I like words.
Even more than I like words, I like clever groups of words strung together in such a way that they make me want to laugh out loud, slam my fist down in disgust or, if I’m lucky, thoughtfully nod my head and arch my brow in that familiar look of intellectual surprise. I wish I could tell you that I started writing because I wanted to give to people what the words of others have given to me. If down the line I’m ever at a lectern speaking to people hanging on my every word, I might say that. For now I’ll tell the truth. I started writing because I wanted to shut Just Hate up.
If the subject of writing ever came up, all she could do was talk about Gaby, her friend from high school. “Gaby’s such a great writer; she has allll these livejournals from like four years ago; she’s sooo talented.” I was fed up. As someone who dabbled in the craft on a grossly infrequent basis due to a lack of real interest, it only made sense that I would want to throw my hat into the ring and commit myself to “writing,” which was really shorthand for beating a hipster at something she did on a regular basis.
And that’s how it happened. I was determined to outstrip the writings of a hipster in the name of regular-sized people. Plain and simple. But a funny thing happened on the way to proving a point only I would care about. I realized I liked what I was doing.
Fast forward a few months. I asked a good buddy of mine, Jana, if she would mind giving me the name of her scene editor, which she did (I didn’t know at the time that I could have just looked in the paper). I got in touch with him and turned in a little something about gas and intimate social situations. At this point, “and the rest is history” would sound good and trite, and I wouldn’t really have to say anything else, but that’d be a waste of your time, my time, and it doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the word minimum for this column. The above really only tells you what got me to the point of writing my last scene article. It doesn’t really tell you why I write. So in my very last article for the scene, I’m going to attempt to do something I hate doing: I’m going to try to explain myself.
Writing saved my life. And while that may seem overblown and melodramatic, it’s true. I think we all search for the thing that brings us a certain connection with the world around us, a world that doesn’t slow down enough to give us the chance to figure out what that niche might be. I got lucky. Writing came along at a time when I needed something to point to as mine. Sports were effectively over for me; the days of uniforms and fist pumps were something I used to do. Writing was different. It allowed me toss my ideas out to other people and find out if I was as crazy as I thought I was. Writing was one part of a dialogue that I hoped people would fill in at their leisure.
If there is one thing about writing that I struggle with, it’s making up stories. Sure, I’ve been known to freak a word here and there, but I’d be abundantly lost if my life and the world I see on a daily basis didn’t provide me with material to work with. The world’s a funny place; it fascinates me regularly and the challenge is to tell it right on paper. Life says everything perfectly, more perfectly than any writer could hope to say it. The goal is to just come close.
I’ve had people tell me that they could see me making my career as a cultural critic. While I’m flattered that other people have liked my take on the big and small slices of life, I really don’t dig the idea of being a cultural critic. Frankly, I think cultural critics are pricks.
I can appreciate the way they manipulate the language, but I can’t get with their top-down view of the world. Cultural critics sit perched, peering out the window of their Airbus, shaking their heads as they opine on the life going on below them. They stand apart from the people or circumstances they discuss, so they’re exempt. They operate under the premise that they get something that other people don’t.
I can’t get down with that, mainly because life has forced me to remember that my shit still stinks. Really, I prefer to think of myself as a cultural observer; I write about race, or relationships or premature ejaculation because I know something about that. These aren’t things on which I speculate. I try and leave the punditry to people who have no idea what they’re talking about. Do I have every idea? No, but I try to have some.
My father, the only man I admire, once said he believes it’s his duty to bring joy and laughter to his family. With no hint of sarcasm I can say I have similar feelings as a writer. As much as I get a sense of satisfaction out of writing — I commit the cardinal sin of laughing at things I think will be funny and/or witty as I write them — I write for others.
To be more accurate, I write to others. I won’t demur in that regard. I want to give something to people in hopes of bringing something good to the world. And while this mildly censors what I say (yes, there are things even I keep to myself), it doesn’t prevent me from what doing what I set out to do when I write: I want people to laugh out loud and bang on tables in disgust and nod their heads, wrinkling their brows in that familiar, surprised intellectual sort of way.
I’ve learned a lot and seen a lot in my half decade at Yale. I’ve done a few things that were right, a few more things that were wrong and a couple things that just were. I guess that comes with the man-making territory.
The moments are snapshots, quick frames that try to speak to entire pieces of life: Bingham. The Elmhurst. Dropping out. The Justice League. Writing. They never seem like they’re going to end until they’re over. There were a few nicknames along the way. The Last Real ****** Alive, Sammy J, T.M., Steve Biko, Tap, Dark and Lovely, Nugget; all contributed to this body of work. At the end of this marginally inappropriate string of columns, there are people who deserve particular recognition. Firstly, my parents and their abundant sense of humor deserve some shine. Any time you can discuss teabagging and/or your sexual mishaps with the people who not only gave birth to you but also pay your tuition without batting an eye, count yourself lucky. Secondly, I’d like to thank my scenesters, Kevin and Summer. They were believers who made sure I made myself clear.
It has been a good run. Life told me some stuff and I tried to re-tell it right. The thread has always been the same. Whether talking about sleepovers or pterodactyls or tattoos, it’s always been about people. Life is one big cocktail party. Thanks for letting me elbow in with a few stories. Peace.
Jon Pitts-Wiley has left the building. Please remain calm.