Writing into the Glorious Grey

Something about reading that book made me go out and get a job.  Around four months earlier I had dropped out of high school in a state of depression.  Yes, real depression.  Not your typical moody teenage angst but straight up deadening, lackluster, hopeless depression.

At sixteen I had realized a few things- 1) I no longer had faith in God and 2) people were not necessarily inherently good. After years (my entire life) of feeling everything too intensely- down to the bone and through my whole body- all of the time.  I felt almost nothing- blank.  Therefore, school was pointless- as was almost everything else.

The book that broke my malaise was Searching for Caleb by Anne Tyler.  It could be due to my mental state at the time but I don’t remember that much about the book now except that there was a fortune teller involved.  I’m not sure why but I’ve never reread it.  I googled it and according to a book jacket from 1983, “it is about growing up and breaking away, rebellion and acceptance.”

Prior to reading Searching for Caleb my days consisted of long walks, binge reading a wide variety of books, dumb TV, and weekly trips to the shrink. And sleepless nights.  And blankness.  And nothing.   Only when I read could I feel things- relief, escape and understanding.

I finished the book and immediately went downstairs to grab the newspaper. I circled an ad for a cashier job at a pizza place.  The next morning I met one of the owners and was hired on the spot.  Getting a job at a pizza place may not sound like a big deal, even to a sixteen-year-old, but after months of withdraw and frozen hibernation it was my reentry into the world.

The manager was a bleach blonde middle-aged Iranian woman who, years earlier, had fled Iran- leaving her husband and great wealth behind- so that her sons would not have to fight for Khomeini.  The owners were brothers and Iranian as well- both had been successful engineers before they left Iran.  I did not get to know them that well.  But I respected them. Every day I worked there I wreaked of pizza- my hair, my clothes and my skin.  I smiled at customers and I slogged through.  It was good to be back in the world with people who could leave the past behind and start over.

Part of what I love most about literature and great writing is that unlike so much around us- it often lives in the grey. Rarely is it simply black or white.  Few great characters are without flaws. Seeking to understand and be truthful it dwells in the messiness and imperfections of life- and when done well it does so with grace and beauty.

Great writing illuminates the dull.  Scraping away the ordinary moment to expose the extraordinary life underneath….

Many of us that want to write- want to write because we have been changed and challenged by what we have read.

I could write several very different essays on why I want to be a writer.  This is just one of them- I want to try my hand at illuminating the glorious grey.

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