I think people sometimes take for granted the kind of environment they grow up in, and how it plays a part in shaping who they become. Of course we all know that’s a given, that we’re influenced by our environment, but I myself can sometimes get caught up in what-might-have-beens. Usually when people get caught up in what-might-have-beens, they’re unhappy, and that’s not the case with me. I’m actually feeling really good these days, which wasn’t always the case in the past. I’m, well, pretty happy. So when I say I get caught up in what-might-have-beens, it’s mostly in an sense of analytic curiosity.
Recently I was looking at job sites, seeing what’s out there for work in other cities, as well as my own, just to see. Maybe I’m strange, but I find it interesting to see what sort of means for people to make their livings are open in the country these days, and also where those openings are, and to see where the two things match up with type of work and type of region. In Youngstown, there’s not a lot of work, though this is slowly changing. We’ve had decent job growth in the past two years, and really any job growth here is better than it had been for the past three decades. I tried looking up writing jobs, and jobs that utilize foreign languages, and education related jobs, I tried looking up editorial or proof-reading positions, etc. Things I can do. These sorts of jobs aren’t really around this place where I grew up, and yet it’s the sort of work to which I naturally gravitated, even as a kid, working with words and learning. So without lots of positions of employment for the things I could do and wanted to do in life, in my region of the country, I started to wonder if there had been opportunities to use my skills in other ways, if I had grown up in a region that did have a variety of opportunities for me, would I have thrown myself into writing stories and novels the way I did from an early age. Could I have, looking at it from my perspective on the past now, been distracted by having some other form of writerly satisfaction?
I ask these questions because in recent days I’ve been looking at that finished copy of my first novel and thinking, how in the heck did I ever write all these pages? And then I think about the second novel I’ve written, too, and the one I’m working on now, and all the short stories I’ve written that would probably fill two collections (if I were to collect all of them, that is, which I wouldn’t–I don’t dislike any in particular, but some are better than others and I’d rather collect the better than the whole) and I think with even more disbelief, What has made it possible for me to do all of this writing? Obviously the environment I grew up in did not nurture or encourage me to choose the very invisible and hard-to-imagine path of a fiction writer.
I think that I fell in love with fiction from a very early age, made-up things, imaginary things, in general, so I like to think that no matter what, even if I were surrounded by lots of employment opportunities that would still give me the pleasure of doing work that engages my natural, favored skills, I would still write fiction. I think I would, simply because it’s the form of writing that makes me happiest. But I have a feeling I might have done less of it if there had been ways for me to use those same skills in a secure job. So in my own case, I took an environment lacking in opportunities and used it to benefit a part of myself that might otherwise have gone somewhat neglected if I’d had plenty of options.
I still worry and wish that my life, my future, felt more secure, but I’m also really glad that the lack of opportunity in my community for the kind of work I love gave me the time and nothing-to-lose perspective that enabled me to spend so much time writing about imaginary people and situations and places, as well as real ones, too.
Of course, I only get this far before I then think maybe I also lack some common sense. Most people who receive an education leave this area, and I have too from time to time, for spells in other states or, in one case, in another country. But I always come back here too. Some people have asked me why, and I can really only say because it’s my home, and the same way I won’t abandon friends or family, I won’t abandon this place either. Not without trying to help make it better so that maybe, in the future, people who grow up here don’t have to leave to have a better life unless they want to. Some people may find how I relate to the world in this particular way a little, well, not sensible. And there may be some truth to that. But you can love a lot of different things and different people in this world, and for me this place, my home, warts and all, is one of the things I love.