I was fortunate as a child: I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It wasn’t anything that anyone would consider noteworthy. Some might have found it interesting. I think my parents, family, and teachers (all to some degree) found it horrifying. I wanted to tell stories. I didn’t care how I did it: single-finger pecking on a typewriter, verbal on a porch, behind a small, homemade puppet stage, with an 8mm camera with no sound, on a stage with live actors. It didn’t matter if I was the writer, the actor, the director, the producer. All that mattered was a good story. I’ve made a great living at it, but that wasn’t the best part. This is.
People love belonging. While it is basic and instinctive in all of us, I found the intellectual understanding of the need to belong by accident simply by loving stories. In school, sports, gangs, and clubs constitute our grouping. In college, young people are willing to do all sorts of things to belong to a certain organization. Out of school, trade associations and certain clubs are a must-have. But for a person who loves stories, life is so much more simple and uncomplicated. And there is no hazing to get in.
I subscribe to Groucho Marx’s philosophy that I don’t really want to belong to any club or organization that will have me. I sort of feel they’ve made their standards a bit too low. But three clubs excite me: writers, readers and audiences, and teachers.
As an academic, I’ve gotten all the degrees I can get in my discipline. Did it help me understand literature better? Not sure. I think there may be a better club for that. Did it make me a better writer? Not sure. I think there’s another club for that one, too. Did it make me love stories more? There’s a question that it might have tried to threaten that one. But what it did do was allow me, and other teachers of literature and creative writing, to have the opportunity to share our love with others, to inspire others to love words, emotions, and logical arguments as much as we do. If you have something to say, I encourage you to join it. You don’t need a Ph.D. or an M.F.A., but if you have the passion, share it with others. There are so many opportunities in your community. I’ve worked as a professor, a curriculum designer, and a writer-in-residence, but I can say that some of my most gratifying moments were volunteering to help illiterate adults learn to read. Nothing, nothing, could quell my joy at their self-discovery and mastery. If you have that calling, you don’t need a university. Find someone to share or volunteer your passion with. These people, and these organizations, are everywhere. And they need you.
Writers are an interesting group and I love being in their club. I’m thankful that they’ll have me. I could not be more fortunate than to be able to meld my private love of story, my passion, with my profession, especially when the profession has provided me with a lifestyle far beyond anything that I could have ever thought possible as a child. What could be greater than that? To wake up every morning and do what you love? To be able to do that and have necessities met? That’s already dying and going to heaven. True writers are motivated by stories. We don’t need money or fame. We need to be able to tell a story, and we need someone willing to listen. It is simplicity at it’s finest. It is joy. It takes discipline, but if this is your passion, it won’t feel like work. Follow it. Allow yourself the time to explore it. Demand that others allow you your pleasure.
To be in the club of readers, all you have to do is pick up a book, any book, start reading. and you belong. What drove me to the other two clubs above was this one, and I joined it at a really early age, thanks to my mom. “Have you read…?” is one of my favorite phrases coming out of another person’s mouth. Read. Encourage those around you to read. If you have children, for heaven’s sake, read to them until they can read themselves. And then when they go to school, make sure you emphasize that they need to keep reading what they love because if you don’t, less-enlightened teachers and the academic, standardized STEM world will take away the love that they once knew. Pretentiousness has no place for a writer, reader, or teacher. Classics, avant-garde, commercial, bestselling, they are all nothing more than words on a page. It’s what they bring to you. Reading is not drudgery. Reading is where all of us go. It is dancing, if you are a member of any of these clubs, with them what brung you.
Join these clubs. All three if you can. You’ll never be alone. You’ll always be stretched. And you’ll find that, if you pick up that book tonight and read just two pages, tomorrow morning you’ll never be the same again. It’s a perfect way to watch your life change before your eyes.
Clay Stafford is a proud to be a club member.