Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Real Writer's Block

How do your family and friends regard your writing?

I come from a family background where frequent reading was thought of as odd. Oh, the father and uncles seemed to delight in reading men's magazines (for the pictures) and the occasional issue of Time or Life. And most everyone read the newspaper. But there was nobody even in the extended family with whom I could discuss a good novel or non-fiction book.

Reading was, in fact, discouraged by many--my father in particular. His accusations of being somehow "lazy" because I was "sitting around and reading" (he more often said, "sitting on your ass and reading") just encouraged me to go outside and read, or read at the library. None of this reconciled with the usual parental demand for high-performance grades in high school, but never mind that.

It wasn't as if I wasn't getting any exercise, or that I let my chores lapse. So I was left to wonder how this was different than sitting and fishing, or sitting and watching television--my father's favorite activities. I eventually concluded that it wasn't the sitting that bothered him, but the reading. I suppose it had something to do with his drinking. Most of all--and I figured this out as a child--he resented the idea of reading for enjoyment or education ... something to do, probably, with the fact that he had dropped out of school in the eighth grade. I have some ideas that I won't go into here, but you get the idea.

The anti-literacy movement in my home was so strong that my books were thrown out, and my father would throw books in rages. He once attacked me with a book in some moment of insanity. It was nothing new; when I was fifteen, attacked me with the Beatles' Revolver album, the reason for the attack being that I had sideburns that he didn't like, and that the Beatles must have made me grow sideburns. (I should emphasize that this was a big vinyl album and jacket--a little more painful than an attack with a CD or tape.)

Now, imagine what it was like when I started writing. If I'd taken up writing as a teenager still living at home, he probably would have gotten around to busting up my typewriter. As it was, he did everything possible to discourage my writing. Although I was writing on the side while holding down a full-time job (and on occasion a part-time job), he railed at me for being "lazy" because I was writing. He refused to look at any of the magazine articles, short stories, or books I published. And so forth.

At the same time, he bragged about my books to the extended family, as if he was responsible for it all, and not raging over it. He bragged so much so that several family members got angry at him--and me--over it. He did his best to make me an outcast--for succeeding at writing. (And believe me, that is not an overstatement. But there's too much behind it to go into.)

Yeah, he was nuts. And drunk. But knowing that didn't make it any more fun. So, count yourself fortunate if people close to you are positive about your writing, or at least don't run it down or try to get you to stop. If they appreciate your writing, be glad. Writing is difficult enough without someone trying to stop you, and I hope you never have to experience that.


K. said...

One of my friend's likes to say that every family has their own level of disfunction. I vowed to steal the phrase - and have - because it's so true. I consider myself unbelievably lucky with my family - no drunks, beatings, insanity, nothing. The only gripe I have with my parents is that they were not independently wealthy! :)

My mother & father both read voraciously, so my reading began with cereal boxes and never stopped, nor was I ever reprimanded for reading. My father wanted to write but his dream didn't pan out. He was pleased indeed when I began writing and submitting pieces.

Michael A. Banks said...

Your father being happy for you to do what he didn't get to do has to be grand. Thanks for the note!

Your friend has a point. Perhaps a reality show called "Dysfunctional Family Feud" would fly. Whichever family is the least dysfunctional wins.

One thing all of this points to is that people out of dysfunctional families can at least take steps to insure that their own families aren't that way.