CONFESSIONS OF A WRITER-MUTT

by | Mar 5, 2013 | Creative Nonfiction

I’d like to reboot a confessional series that Dan Cafaro and Katrina Gray started here at AR. With AWP looming, it seems particularly germane. I often think I “know” far too many writers only as Facebook profiles and author bios, which of course present idealized versions of ourselves rather than the messy, neurotic reality. I’m so grateful to Dan and Katrina for writing about their vulnerabilities. I’ve been trying to write my own confessions for a long time. This is only a small excerpt.

Like Dan, I grew up in a blue-collar place. Mine was Dayton, Ohio. I grew up with diverse and pragmatic people, people from the north, the south, India, Saudi Arabia, and lots of other places. Paycheck-to-paycheck people who never got the luxury of education I did. Lots of kids, all shapes, sizes, ethnicities. Not a rough neighborhood necessarily, but one with some sharp edges. A strange crucible of people who didn’t quite fit together but made it work anyway.

My parents divorced early, and I split time between Dayton and my father’s cabin in the woods, doing lots of semi-dangerous boy stuff. Then I would come back to Dayton where my stepfather drank too much, got violent too often. Sometimes we had to leave in the middle of the night. All too common, right? I think I developed a sort of clenched feeling way back then, and I’m sure it’s the reason I like windowless, enclosed spaces so much, even now. (Back then I built lots of forts because, I’m sure, forts felt safe.)

By the time we finally got rid of my stepfather eight years later, I was in junior high, and my mother promptly pulled my brother and me onto her back and started lugging us on the path toward college. I generally downplay the effect of all this on my psyche because it feels like, I don’t know, whining? Too simple? But anyone who’s been kind enough to read my fiction would see a pretty clear 1:1.

Those places—Dayton and my father’s cabin—are the kinds of places I tell people now that I wouldn’t really like my own kids to grow up in. Truth is, though, I love them. Our homes are like our families and our nicknames: we don’t get to choose them, and we’re better for it.

I was fortunate to have a shield for a mother. She took the brunt of, well, everything. She was a teacher, a damn good one, and she demanded that my brother and I get good grades even when the kids in our neighborhood thought that was nerdy. Both of my parents were readers and demanded that we read books. They demanded that we play outside and be creative. Stay away from video games. (My mother even used to steal the directions to our Legos, which the other kids laughed at while holding up their perfectly constructed pirate ships.) So from the outset, I’ve always been a bit out-of-place. Straddling two or three different worlds, and in doing so, not really belonging to any of them fully.

So, here’s the present-day confession: though I now hang at the fringes of a literary world populated with fantastic thinkers and writers, I have almost nothing in common with them. My love of literature forks in two directions only: I like to read and I like to write. I do a lot of both. I don’t really enjoy conferences or readings. I went to more lectures when I lived in New England, but now I’ve mostly stopped. I rarely feel the need to drink pints and talk about narrative distance or Borges. I don’t ever want to worry about my Klout score.

I’m uncomfortable posting on Facebook about publications or struggles writing, and I get annoyed when people try to romanticize the writer’s lifestyle. Like the blue-collar place I come from, I prefer the daily grind of writing and working at a job over festivals and colonies. I don’t have any close writer friends, not because writers have shunned me (quite the opposite: the vast majority have been gracious and welcoming), but because I don’t know how to do friendship with other writers. I suck at it. Impressively so.

What I do like is reading and writing. Otherwise, I prefer spending time with friends who don’t want to talk about literature. Laughing with them, telling bawdy jokes. I like going to high school sports with my wife, who is an athletic director, watching her athletes become mature and impressive people. I like woodworking and running and playing basketball. I like sitting at dive bars, laughing some more, drinking lite beer and eating fried food. I like living in a flyover state. I like watching my Celtics, even when they’re getting too damn old to win anything. I have a good life.

Ultimately, I’m left with two Brads, two personas. One is the writer who makes stories about oddball things and reads lots of books and wonders how the hell he fits into the larger literary world. The other is the ordinary kid from a couple different places in Ohio who just wants to play basketball and build one more fort with a secret hiding compartment.

Reading and writing are both solitary endeavors. I like that about them because I’m a loner. And yet, succeeding as a writer means engaging with the community. But I’ve always been bad at it. It’s hard for me to be part of the world. I love reading books by these people, and I often feel like I know them intimately after I have, but I struggle talking to them. I clam up, don’t know where to put my hands. I’m afraid someone will read my mind and know that I’d rather be eating nachos at Fricker’s or hiking in Montana.

Sitting in workshops, I can recall dozens of times when I thought to myself, Boy, I just don’t see the world that way, but I better not say anything. Occasionally when I did say something I was immediately reminded how divergent my own sensibilities were from my peers. Then I would think: You’re a writer, too. Shouldn’t this be easier? But it isn’t.

I hate that all too often, my interactions with other writers don’t feel authentic. I’m terrified to admit this because I know I’m the odd one. I’m the splinter trying to burrow its way into a place it doesn’t belong. It’s a strange combination of jealousy and resentment that I’m left with—jealousy that it seems so much easier for other writers, resentment that I let the world make me into such a mutt.

Even at 31, I’m still the kid who’s sort of from Dayton, Ohio, sort of from somewhere else. A guy who’s sort of a writer, sort of a teacher, sort of an average Joe. And the longer you pack that confusion up inside, the tighter that clench winds. At some point you look around, and what you see are the walls of some fort that you’ve slowly erected around yourself while you thought you were doing something else.

About The Author

Brad Felver

Brad Felver’s fiction and essays have recently appeared in the Colorado Review, Zone 3, Bull: Men’s Fiction, and Harpur Palate, among other places. He lives with his wife and son in northern Ohio where he teaches at Bowling Green State University.