Dadeville, Alabama—Lake Martin. Long ago, I once visited this magnificent Alabamian wonder after a major university pooped on me.
Let me explain:
I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to do something that mattered. I wanted to not feel like an adult loser with the IQ of a room-temperature pumpkin. I wanted to write.
After I finished community college, I applied to the aforementioned university. I made arrangements in a new city. I rented an apartment near campus. I placed one thousand bucks in a landlord’s hand.
That same week, I moved a vanload of furniture into the ugly apartment. My buddy, Lyle, strained his hamstring moving a sofa-sleeper that weighed more than a ‘64 Buick Skylark.
My wife hung curtains, I shampooed carpets, we painted, I stocked the fridge. I even bought two masculine, yet moderately floral-scented Yankee Candles.
My wife and I spent the night in that small apartment. I told her I was nervous about my first day of class—I was a grown man, going to school with a bunch of teenagers.
“Relax,” my wife said to me. “Your turn’s coming.”
The next day, on the way to my first class, I passed kids carrying backpacks, covered in tattoos, with earrings embedded in various parts of their facial structure. I wore a button-down shirt and khakis, like Mister Rogers on his way to communion.
A kid on a skateboard shot past me. He hollered, “Whoops! Sorry, professor!”
Before I got to class, a man met me in the hall, he had a grave face. I knew something was wrong. He told me the university had rejected my application.
“I’m sorry someone didn’t notify you,” he said. “They should’ve never let you register for classes.”
I was embarrassed. I explained that I’d already paid a lot of money for an apartment, bought books, and I even brought up the scented candles.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The next day, I moved out of the apartment. I took drapes off windows. I left food in the refrigerator for the next student. I lost my deposit. My buddy pulled another hamstring, RE-lifting the same sofa.
Only, this time the sofa was heavier because I was on it, curled up, sucking my thumb.
Not long thereafter, my wife took me to Lake Martin to get my mind off the academic disaster. We stayed in the same cabin I’m at right now.
And back then, before cellphone-based entertainment, I read a lot of paperbound things. Occasionally, out of boredom, I would even read my wife’s home-decorating magazines.
I sat on a dock, listening to water lap against pylons, reading. An article in my wife’s magazine caught my eye.
It was a column nestled between an exposé on “How to Cure Clinical Depression with Area Rugs,” and “Ten Ways to Rearrange a Laundry Room That Will Ignite Your Lovelife.”
The article was about a young man who had never been to college, but became a writer anyway. He was a guy who managed to be himself in the fury of life’s tornado. This man was sort of like me—a blue-collar grunt. And he took a real shot at life.
It gave me a shiver. A good one. I set the magazine down and started writing a story, right then. I used a legal pad and pencil.
The story turned into a novella. The novella turned into a novel. And that novel turned into a piece of work I’ve been fooling with for several years. In fact, I am still working on it.
That was also the same month I started this column you’re reading now—if you can call it that.
Something happened to me on this lake. I still haven’t figured out WHAT happened, but something. The point is: one tiny story did that to me. A few hundred words.
Right now, I’m on this water, watching it hit the shore. I’m writing. I suppose I’m writing to a person out there.
Whoever you are, you’re special, friend. I don’t care if they kick your shin and spit in your eye, or boot you out of a major university.
You’re the real thing. And you’ve got a big day ahead of you. So read a magazine. Buy a scented candle if you can. Get ready.
Your turn is coming.