Just like 99.9% of everyone who has ever existed – ever – my life has not gone as planned. And often, in quiet reflection, this thought can be just a little too much to handle. I can look back – at my past and at the life I’ve lived and at the choices I’ve made – and I can make a pretty definitive list of where I went right and where I went wrong. I can clearly see how the difficulties of the present are consequences of the choices of my past, just as the positives of the present are benefits of the choices of my past. Ideally, I would prefer the latter to be more significant than the former, but as it stands, I struggle to keep it at 50/50.
During the 1950s and 1960s (and later revived in the 1980s) there was a television show called “This is Your Life.” The show was similar to the contemporary concept of a “reality show.” Essentially, the host of the show would have a person on stage (typically a celebrity), in front of an audience, and show them a make-shift “documentary” about his/her own life, including “guest appearances” by friends and family. “This is your life,” they say to the person, and the curtain opens.
This concept once prompted me to ask the question, “I wonder what it must be like to see your own life from the outside, looking in.” And then (in a limited context) I found out when my mug shot was flashed across television screens in Wichita in March of 2012.
In “High Treason,” I referenced the book Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut. In this book, the protagonist, Howard W. Campbell Jr. is writing the memoir of his life, the manner in which he became a war criminal, and the details about his past that make his public perception less cut-and-dry than originally thought.
I’ve done this. I’ve literally written a book. I’ve written a book that few people will read, fewer people will care about, and no one will publish. It just sits on my computer in a Microsoft Word file, precariously titled, gathering digital dust. But essentially, the book has served its purpose, even if it never makes it to a single bookshelf or even makes it onto paper between the flaps of a dust jacket.
I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It’s why I became an English teacher and it’s why I post repeatedly in this Ongoing Commentary. Writing is the gift God gave me. So as a result, writing is how I cope with the world and how I make sense of the past. As I said in “Act Four,” my cousin’s wife once told me (after reading an entry in this Commentary), “I love your writing; you just have an amazing way with words!” It was the ultimate compliment. Writing is my trade and craft, but it is also my therapy.
Thus, after I’d succeeded in completely destroying my life, I decided to use my primary coping mechanism – writing – to try to make sense of my flawed existence. So I wrote a book. I’ve spent my life learning from the things I’ve read, so after writing 300+ pages about my own life – and then reading them – I managed to gain some valuable insight about myself, the things I’ve been through, and the choices I’ve made. Like a composer who writes a Requiem no one will hear, I’m am a writer who wrote a book no one will read. But it makes me realize the primary purpose of writing:
Writing is not done so that someone will read it; writing is done for the writer, and the process of writing. Writing helps me cope with life, not because someone will read this sentence in the future, but because I am writing this sentence right now. The thoughts and emotions that flow from my heart, to my brain, down my arms, and into my fingertips; and the sound of the keyboard as it types these words into existence, forming the thoughts that finally materialize after bouncing around my jumbled and turbulent consciousness – that’s my therapy, that’s my coping, that’s what writing is all about. I’ve learned so much about life, through writing, and there is still so much more to learn. Every time I sit down to write, I am able to see my own life from the outside looking in, and that has been one of the most useful avenues in helping me understand each stage of every struggle. Every time I sit down to write, I see things just a little differently.
“Kurt Michael Brundage,” I say to myself, “this is your life.” And the curtain opens once again.