A Handwritten Life

The voice on the other end of the landline that was connected to Martin’s antique, rotary dial, phone crackled and popped.

“Mr. Hanson, I don’t know what to tell you. If you can’t follow the submission process, no one is going to even look at your manuscript.”

“Bah! You young’uns—you’re all alike! Think that just because you got your new fangled typewriters and fancy calculators that you know everythin’! Well you don’t! You don’t know nothin’!”

“Mr. Hanson, you know darn well that nobody has submitted anything written on a typewriter in almost thirty years. It’s probably been another thirty years before that since any publisher took handwritten pieces like what you just sent in. And, for the record, I’m forty-seven. I have a grandson. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop calling me young’un and whippersnapper.”

“Don’t you tell me how to act, young man! You’re not too old for me to cut a switch!”

With that declaration, Martin hung up on his former student and, now, former literary agent, Tom Stevens.

“Tell me how to submit a manuscript! I submitted my first story seventy-five years ago. Pen and paper was good enough then. It’s good enough now!”

Of course, that first story hadn’t been good enough. No one bought it. So into the “file” it went. The first one in the cabinet; the filing cabinet that Martin had intended for housing all of his precious first drafts and originals that he felt would one day make up a priceless inheritance for his family.

“Priceless!” The word literally came out with a spat. Priceless was the word for it. Seventy-five years of writing. Seventy-five years of crafting stories drawn from his imagination and what did he have to show for it? A teacher’s retirement.

The cabinet now overflowed with pages. Book manuscripts, short stories, scripts, poetry. You name it, Martin had written it at one time or another. He had written despite the pain of arthritis. Despite the bitter disappointments. He wrote, was rejected, and then he wrote about that too.

Most of what was in the cabinet hadn’t seen the light of day in more than forty years. After the first several decades of rejection, Martin had begun to slow down. By the time he was in his fifties, nobody asked anymore if he was being published. By his sixties, he never even mentioned writing anymore, not even to his own family. He had never let another soul step into his fortress of solitude at the top of his attic stairs.

“Grandpa?” Every one of his grandkids had asked at one time or another, “What’s in the attic?”

“Fireplace fuel.”

“What does that mean?”

“One day you’ll find out. Don’t you worry about it.”

It’s all crap. He thought now. But it’s my crap. One day soon it’ll be their crap. The thought of his family having to slog through his writings almost made him giggle like a little girl. They’ll do it too! They’ll be too afraid to not read every word.

There were a lot of words.

There was the story of how he met his wife for the first time; a review of his first “talkie”; his journals from the war—he wrote everyday for two long years. There were stories of his four children growing up and his nine grandchildren following in their footsteps. He had more than one novel, a science fiction anthology, some private detective stories and, of course, his memoirs from forty-five years of teaching.

His whole life, literally handwritten out for his family to find one day. “Hmmpff! Maybe they’ll light a fire and keep themselves warm!”

Martin rummaged around in the attic office. He searched under the desk, behind the file cabinet and across the floor of the room. “Where did I throw that dab-nabbed pen?”

Finally Martin found the pen under some paper on top of his desk. Carefully, he pulled out a fresh sheet of pristine whiteness and began to write down some important advice:

All agents are idiots. Never pay them a red cent.

That’s where they found him the following day. Slumped over his old roll top, pen in hand, a neatly formed period at the end of his handwritten sentence.


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The Question

As long as Casey could remember, he had been asking the question. Throughout different times and phases in his life he had asked it for different reasons and with varying degrees of levity. The first time he asked, at around age six or seven, he had been very serious.

“Pastor Greg?”

“Yes Casey, what can I do for you today?”

Pastor Greg was a tall, thin, severe looking man with salt and pepper hair and a stern expression that looked like it had been fixed to his face by the cartoonist who drew the grouchy guy from “Dennis the Menace”. It took more than a little courage for young Casey to ask his question.

“Pastor Greg…ummm…I was wondering…ummm – if Jesus is the answer, the way you always say, then I was wondering….”

Pastor Greg looked at his watch. “Yes, yes – what’s your question, Casey? Hurry up now!”

“Well…I was just wondering – then what’s the question?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If Jesus is the answer, then what’s the question?”

“The question?” Casey nodded. “That Jesus is the answer too?” Again, Casey nodded.

Pastor Greg laughed, which was not the answer Casey was expecting.

“Casey, Jesus is the answer to everything!” And, just like that, Pastor Greg walked away chuckling to himself. “What’s the question! Wait till the board hears this one!”

Throughout his formative years, Casey got various answers to the question that all sounded similar, but the most common responses were either “everything” or:

“Well, that’s part of your walk with Jesus – you’ll know when the time is right.”

As he got older, Casey asked the question more rarely, and almost never as seriously as that first time. By the time he as in his third year of college, he had been lured into a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol, and the question fell from his lips disdainfully. He had decided by that point that there was no question that Jesus was the answer to, unless it was: “How can I have less fun and lead a completely boring life?”

After college, Casey cleaned up for a time. He married a beautiful girl he met in school, got a job as a fireman, bought a house and had two little boys. He even forgot about the question almost entirely.

One night, a fireman’s worst nightmare was visited on Casey’s happy little world. The fire call he answered was to his own house. A gas leak had filled the house and when his wife had arrived home, she smelled it too late and their oldest son had already switched on the lights. The explosion had rocked the entire block and, just like that, Casey’s entire family was gone.

At first alcohol was the only thing that could help him forget. When that didn’t work anymore, though, he turned to cocaine. As his money ran out he moved down to cheaper and rougher drugs – crystal meth and crack became his breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Now, many years later, no one even remembered the Casey that had once been. Long gone with his family were his job, his savings, his home, his car – his whole life. Living in an old Ford Pinto that didn’t run and wearing whatever mismatched rags he could pull from the trash, Casey walked the streets in Orange County sniffing glue from some cotton balls he kept tightly shut in a balled up hand. It was the only high he could afford anymore.

The night he found out he was banned from every glue-selling store within walking distance was the final humiliation. For years he had just wanted it all to end, and now he knew he couldn’t face the next day without something that set his brain on fire and burned away all the bad inside.

As he leapt from the bridge into the icy cold water, Casey yelled out again, “What’s the question?”

He woke flat on his back in the bottom of a small fishing boat, coughing up saltwater. Realizing he was still alive, Casey laid back on the deck, groaning.

“Ya’ know,” the fisherman said lightly, “as you fell into the water, you yelled out the wrong thing. What you should have yelled was, ‘Help! Somebody save me!'” The old man chuckled to himself, just as Pastor Greg had done all those years ago.

What could possibly save me? Casey groaned to himself.

Suddenly his eyes flew open wide in astonishment and he sat bolt upright.

The question!

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So, it’s been a year…i told you so.

As you can see this blog is appropriately named “I hate to write”.  It’s a good thing I never told anyone I started a blog, because I can’t handle more dissapointment in my life.

Actually, I think the big problem with a blog for me is that I don’t like the idea of writing to meet the expectations of other people. Then it hit me: No one other than me has to know this is here!

What a freeing thought! I can just write for myself, and as long as it doesn’t leak out that I’m writing a blog, no one else will follow it and there will be no pressure to maintain any kind of schedule

That’s my kind of blog!

So, if you stumbled across this by accident – keep moving. Don’t follow me; don’t check for updates; don’t get any ideas about me. Pretend this never happened.  Nothing to see here.

I might actually enjoy this…

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So, why a blog then?

Yes, you read the name of this blog correctly; I Hate To Write.  That begs the question, “So why are you writing a blog?”

Actually, that’s a very good question. If I ever know the answer to that, I’ll be sure to let you know. Maybe a better question is: “Do you really hate to write?”

Now that one I can answer. Yes – kind of. I love coming up with ideas for writing. I like the creative process of writing. But the actual work of writing down what I’ve come up with in my head? Not so much.

I’ve known from a very young age that I wanted to have a career as a writer.  When I was 9 years old, I chose to submit a short story I had written as my contribution to a school open house event. The resulting praise for this story was my first positive scholastic feedback.

There had been previous feedback – you get the rest of my meaning.

Anyway, this unexpected praise made me realize that anyone (meaning me) could be a writer. Especially since I stole most of the idea for my story from a comic-book I had been reading at the time. This writing stuff was easy…read something; retell it in your own words; get credit. What could be simpler than that, right?

Unfortunately it didn’t take me long to realize that you had to come up with your own ideas and that those were actually harder to write down than the ones you stole. It was too late by that time, I had already gotten it into my head that I was moderately talented and it’s been a roller coaster ride of addiction ever since.

I hate to write. I write anyway. I trash what I wrote. I start all over again.

If you read this post, don’t expect it to be here for long. I’m notorious for hating everything I wrote when I come back to read it again. I have been working on writing the same book for more than 20 years. Don’t even ask me how many pages I’ve used the “easy button” on in that project.

So, follow this blog, if you dare. I may write. I may not write. Probably I’ll write and gripe and moan about it every step of the way. If you decide to stick it out, my condolences – and good luck!

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