Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy. –Stephen King (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft)
I recently took my family out to dinner at a local pizza establishment that I hadn’t visited in many years. After we sat down, I drew in a breath and took a moment to familiarize myself with the environment.
On the front wall of the establishment, mounted high above the entrance, was the requisite widescreen television, just as requisitely tuned to what looked like ESPN. On the wall to my left were show posters from some entertainment establishment in New Orleans I’d never heard of. Along the rear wall were the cashier’s stand, the kitchen, and the restrooms.
Then there was the wall to my right.
I scanned it last, beginning with the corner connected to the entrance wall and ending…well, I never really ended that scan because I was stopped in my tracks by that vague sense of familiarity one sees sometimes in the faces of apparent strangers in a crowd. You know, those faces your eyes keep wandering back to despite your best efforts to steer them otherwise because there’s something familiar about them. You think you might know them from somewhere, or they remind you of someone you do know.
It wasn’t a face I saw that hit the pause button on my surroundings scanner. It was a font; letters on a framed newspaper masthead hanging on the wall. I couldn’t see for certain because of the distance, but it looked like a framed copy of an article from a newspaper I worked for way back in the mid-1990s.
I’m shy, so I sent my wife and step-daughter to investigate. "I think that might be my article on the wall over there," I whispered to them.
A couple of minutes later, my step-daughter ran excitedly back to me from the other side of the restaurant, the eyes of every other patron there on her, and loudly proclaimed that "it is your article!"
Fourteen years prior to that evening’s dinner, almost to the day, I had written a feature about this particular pizza establishment for the Business section of the local paper. It was simply a day in the life of a young reporter back then; a single story among dozens that I wrote in my time there. I hadn’t really thought about it since.
It warmed my heart, though, seeing that piece of my history so many years later, hanging on the wall of an establishment I hadn’t visited in ages. I felt like I’d found a small time portal, a wormhole, or some other means of traveling back to a time in my life that was filled with the day-to-day uncertainty of a news beat and the fast-food lifestyle of a man in his 20s.
At home later that night, I could not help but crack open the tomes and tomes of three-ring binders I used to store clips of my work from those days. I was reminded of the character of Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap, one of my all-time favorite television series.
In the show, Sam can leap into the lives of other people in other times, as long as the date and lives he leaps into existed within the frame of his own lifetime. Similarly, I found myself leaping into the lives of different people and places on a daily basis in the years that I wrote for that publication. And I was a little surprised after my dinner at the pizza establishment to find myself somewhat nostalgic for those days.
But I am a different person now, an older man with different ideas, opinions, energy, and a different lifestyle. In Quantum Leap, Dr. Beckett’s primary objective, his singular longing, is to find a way to stop traveling in time, to leap home.
I’ve already done that. These days I have a beautiful wife, a wonderful step-daughter, a cantankerous dog, and a vegetable garden outside a house on a hill.
I wouldn’t trade it.