The stars are out tonight. It’s the fourth day of a new year, and I’m waiting for my dog to finish her business so we can go back inside.
But she’s wandering. And I’m thinking.
One of my first published columns was about going water skiing with my cousin. There were lots of people on a pontoon boat—my aunt, cousins, a pastor, innocent children, nuns, etc.
I wasn’t able to stand up on the skis after several attempts. I was dragged face-first through the water like a limp trout before finally giving up and crawling back aboard.
I clambered up the swim ladder, I shook off like a dog, and announced to the group: “Aww, waterskiing is for losers.”
After I said it, I heard gasps. My cousin covered his eyes. My aunt fainted. The pastor’s wife started praying in tongues. The nuns dove overboard and started swimming for Key Largo.
I realized I was not wearing swim trunks.
That story ran in a tiny magazine. And I can still remember hitting the “send” button to email it to an editor. It was as though I were pressing the “detonate” button on a nuclear reactor.
I had written an actual “column.” That sort of made me an actual “columnist.” And it was like being born again.
The story tanked. The editor wouldn’t return my calls.
Even so, my life was never the same after that.
The next gig I landed was writing for a magazine in Georgia. My assignment was about the history of baseball in Savannah.
For a week, I camped in Richmond Hill, with my dog. I was there to research baseball. I interviewed elderly residents, one historian, one city official, and one former shortstop. I wrote an eight-hundred-word column.
The editor read my words and said, “Sorry, kid. This is basal writing.”
Kid? I was in my thirties. And to make matters worse, I didn’t know what “basal” meant. I wasn’t even sure how to use it in a sentence.
I was flagged with rejection after rejection. Nobody wanted my stuff. And who could blame them? My resume read like a Waffle House menu. I almost gave up writing altogether.
That’s when I started a blog. It was my last fledgling effort. I wrote about everything. I wrote about my life. I wrote about people.
I wrote about the time I drove to New Orleans to buy my mother a FEMA trailer that would become her home.
I wrote about my late father. I wrote about my bloodhound—who takes her sweet time going to the bathroom.
And that was my best year ever. I mean it. It was like someone applied a new coat of paint to me. It was as though the universe had hugged me and said, “Hey, you know something, you’re pretty dang basal.”
If you would’ve told me five years ago that writing would be my career, I would’ve laughed at you and told you to get me another beer.
Do you want to know where I was five years ago?
I was laying ceramic tile in a house on East Mack Bayou Road, working with my friend, J.R.
After workdays, I would drive to Mobile, or Pensacola, or Tallahassee, or Ocean Springs, to play music for extra money.
My bloodhound would wait in my vehicle while I strummed guitar at a dive bar for fifty bucks and a lukewarm hamburger.
Five years ago. My wife worked as a cook, from sunrise to sunset.
Five years ago, I worked at a small church playing “I Love to Tell the Story” on Sundays for people who pronounce “Lord,” as “LOW-word.”
Five years ago, my wife babysat on the weekends for fifteen bucks per hour.
Five years ago, I wished something different would happen to me because I hated the way my life was shaping up.
I did not want to end up disillusioned and bitter like my late father.
When I was a boy, I remember my father would look at the stars and say, “Maybe this is the year, Tiger. Maybe this one will be the best ever.”
If only he would’ve been so lucky.
So I guess you never know when your best year is going to happen. But I believe it’s coming soon. You can’t do anything to cause it, and I don’t believe you can do anything to screw it up.
One little thing will happen, and life pivots on you. It will be swift, gentle, and sweet.
And one night it will all hit you. Maybe you’ll be looking at stars, and your dog will have just finished her business.
And for no reason at all, maybe you’ll write a few hundred words about it because, hey, that’s what basal people do.
With all my heart, I hope this is your best year ever.
Also, waterskiing is for losers.