Tuesday, August 2, 2011
An online magazine asked me to create a seven-part history of how I became a published writer. I decided to post them here first, one per week. Here is installment #2:
Written by Alan Chin
My years attending the University of San Francisco, working toward a Masters in Writing degree were both amazing and frustrating.
The frustration came in two flavors. The first was that I was struggling with a fulltime management job that often stretched into sixty-hour weeks. Heap on another thirty hours of classroom and homework, and there was no time for any social activities. Yes, I went almost two years without any kind of social life outside of work and classroom. For a man in the prime of life, that was a difficult sacrifice.
The second frustration was that I attended each class with the same group of students—about twenty of us as I recall—and I was the only gay student. All my writing for classwork was focused on my experiences as a gay man, highlighting issues with family and my job from a gay perspective. The other students were not openly hostile, but none were supportive. Other students would present their work, and the class would gush out praise no matter how mediocre the writing. I would present my work to a wall of silence. Often, there would be not a single comment (keep in mind this was back in the early nineties.) The only encouragement I received came from the instructors, who focused on structure and writing and flow, rather than content.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but being snubbed by my fellow students actually helped my writing. I was so intent on rattling their cages, that I struggled to become one of the better writers in the class. I was out to impress them all as a way to rub their bigotry in their faces. I freely admit now that my attitude was infantile, but I believe it did help me to take my writing more seriously.
Fortunately, there were amazing rewards as well. Writing gave me a creative outlet to dig deep into my being and analyze my life’s issues, then present them in a fictitious environment and with made-up characters. I fell in love with that process, which is a form of self-discovery. At that time in my life I held a great deal of rage inside, tying my gut in knots. For me, writing turned into a vehicle to both recognize and work through what I believed to be the injustices in my life.
You see, even today, every character I write about is an extension of me, and each character in my stories deal with problems that I struggle with myself. I believe all art is a form of self-discovery, and having tread down this path for so many years, I’ve come to feel that self-discovery is the most important thing a person can do in life.
A good novel, like life, is a journey for the writer and the reader, not to a destination, but of transformation. As the characters in the novel transform, so do the reader and writer.
So yes my college years were challenging, often overwhelming, but it was also a time of wonder as I delved into that grey matter between my ears and listened to the chaotic sounds my being sang. It was like learning to meditate for the first time, to open myself up to the universe and begin to understand my role in this incredible thing we call life.