There are only a handful of people who have really influenced my life in lasting ways. My grandmother, Judy Chadwick Clarke, tops the list. After family, there’s President Bill Clinton (you cannot work for someone as long as I worked for him and not be impacted — for the much better). Probably Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) — my first job out of college was working for her, as I have said before. Many of the people who have made an impression did so during adulthood so their contribution was limited in some respects.
The same cannot be said of Stephen King. His contribution changed the entire trajectory of my life and made my current career possible. Thank you, Mr. King.
My family is made up of a lot of readers. Percentage wise, I think there are more librarians than any other profession but that could be a skewed view based on Judy (I always called my grandmother by her first name), who was one. Even the non-librarians read and as things are, I am the least educated member of my family (BA in French from Stony Brook University, pre-med certificate from Georgetown) — unless you consider my cousin Abbie’s child Knut and he is a baby. I am pretty sure he has at least a maters in something by now. Probably particle physics or economics.
If you are thinking, wow, you sure are lazy compared to them. Yeah, I am. That goes way back. When I was in elementary school I hated to do any schoolwork and dreaded reading. Not because I didn’t like to read but the drivel they gave me bored me to tears and if you’ve read my posts about the wonderful adventure that was my childhood, you understand that I had enough to cry about without letting shitty books do it. So, I never read anything they gave me. This, in turn, made the school think I couldn’t read and it was not an idea I was in any hurry to disuade them from. They put me in the reading class basically for kids who should have been drooling in the corner. I don’t think I did any homework for at least a year, maybe two.
In retrospect, I am not sure how the educators at my school were so oblivious– and the Three Village School District where I went is considered a really good one. Look it up. While you’re at it, look up the Wikipedia entry for Stony Brook the town. You’ll see a familiar name under “famous people from here.” Kevin James went to my high school (graduated before me). But the name I am talking about, of course, is mine. My parents were divorcing and that just wasn’t done back then. Plus there was the whole fake kidnapping issue that my father kept harping about (the time my mom took me to Iceland for the summer and he said I had been kidnapped) and maybe they just didn’t want to deal with me. It was easier to just let me do my think, whatever the hell that was, than actually pay some attention. I sound bitter – and I am about a lot of things but this isn’t one of them. I didn’t bother them (much) and they didn’t bother me (much).
Meanwhile, I went on reading and learning in my own way. I liked to read quite a bit. On one visit
with my mother I begged her to buy me a Stephen King book — The Shining. She did, after making me promise to read Agatha Christie, which I never did and never have. Those books bore me, too. And if you are an Agatha Christie fan, save your hate tweets and emails (or don’t, I love getting hate mail), just not gonna get into it now.
Anyway, I was all about Stephen King. As soon as I would finish one book, my mom would send another (side note, if you really want to get the full horror effect of ‘Salem’s Lot, read it by candle light under the skylight in your attic bedroom after a hurricane has knocked out the power to your town. Seriously. I hung garlic and crosses around my room for months. Damn vampires aren’t getting to me that easy. Fuckers.).
This Stephen King obsession began when I was in the fifth grade. I think it was that first book, The Shining, that I brought to school. My terrified teacher, and I wish I could remember her name because she was the first I ever had who took an actual interest in my work and me, asked What are you doing with that book?!?! I like to think I answered something smart-assy like, Well, I am not burning it, if that’s what you’re asking. I am not sure that’s what I said or not but it sounds like me, so what the hell? That’s what I said. And unless you were there, bite me.
In any case, that caused quite the stir as the school realized that I wasn’t as dumb as a box of rocks (that would come later, like now). They moved me into the second highest reading level, which pissed me off at the time because there was actual work in that class. The class also introduced me to creative writing, which is a passion I have pursued ever since. I have not left home without a pen and notebook since I was 11. If you ever see me on the street, you can ask if I have one. I do. Don’t take my word for it. By the time I got to high school, I was a pretty decent fiction writer — a persona I am desperately trying to recapture — and my teachers did wonders to nurture that in me. I remain grateful to them as well.
The writing bug was not the only things Stephen King gave me. His books did more to help me survive certain really bad years of my life than anything else. Therapy (individual and family) didn’t do it. While I have the honest hat on, I think part of the appeal of his books was I was able to confront demons in his fiction that I couldn’t in my real life. Violence wasn’t an abstract concept for me back then, it was never more than a heart beat away. Reading books like It let me fight back and win, every time.
Much of my professional career has included a lot of writing; press releases/statements, talking points, briefing materials, blog posts, op-eds, newsletters, whatever press materials need to be produced — I have produced them. In addition, I have maintained this brilliant blog for at least five years (I think, I could be wrong, I have been hit on the head a lot and am too lazy to look that up). In 2011, I started getting paid to write political satire for the site www.pardonthepundit.com — the first time I have ever been paid for comic writing of any kind. I also write and perform stand-up comedy throughout Washington, DC and New York City. The only other thing that I can do in such a public manner that I like almost as much is karaoke, which is one of the most awesome things. I may break into Don’t stop believing right now. I am at work so I won’t but you get the idea.
The only productive things I did as a kid really were read, write and work on campaigns. None of that prevented me from spending the latter part of my teens doing way more drugs and alcohol that I should have (and I am still surprised that I am still alive, I have to be on life 8.5 by now) but when I left the abusive situation, all of that stopped and the positives in my life took the place of the negatives. I can only imagine where I would have ended up had I never brought that book to school. I would probably have stayed in that class for idiots and then when I discovered drugs and alcohol, that’s all I would have had and I would probably still be on Long Island. My mind cannot even grasp how awesome that life would have been.
Thank you, Stephen King. You really changed my life and I will never get to thank you enough.
PS. The second best book on writing, after The Elements of Style, of course, is Stephen King’s On Writing. I would also like to add that even as a kid, I LOVED his introductions. They rock.