostly this job turns into a practice of wrangling adults who are completely incapable of managing their own lives
I was reminded of my original intent, recently, when I read a blog post by my buddy, Sam Sykes (http://samsykes.com/blog/). Sam had a similar childhood experience as me, where bullying was commonplace and it seemed a tormentor’s main goal was to make you feel “like an outsider,” probably to assuage their own feelings of inadequacy. Sam attributes this behavior to fear, and I cannot find a way to disagree with him. In his post, Sam examined the reasons that fear can make us do dumb, mean and offensive things, and this goes for both the bullies and the bullied. Often, Sam said, fear can make people fight back against the things that oppress them. But the original intent of self defense can be lost in a feel of power, once you realize that in defending yourself you can make people hurt just as much as they hurt you. The original intent is lost, then, and we become nothing more than what we started out fighting against, and I think we are poorer for it
As I was thinking about all this, I examined my writing life, and what my original intent was. In the beginning, I thought that stories were important, and that if I had some that were worth telling, it was my responsibility to learn the craft and put those stories out into the world. I’ve spent a lot of time, especially during the rough years of my childhood, lost in the pages of a good story and whether they had lessons in them, inspired me, got me through a hard time, or just made me laugh, I thought they were all valuable. My intent was to do the same thing for others that my favourite writers had always done for me
My first few writing attempts were terrible (like a lot of people’s are), but I got better because I still believed that my stories could be important, and I really worked at it. As I progressed, I won a contest, had a short story published and then sold a novel. In a very short time my original intent was set aside by a crippling fear that every tiny bit of success I’d had was all a horrible fluke, and I’d never write anything else that anyone wanted to read ever again…ever! The importance of the stories I might write was completely forgotten in an effort to write something that would sell, that people would like, that would get me a little more attention and keep me moving forward.
Now, after reading Sam’s blog, and thinking about the original intent of many parts of my life, I realize that all the successes I’ve experienced have always come when I worked from the truest part of myself. I always do best when I forget about what might sell and work on the things that really speak to me. In the past year I’ve had three short stories published, and won a non-fiction contest. The three short stories were all pieces that either had a message that was very important to me, or that made me laugh while I was writing because it was so much fun. The non-fiction piece was about the most difficult call I ever attended in ten years of policing, and it felt like I was laying my soul down on the page. All of these pieces of work came from the deepest center of me, the place where I keep the important things: my fears and sorrows, inspirations and joys.
When I remember the place these stories came from, I’m not surprised they did well.
Very often, both in our writing lives and elsewhere, we start a project with a certain ideal, but sometimes lose it in the shuffle of our lives. But I’m sure, if you look back at all the best things you’ve ever written, they will all have come from the same place; the place where that ideal you started with still lives.
As I look forward into this New Year, I am going to try and remember my original intent, both in my policing world and my writing life. Because there are always has to be someone to fight the boogie man, whether it’s out on the street or in the pages of a book.
I hope you have some luck fighting your boogie men, and as always, thanks for reading.