It’s always been easy for me to write. I don’t mean to say I write gracefully or whatever. And that’s evident in just the last couple sentences. Rather, I write quickly and I’m able to get my point across easily. One of my high school English teachers used to call me “Not-Bad-Brad” because my work had potential, but I never quite went the extra mile.
I used to get angry with myself because my words never came out all pretty. I’d sit with a thesaurus and spend time just memorizing synonyms, read through the best of essays and try to get a feel for their cadence (I got that word from a thesaurus in tenth grade). But each time I’d implement styles and words that weren’t “me,” it was like welding butterfly doors on a Honda Civic. It was “try-hard.” It’s been really stinkin’ difficult to work for a smart magazine like FLUX or call myself “a writer” when I don’t even really like my writing.
In fifth grade, I got to join a program: “Red Hot Writing Club.” You could only be a part of it if you got A’s on all your essays or something. Dude, the pride I felt. Told myself I’d become an author one day. I wrote stories about getting lost in the mountains for days and surviving with just my bike and stories about being hired as a secret spy by the British government. Just lies I’d try to pass off as non-fiction (I’m sure I totally convinced my teacher).
In college, I tried to make an honest living (harhar, pun) by telling other people’s stories. I enjoyed journalism because I liked that simple language is encouraged, that I got an excuse to talk to new people, and that it was not about me. I didn’t see anything of value in my own experiences. I wasn’t creating businesses or saving people or having crazy adventures. I was just living.
In my junior year, I got offered to blog with HuffPost. My college newspaper advisor, Jay, is a walking fortune cookie, so I always interrupted his lunch to ask for advice. This time, “What do I have to offer with a blog? I’m a journalist, not a writer.” Jay looked at me and said a journalist is a writer. Real-as-my-fifth-grade-essays' dialogue:
Jay-Hagrid: "You’re a writer, Bradley.
Me: “I’m- I’m a wha-?”
Jay-Hagrid: "A writer."
Me: “No, you’ve made a mistake. I can’t be.. a-a writer. I mean, I’m just.. Bradley. Just Bradley.”
Okay, I stole that dialogue from Harry Potter, but it was pretty similar. He told me that, one, I’m a writer. And, two, I’m not stale (not “just Bradley"). I have unique life experiences worth talking about. I just wasn’t ready at that point to be open about those experiences, though, and turned down the blog offer.
A year later, I took a class called “Autobiographical Writing About Illness.” I met up with the professor, Paul, to ask what the ethics were when it came to writing dialogue you can’t remember word-for-word (I know, the above dialogue is ironic). We ended up chatting for a long while. I’d written just one essay for the class but told him more of my story during that discussion. Paul is the golden type of professor that makes you feel valuable, that you’re not just another face in class. He told me he thought my story was worth something and that I need to keep writing. It's one thing to hear that from a friend, another from your professor.
Our class read an essay by Virginia Woolf, “On Being Ill,” which questions why sickness isn’t treated as seriously in the literary world as love, jealousy, and battle. To me, the answer was easy: Sickness is depressing and talking about it seems only to be a fish for pity. (But I guess you could say the same about jealousy and heartbreak?)
I first got the pity idea from a friend whom I got into an argument with in sophomore year of high school. I honestly can’t remember what even started the argument, but the words that ended it cut deep enough that I can quote it word-for-word without worrying about the ethics I approached Paul about: “You pretend your disease is a lot more difficult than it is because you can’t stand to not be the center of attention.” I didn’t think that was 100% true, but it hurt enough to echo in my mind anytime I felt the desire to open up about my illness.
Jay and Paul’s encouragement clashed with this insecurity. But the semester I took the illness writing class was the same that I lost my hearing and found out transplant was to be considered. My writing became therapy. It didn’t need to be “good,” it just needed to be real. I didn’t realize how much I had to say about my illness. And I don’t mean just dark feelings. The positive stuff, too.
Fellow transplantee Kathleen’s mom said she thinks I drink “happy juice.” I do tend to see things more positively, but I never really thought of “why.” When my thoughts leaked onto the paper (that sounds more poetic than “onto a Google Doc”), it caused me to assess them in a way I usually can’t when they’re just floating around in my brainspace. I was finally analyzing the ingredients of my “happy juice,” allowing me to tweak them for better results.
When living in a disease community filled with so much heartbreak, how could I not share what makes me feel better? God, psychology tricks, perspectives, testimonies, love… writing. I finally found reasons to write about sickness that aren’t for pity-seeking — and I don’t believe all illness writing is, that was just what I was afraid others would think of me. Kristina encouraged me to create a blog and on Sept. 4, 2016, Adamantium Joy was created. Last month, I began my weekly CF column, “Victorious.”
Jay and Paul were right all along: There has been much to say, and there is much more to say later. I’ve come to realize that writing is not just about elegance. I’ve found purpose in my writing and if I can help just one person, it’s all worth it. I have so much gratitude for those who have supported me. I have regular readers from the US, Latvia, Canada, UK, Spain, Germany, Japan, and dozens more. In a time where I often have felt alone and detached from the world, you’ve all reminded me that people out there really care and want to connect. It’s been a crazy year, thanks for riding it out with me.