How I Became a Writer
I have been thinking about this new journey of mine, the writing, the book, the what-the-hell-am-I-doing-I’m-a-bass-player-for-fucksake, and I came across this personal essay I wrote a few years back when I was thinking of applying to MFA programs. In the end, I only applied to one program, UBC, and I’m glad I went with UBC (and they went with me), because they’re an optional-residency program which means I did the entire thing while on tour, or watching my kid, or sitting naked in front of my TV (something I seem to do a lot of). But for a brief minute, before applying to UBC, I had this crazy notion that I could do the MFA in New York, in person, in tandem with gigs and fatherhood and whatever else this nutty city deals out everyday. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t persure the New York option, it would have ended me, or my marriage or some other essential limb of my life. I was seriously considering the creative writing program at Hunter College, and I went so far as to write the entrance essay. I found it the other day while archiving some old files, and even though it’s not great writing (you can tell I was struggling with the 500 word limit), I think it gives a good (if somewhat vague) picture of my headspace at the time of the decision. With this website, one of my goals is to document my journey toward the book and looking back. So here it is, in all its unedited glory, my Hunter entrance essay that I never sent. If I remember correctly the topic was, “Give us your writing history and why you want to get an MFA in 500 words.”
In high school I spent my time practicing the bass, which, if one wanted to become a great bass player, was a good thing. Not if one wanted to become a great anything else. “Please stop wearing your guitar to class,” Ms. Hongisto told me. “It’s distracting the other students.” I told her that maybe we needed guitars for everybody, picks instead of pencils. She said, “How about that story you wrote for class last week?”
“What about it?” I said.
“What about it,” she said.
Then, the end of high school. And Ms. Hongisto, “Follow your dream,” she said. “Go play the bass. But never forget, you’re also a writer.” A WRITER! What did she know? I had the music in me. So loud my ears hurt just thinking about it.
I packed up my bass and my Canadian dreams and headed for school at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. I found jazz there, as sure and strong as if I’d discovered The Man Himself.
After finishing, I hitched back to Canada and joined a band, then two. And like that, I was twenty-five and touring. I won Canadian Grammy’s, jetted around the world playing jazz festivals, performed difficult music for those who were into such things.
I moved to New York.
There I struggled. A big fish from a small pond dropped in the middle of an ocean. “The lean years,” my wife calls them, and man, is she right. But somewhere in there, a love of words rekindled.
Slow times became busier times—slowly. And then, as before, jazz festivals, airplane rides, and soon, ten years of it. And along the way, in tandem with music, a quiet drive to learn all I could about writing.
I wrote between gigs. I wrote on the subway. I applied myself the only way I know how—fully. I sought out writers from which to learn, anyone that would find it in their hearts to teach me. Then this idea: an MFA.
I had a talk with my bass—we’ve done this often over the years—a kind of checking in. I said, “I’m just checking in with you on this. Your thoughts?”
He said, “You see these marks, the ones here where your fingers have etched a crevice in my paint an inch deep? And these streaks of dried sweat running down the back of my neck. Do you realize the commitment it takes to make something like sweat permanent?”
“Yes,” I said.
“You and me?” he said. “We’re all good.”
Then, my wonderful wife: “So an MFA?” she asked.
“The academic environment,” I said.
“Sounds like the next step,” she said.
So I sat down to write a story. This story. One about a musician and a writer who takes stock of his life, checks with those closest to him, and moves forward. Boldly.