A Plea to No One

I’m not sure how to start this. Maybe I should start this with my first memories of my dad reading to me, when I was four or five, living in Colorado. I remember the room he would read to me in, but not anything about the rest of the house. And for some reason it doesn’t seem like our house.

Then I remember reading on my own, things like Goosebumps and Calvin and Hobbes. I used to devour Goosebumps. Oh, they were such horrible books. Each chapter would have a twist at the end of it. “Max crept along the hallway, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Suddenly, he heard a growl and a dark shape rounded the corner. Max screamed.” (Next Chapter) “…But, it was just his dog Terry, who knocked him to the ground and effusively licked his face.”

Calvin and Hobbes, of course, was not bad. Calvin and Hobbes might’ve been what made me a reader. Bill Watterson’s ability to make complex vocabulary not only accessible to children, but entertaining, still knows no equal. If I ever have kids I pray that¬†Calvin and Hobbes¬†will be strewn upon their bedroom floors.

Fast forward to high school, where I had one of only two teachers to date who’ve ever made me want to write. Which is significant, if you think about it. I’ve had a lot of teachers when you include elementary school, middle school, high school, Arizona State University, undergrad at the University of Washington, postgrad at the University of Washington, and only two in the history of my life have ever made me want to write. All the other teachers unknowingly beat it out of me. They made writing a chore. They made writing something to be feared, to be avoided. But not this man at Bainbridge High School. His name was Bob McAllister. I could try to sum up his meaning to the school and the community (and to me) with a pithy sentence, but his obituary in the Bainbridge Island Review says it best:

“Bob McAllister, Island Treasure, poet and teaching icon, dies at 73” (full article).

I remember one day in particular we came to class and he was sitting behind his desk with his arms raised straight above his head. He looked like a praying mantis. We snickered in the manner high school kids might snicker upon seeing a teacher like this, and expected him to put his arms down at any moment. But he greeted us as he did every other morning, arms still above his head. He started teaching the class. He must have had his arms up for 45 minutes. Then, with no fanfare, almost as if he hadn’t realized they were up, he put them down.

Bob McAllister was one of two (maybe 2.5) teachers I’ve ever had who encouraged creativity, who encouraged not only a close examination of the greats, the classics, of other literature (even bad literature), but of creating something yourself.

Other than in Mr. McAllister’s class, I didn’t write much in high school.

Then I got to college at the University of Washington. I can still smell the air outside Thomson Hall that rainy June. It was a French class with a teacher named Lisa. She was tremendous. She would show us pictures of apples and bananas and chairs and windows and yell the name at us in French and we would scream it back at her just as loud. This was the summer of 2005. I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Spain. I desperately needed structure and to be surrounded by people more mature than me.This was the big leagues. Arizona State was OK, but this was the big leagues.

Enter teacher who encouraged creativity number two. His name was Edgar O’Hara, and he was from Peru. A lot of the students hated him. A lot feared him. But Edgar, like Mr. McAllister, was a poet, and so had a soft spot for creation. Which meant we got along just fine. He would tell us to write an essay on “Travel,” and I would write an essay about a wild boar bleeding to death in the jungle, and he’d give me an A. He’d tell us to write an essay criticizing something, and I’d write two pages on how much I hated hippies, and he’d give me an A. Here was a teacher who didn’t penalize creativity. He rewarded it. He made me want to write. He made me see the possibilities of writing, that you, alone with just your brain and a pen or a pencil or a computer, could create worlds. You could create anything you wanted. And not only was this possible, it was necessary.

By that time I had already started writing for myself a bit. While I was studying in Spain in 2004 I kept a journal in the style of Bill Bryson, but that was lost when my laptop was stolen a few years later. Then, in 2007, six months before graduating from the University of Washington, I started my first blog. It was called Boosh Clown, named after the nickname of a famous (see: obscure) skateboarder. I wrote about various themes on that blog. I wrote about UW basketball. I wrote about music. I wrote about how much I despised Limp Bizkit. I posted a video of myself drinking hot dog flavored water.

Within a year or so I started Where’s Wetzler, and by this time I knew I was going to be writing until I was 85 years old and shaking and barely able to see the page. I still know that. It’s one of the few things I know about myself. I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years: Mark, what are you running from? Why don’t you just settle down? Why do you keep moving from spot to spot as if it will fix something? And I have no answer for this. I’ve stopped thinking about it, to an extent. But one thing I do know, no matter where I go, even if it’s to a deserted island or a settled life in city, writing will always follow me. It’s like a street dog you give one scrap of food to, and next thing you know it follows you all the way home. Except I take this street dog inside. I give it a good meal. I give it a bath. And suddenly it’s no longer a street dog, it’s my dog.

And now it’s 2018, more than 11 years after I started my first blog, and 14 years since I started taking writing seriously. And my question is: When are my 10,000 hours going to be done? Because anyone who knows anything about creative work and who’s read Malcom Gladwell or listened to the Macklemore song knows before you can make it as a writer or a painter or a singer or a synchronized swimmer, you have to put 10,000 hours in. Maybe I’m on 8,543. Maybe I’m only on something like 6,000. Oh God, that would be terrible. What if I’m only on 3,000 or 4,000? No, that’s impossible at this point. After 14 years of writing off and on, but usually at least somewhat on, I have to be coming up at 10,000.

Maybe I’m at 9,999 right now. It’s 9:04am here in Guadalajara, and I’m sitting in the Starbucks on Chapultepec, and maybe, unbeknownst to me, the 10,000th hour is just minutes away. I’ll type a few more words. I’ll take a sip of my Youthberry tea. I’ll look around at the people in line, remark on how it always smells a little musty in here, stare a little too long a the cute girl in line, type a few more words, and then a few more, and then look down at my apple wrapper, which was my breakfast, lament the screaming toddler a few feet from me, type a few more words, and that’s it. Ten thousand. A wave of euphoria comes over me. I start somehow replicating one of the first drafts of The Sun Also Rises. A cigarette magically appears in my hand. So does a cup of coffee. An old Royal Quite de Luxe typewriter appears in front of me, and suddenly I’m at the hacienda in Havana, standing by my bed and writing the first pages of a book about a man who goes marlin fishing.

Or maybe none of this will happen, because that’s not how it works. I have no idea how it works. But I intend to find out.

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