Monday, June 14, 2010
A love letter to S.E. Hinton...
I always hesitate to label myself a writer. It typically sounds so pretentious, and to really be a writer, aren't you supposed to be published and make some kind of money at it? That's the popular theory anyway. Still, writers write and professional or not, it's something that I've always done.
From the time I was a kid scribbling out stories for creative writing day at school until my current blogging fixations, I've been asked by family, friends, etc what the hell makes me want to write. Why work so hard at something that doesn't come easily, rarely pays worth a damn, and that more than likely, no one is going to read? As ridiculous as it sounds, I've always been one for telling stories. I truly believe that it comes from my grandfather, Chuck. The whole "why use 10 words when you can use 100 and make it come to life" theory of getting your point across. He never failed to have a story for nearly every point he was trying to make. I tend to be a bit shy and awkward in social situations, so small talk is torture for me. Get me going on a story about something that I've witnessed, read, or experienced, however and you can't shut me up. I thank him for that.
I sat and watched THE OUTSIDERS film last night for the first time in years. The film has aged incredibly well and I actually think that I appreciate just how beautiful it is more as an adult. I started thinking about how S.E. Hinton's novel was a constant in my adolescence. I read it every chance that I had, checking it out from the library as often as they would allow me. Looking back, it was the first book I read that really had a massive impact on me. I'd been a voracious reader as a child, thanks to my mom, but THE OUTSIDERS was the first time I remember putting a book down after finishing it, and just sitting, because I was so overwhelmed. I grew up an upper middle class kid with both parents in a tiny rural town in East Central Kansas during the 70's and 80's. I was certainly never a poor greaser from the wrong side of the city, being raised by my older brothers in the late 60's. Still, the book spoke to me like none had before. It truly caught that sense of not fitting in. How tough being a teenager is, especially if you are at all different from the preconceived notion of what a teenage boy should be. Regardless of whether you're fighting in the streets or hiding your feelings for the boy in your class because no one will understand it, it's the things that you love in life that enable you to survive. Whether that's family, the people that you surround yourself with, or writing, music, books, etc.
Hinton's book showed me that writing could be raw and honest, simple and beautiful. What mattered wasn't fancy words, or sentence structure, it was the story you were telling and the characters you brought to life. This is my motto every time I sit down to write, whether I'm telling a story, or raving about some album that I've fallen in love with.
I know that it sometimes sounds trite and cliche to say that a book changed your life, but THE OUTSIDERS did for me. It's the first moment I can recall a book deeply affecting me. It's also what I credit my love for writing with. That epiphany when I realized how much I loved telling a story, almost as much as I loved hearing one. To this day, anytime I finish a book that really gets to me, I still need a few moments after putting it down. Going on 30 years and a few dozen readings, I still do it every time I finish THE OUTSIDERS.