Reading to Write
One of the greatest regrets in my life was not having a good education. Living with bipolar and an attention disorder made it difficult.
What hurt most was being called slow and stupid. This led me to isolate myself and give up on learning altogether.
Today it seems laughable how many English classes I flunked. There were also many teachers who questioned my intelligence and said I was incorrigible. I think the main reason reading wasn’t enjoyable was I couldn’t get into Chaucer, Shakespeare and Thoreau . As I reflect I just didn’t relate to their works. They didn’t look like me or speak like me.
Maybe if I had been introduced to African American writers such as Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin I would have developed a greater love of literature.
What did pique my curiosity was fishing. Although I didn’t read many books I did read fishing magazines. I was obsessed with fishing, I would skip class and go to the beach with my rod fishing for bass. If I could’ve made a living fishing I would have.
After high school I joined the military where I stopped learning. I relied on wits, drugs and alcohol. I used substances because I thought hallucinating made me creative and enhanced me.
The only things I read were adult magazines and other forms of diversions. As my depression got worse my addictions got worse. I slept on sidewalks, never bathed and risked myself promiscuously
I drifted aimlessly with no place to go. I ended up in dangerous places. I once blacked out on a train and ended up in Long Island. Because I was broke I decided to live in Brooklyn for six months then moved to Atlantic City, Philadelphia to eventually Washington D.C.
When I came to D.C. it was more of the same I slept outside, smoked crack, and panhandled.. I contemplated suicide but feared I would screw that up also.
I was on a path to St Elizabeths or the morgue. However that wasn’t the direction God wanted me to go.
My life changed July 4th 2007, when I went to Franklin Shelter.
I checked in and they gave me a bed and a Bible. I tried to go to sleep. Then I started scratching myself. After a few minutes I noticed bed bugs were all over me. I went out to try and sleep in the park.
I had nothing to do so I opened up the Bible and read it word for word. At the time I believed in God but had no faith in God. So I started reading Genesis. Then the story of Moses resonated with me. Today when I have a life crisis I look to the great book for wisdom.
This started my journey into reading and writing. I used to go to Miriam’s Kitchen and they would have writing workshops. I would go and write in a journal, but I always kept my writing to myself.
Then one day I saw a green vest that said “Street Sense” and I learned about the newspaper that focused on the issue of homelessness.
The editor there at the time suggested writing articles. I began selling around the National Press Club and many journalists would read my articles. As I went on working I met many writers who were willing to work with me.
Since reading the Bible five years ago I have read over 700 books, which is about 12 books a month.
Some of my favorites have been about American history, for example David Mccullough’s “Truman.” It was eight hundred pages and it took me eight months to read.
I have also enjoyed many books about Teddy Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. I find Roosevelt fascinating because in spite of his arrogance, ambition and lust for power, he worked for good. What intrigues me about Nixon was his complexity. He was a reviled character who was prone to fits of rage, anti-semitism, mean-spiritedness and cruelty. Yet there were times when he displayed great compassion.
Today I am currently reading a book that was given to me by a customer by Studs Terkel: “Hope Dies Last” My dream one day is to write a history book from the perspective of a black man.
I guess I haven’t done too bad for a person who flunked English.