I often say I’m a graduate of the School of Hard Knocks but I haven’t ever really explained what that means.
You know how they say you should write what you know? I write about family dysfunction because that’s what I know best. I grew up in small-town Indiana with an father who was an alcoholic and probably personality disordered in a number of ways. My mother didn’t drink but she had a lot of problems of her own, including her 37 year marriage to my father.
When I was in third grade one of my textbooks talked about alcoholism. It was the first time I had seen a word for what went on at home every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. I realized that my father was an alcoholic. I wished fervently for my family to be different, but nothing changed, or if it did change, it got worse. By the time I was in sixth grade I knew that I wanted a better life for myself, and resolved to leave home when I turned 18.
Because small town life had never been very comfortable for me, I knew for certain that I wanted to live in a big city when I grew up. I thought I wanted to live on the east coast, and was all ready to enroll in Boston University, but I had also been admitted to the University of Chicago. I was lukewarm about the U of C because Chicago didn’t seem far enough from home, but my oldest brother found out that I was thinking of eschewing it for Boston University and quickly set me straight about which school was better. So, after high school, I spent the summer packing up all my belongings and matriculated to Chicago that fall.
I had a rough time for my first few years away from home, including one abusive relationship and several that were very unhealthy.
I guess I had thought that once I was away from my family, I would instantly become happy. I felt like a failure because even though I was away from my family, I was still a mess. A friend explained that you can leave your family, but you pack up a giant bag containing all the insanity you grew up with, and carry it with you for a long time.
So, I had an explanation, but I still struggled. After a disastrous first year of college, at a university I was woefully unprepared for, I decided to take some time off, find a way to support myself independently, and figure a few things out.
So it was that I started working at United Parcel Service the summer after my freshman year of college. This led to a 6-year career, first as a package handler, then as a supervisor. Taking that job was the smartest thing I have ever done. It taught me discipline and responsibility. It was the first thing of my own that I was ever good at. And, it paid enough that, with some financial aid and loans, I was able to go back to school and complete my bachelor’s degree while supporting myself. And, it was there that I got to know the mom of my adopted niece and nephew, who continue to be very important to me.
Despite my rough start, I’m very glad I attended the University of Chicago. Despite the agony of my early years there, from my first week on campus I felt as if I had found my tribe. I am still close with a number of people I met in those first weeks, and with others I met in the following years.
After college I worked another production supervisory job in Chicago for a year, then went west. I had known for the last few years of my time in Chicago that I wanted to live where there were mountains, but I didn’t have the money to make it happen. A friend suggested I find work on an Alaskan fishing boat, so I did just that – working on three different boats over the course of a year. It was the worst year of my adult life (really, the people were horrible, the hours were brutal, and life at sea was monotonous and lonely) but it did enable me to pay off some of my student loans and relocate to Seattle.
I got to Seattle during a recession where permanent full time jobs were hard to find. So, for a couple of years I worked temporary jobs, sometimes as an office worker and sometimes loading frozen chickens onto cargo ships (loading ships was a skill I learned while working in Alaska).
Eventually the office work led to a job with a small software company, which then led to a job at Microsoft, where I worked for 12 years. It was during my time at Microsoft that I finally started to work towards my dream of writing fiction professionally. Starting with NaNoWriMo in 2003, I learned to overcome my self-imposed writing obstacles, and with NaNoWriMo 2008, wrote the draft that became my first novel, Raising John.
I had a good run at Microsoft, but once I achieved some financial stability I started to get restless and decided to do something about my then-secret fascination with airplanes. So I left Microsoft and attended A&P school for two years in order to become an airplane mechanic. I have been a line mechanic for a major airline since the summer of 2015. Now I have access to all the airplanes I want. It’s wonderful.
I continue to fulfill a lifelong passion for travel, having visited countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. I volunteered in mountain bike advocacy for 10 years until I finally stepped down in order to give myself time to actually mountain bike. I played classical piano during my formative years, and after missing it for a long time, finally started taking lessons again in 2017. I’m relearning some old favorites and finally getting my head around theory.
And, more recently, I have discovered a love for live storytelling. I have performed in several Moth Story Slams in Seattle (videos here).
And, always, I like cats, cheese, and lifting heavy things at the gym.