I'm so excited to present a guest post from my good friend David Paine. Besides mixing the best cocktails in Nashville, David does marketing for a social media company and thinks deep thoughts about God and life and writing, not necessarily in that order. There's nothing I love better when I'm in Nashville than spending an evening discussing (and solving) the world's problems with David. Since he writes the same way he talks, now you get a chance to hang out with him, too. After you've read this post, head on over to his blog to read more.
A Writer Comes Out
Writing is about knowing.
When you write something down, it’s something you know, even though you may not know you know it. In my case, the more I let myself know, the better I write. And the more and better I write, the more I can let myself know.
About four years ago, at the relatively ancient age of 55, I came out to myself as a gay man. The path to this self-knowledge was a long one, involving along the way a reasonably respectable number of girlfriends, two wives, two sons, and three years of gut-wrenching therapy.
The interesting thing is this: The path also involved writing. Though I didn’t really get it at the time, coming out to myself has also meant coming out to myself as a writer. Because they are both fundamental to who I am, the two identities are intertwined. Knowing I’m a writer as well as knowing I’m gay means knowing myself – or at least knowing myself better than I did before.
The point of final clarity regarding my sexual orientation came when I could say to myself – and mean it – this isn’t about who I’m sleeping with, it’s about who I am. Same thing with writing. It isn’t about what I might be doing – for a living or otherwise – at the moment. It’s about who I am.
Having been in the marketing business for more than 25 years, I’ve done a lot of writing. But it was never the focus of my life at the office. The focus was always elsewhere. The writing was ancillary. And, just as in relationships with women, I never felt quite whole at the office. It’s not that life was all that terrible. But there was something – a fairly subtle something in my case – missing.
Looking back, it’s clear that the process of revealing myself to myself actually began with writing. Seven years ago, while on vacation deep in the South Georgia woods at the edge of a lake that’s been in my family for four generations (and thus fairly basic to my sense of self) I was seized by a need to write.
Right after lunch one afternoon, I drove my rapidly aging father to the little county airport to catch the puddle-jumper back home to Atlanta. I had the clear sense that this would be the last time my father would see the lake, and that I needed to write something down.
I was right on both counts. Dad died without ever returning to the lake he had loved all his life, and I did need to write something down. In fact, my life as a writer began that afternoon.
After leaving the airport, I drove six miles farther up the road to the Winn-Dixie, bought a spiral-bound notebook and a couple of pens, came back to the lake, sat down on the porch and began writing. I wrote for hours – right through cocktails. I kept on writing for several years.
I wrote stories. They were lousy at first. And, a little disconcertingly, they all seemed to be about me. The stories got better with time, coaching and practice, and the “about me” part got more subtle. Although more subtle perhaps, it also got more true. I was peeling back the layers – well before I got into therapy.
Eventually, as I got deeply into the often scary, sometimes very sad process of coming out, the fiction fountain sort of dried up. But it was immediately replaced by a more intentional focus on writing at the office, and this produced some of the best and most enjoyable writing I’ve ever done.
I’m still at it. Blogging for myself and writing for business. Loving both because I know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and looking for a way to rearrange my life so writing becomes central to my income as well as my identity. And the fiction fountain may be beginning to bubble up again, too.
Life is good these days. In spite of having ended a better-than-average marriage – with no boyfriend in sight, by the way – and now having to wrestle with a lousy economy and daunting business challenges, I’m more at peace than I’ve ever been. I know who I am. I’m a gay man. And I’m a writer. That’s not all there is to me of course, but these are two big pieces of the puzzle. Pieces I had never quite put into place before.
Out, proud and pounding those keys. Life is good!
All photographs by David Paine.