Hey guys, John here. This is the first guest post of 2015 written by the always great John Callaghan. This was not a topic I chose or approved. I let him decide what to write and that’s what he did. The message he delivers in just a few hundred words should be known by every writer at all times. Now let’s welcome him with a nice round of applause. It’s all yours, Mr. Callaghan.
From the time I was a child, I wanted to write. Not necessarily as a profession but merely as a hobby. Putting my thoughts on paper and creating something from nothing was thrilling. I wrote horror stories in which someone always ended up with a bloody stump. I wrote essays of sorts. And I wrote poetry.
In grade eight I entered a poem in a contest held every year by the Legion, a non-profit organization that provides support for military veterans in Canada. I worked hard on that poem. I wrote of loss and fear and memory—not a great poem but good for someone my age. And I won my region. I was going to get the opportunity to go to the Legion in Pembroke and read my poem for the veterans. It was my first tangible accomplishment as a writer and I was elated.
The day after I learned I had won, I went to school and in breathless excitement told some of my friends my good news.
“Hey guys, I won the Legion poetry contest,” I said, and then waited for a “way to go” or “that’s great” or even a “good for you.”
But instead what I got was: “Writing is for faggots. It’s gay.”
The boy who said this was a red-headed monster and he said it with such surety, such conviction (and he was the leader of our group), that I believed him. My world imploded, and rather than be upset about what he said, I was angry at myself, ashamed, for not knowing what everyone else so obviously knew: Writing was for the “Other,” misfits, outsiders. And I wanted to fit in—I was desperate to fit in.
I put my pen down that day and didn’t pick it up again for many, many years.
If I could go back in time and talk to that version of myself, I’d tell that boy, “You have to keep writing. No matter what. That red-headed monster is doomed to a life of misery. The world is so big. And he is so small, just a punchline in the joke of life.” I’d tell my younger self to laugh about it, or punch Monsterboy in the face, or just stare at him until he becomes uncomfortable and then stare a little more.
This experience wasn’t the only reason I stopped writing, but it was a contributing factor. I am careful, however, not to dwell on regret and live in that dangerous state of being where I think about wasted opportunity, wasted time. That is a dead-end road. But I do wonder from time to time what could have been if I had not been a writer interrupted.