I was in the slow readers’ circle in third grade and thus, at an early age, I was seen as the slow student in my family and, by way of that, I believed I was not smart. Even while on the honor roll in secondary school and earning above a 3 point in college, I was anxious that I might fail a class and later flunk out of Ohio State. I accepted the explanation for my successes, that I was clever and had fooled some people.
Orientation Week at Ohio State the incoming freshman were seated together in the auditorium and directed to look at the person seated to our right and to our left. One of us, we were told, would not be around come spring quarter. I was sure the one on my left and the one on my right were, like my sister and brother, smarter than I and that I would be the one who would flunk out of Ohio State.
Therefore, when I had a vision of myself, writing a book, I didn’t take it seriously. I was sitting backstage at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. I was 34 years old. After graduating from OSU with an associate degree in dental hygiene and cleaning teeth for five years, I moved to NYC to study at Stella Adler’s Conservatory of Acting. I held a variety of low paying, part-time jobs while a student and going out on auditions. After a short stint in an off-Broadway production of Spoon River, I left the city and returned to OSU to finish course work for my bachelor’s degree and earn a graduate degree in a combined program of communications and health education. I then moved to San Francisco to look for work in educational television and landed instead backstage at the Curran Theatre.
It was a Wednesday, a matinée day. I was sitting on a stool by the stage door while the crew and actors were out on dinner break before the second, evening, show. The only other person in the theatre besides me was the sound man, doing his sound check. I had my eyes closed, listening to the music, when the vision came. It was not a dream; I wasn’t asleep. Not a daydream either because I wasn’t fantasizing. In a trance-like state, I saw pages of a book turn slowly, like the pages of a calendar turn in an old movie to signify the passage of time. Before a page turned I was able to read what was written on it. I knew the story. It was the story of my romantic relationship with a woman who, for 7 years led me to believe she was someone other than she was.
By some strange understanding, it dawned on me I’d glimpsed my future, but I laughed at the scene. To avoid writing a paper for my master’s degree, I had taken extra courses and exams. I was not a writer. Writing was the last thing I would imagine myself doing. The dream-like event could not have been generated by me. Nonetheless, I had the strange sensation that the book I’d been shown had already been written by me and I had only to catch up to my future.
Nah, I told myself, that’s crazy. The whole thing is nuts, I thought. The trance, the vision, the forecast of my future. However, the feeling that the book already existed someplace, in some time, remained. For weeks, I was haunted by the vision and the sensation that it was real over time grew stronger and did not fade.
What the hell, I finally said to myself, and I got a pad of lined paper and some # 1 pencils to begin writing backstage. Exactly then, the instant I wrote my first word, sitting in the small booth just inside the stage door, I knew I would do that the rest of my life. Writing would be my work, my passion, my teacher and my salvation.
Six months later when the management of the Curran Theatre switched hands, I lost my job and from that day forward, I became a full-time writer, teaching myself how to write, following the punctuation in the dialogue of a Steinbeck novel in order to see where to place the commas, periods and quotation marks. It was 1978. My first novel was published two years later.
The lesson to not let anyone tell me who I was nor what I could or couldn’t do took some time to learn. It didn’t come as quickly or easily as my declaration.