“Sean, every time I sit down to write, I can’t make the words come… Maybe it’s because I’m not any good. I got a C in my journalism class, and I feel like I’ll never be a true writer, but a big failure. What should I do?”
This question was posed to me by a twenty-one-year-old journalism major who I will call Merle. I call him this for two reasons. Firstly, Merle Haggard is one of my favorite country singers. Secondly, this man’s name is actually Merle.
The thing is, Merle, you already have more credentials than I do. I never took a journalism class. In fact, I’m not what you’d call a “true writer,” either. A true writer finds incredible stories, then polishes them into poetry. I don’t do that.
Case in point: Once, I wrote an entire column about eyebrow hair.
This proves that I am not an “author” per se, at least not in the traditional sense. Actually, what I am is a “talker.” Which means I can talk at great length about topics I know absolutely nothing about. Kind of like I’m doing now.
I inherited this natural gabbiness from my mother. My mother could chat with anyone or anything. Once, when I was a boy my mother lost her prescription eyeglasses in a JCPenney and mistakenly struck up conversation with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Brooke Shields who was advertising tight-fitting jeans.
After Mama’s pleasant conversation, she remarked, “What a nice young lady, maybe you’ll meet a young lady like that one day.”
“I doubt it,” I said. “That was Brooke Shields.”
“Well, Brooke’s mother should’ve never let her leave the house in those britches.”
Not only do I sometimes feel like a non-writer, Merle, but I am a classic late bloomer.
Just last night, I was watching a baseball game. The announcer was a former big league right-fielder who is considered one of the greats. He seemed so old to me. The game was rolling, and I was listening to the announcer comment and I made a passing remark to my wife: “I wonder how old he is.”
Within seconds, my wife pulled up Wikipedia on her phone. My wife announced that the guy is about a decade younger than me.
I set down my beer and left the room to change my adult diaper.
Sometimes I feel bad about my lack of accomplishments, too. I don’t have many.
Me? I graduated from community college when I was thirty-something, maintaining a steady GPA of 1.9. It took me—not one, not two—three attempts to pass a single remedial math class. I had to take four college math classes.
Also, the only award I ever won was a safe forklift-driving award. The “Silver Fork,” it was called. The trophy was an actual stainless steel dinner fork given to me by my boss, Lamar, who had just used it to eat spaghetti. I still have the fork.
Merel, you and I are on the same playing field. In fact, I’m probably just like you. When I started this blog/column/online thingy/verbal shipwreck, I began writing about simple things because I didn’t think I had the skill to write about anything else. And you know what? I realized I had a lot to say.
I wrote about dogs, fishing, overgrown eyebrows, dogs, my family, waiters, dogs, single mothers, dogs, greasy food, truck drivers, sleepy cafés, dogs, my late father, my wife, and of course, dogs.
But most of all, I started writing about people like you. Good people. Regular people who think they’re common, even though there’s no such thing.
People like the man I saw who carried heavy bags of potting soil to the car for an old woman at Home Depot yesterday. He had a prosthetic leg.
Or the Birmingham woman who messaged me and told me about being followed by a suspicious-looking guy dressed in rags. She waited at the crosswalk. The man stood behind her. The crosswalk light turned. She was about to step across the street when the man grabbed her and pulled her back from the curb and saved her from walking face-first into a transfer truck.
Or the little girl who rescued a turtle from traffic.
Or the old man who paid for a single mother’s to-go order at Zaxby’s.
Or the preacher who performed a funeral service for a ten-year-old’s Labrador.
And here’s another one:
A twenty-one-year-old young man. A kid who decided he liked writing, so he majored in journalism, even though sometimes feels under-confident and his grades aren’t always stellar. But do you know what? He had the gift.
He had heart. Grit. Human kindness. They can’t teach things like that in journalism classrooms.
No, this guy, Merle, might never win a Pulitzer, or literary awards, or Edgar Awards, or win the prestigious and highly coveted Silver Fork. But none of that matters. Because he is a human being. And by definition this means he is no failure. If you ask me, being human is the only requirement for becoming a true writer.
But, hey, don’t take my word for it, go ask Brooke Shields.