I was 23 when my ex-wife and I first started dating. In many ways, I was just a dumb kid, full of dreams and ambitions, but truly clueless about how the world really functions. I believed in my abilities as a writer and even had a handful of publishing credits under my belt, but in terms of building a career, I had no idea what I was doing. I decided to go to graduate school for an MFA in Creative Writing because I thought that degree would afford me the opportunity to write full-time and teach for a little while until I began making a fortune from my books.
She and I married my fourth semester of the six semester program, and I was utterly miserable in graduate school. All of my passion and love for writing was crushed by the petty workshops and backbiting students and the un-inspirational core faculty. To this day, I will not join a formal writers’ group for those reasons. Shortly after she and I married, we found out she was pregnant, and without any real support system in Memphis, I chose to get my Master’s in Creative Writing (which is considered a lesser degree but still allows one to teach on the collegiate level) to find work and be able to provide for my new family. I also made the decision to move us back to East Tennessee to have our families near us for support.
Shortly after the move, she had a miscarriage and for the most part blamed me because of the long ride in the bumpy truck. The first year of our marriage was almost as bad as the last two. I worked several crappy jobs while looking for teaching work and struggled just to keep a roof over our heads. By this point, at 26, I had given up on writing. The experience of graduate school had been too much, so when I first landed a teaching position, I resigned myself to being a full-time teacher. At least, I rationalized, I could share my love of language with others.
The school where I held my first full-time assignment treated its faculty like second-class citizens and worked us beyond anything reasonable. For over 8 years, I gave those bastards my absolute best, and in return, I got a paltry salary, a mountain of attitude, and zero respect. Not from all, there were some people there who were wonderful colleagues, but the bad far outweighed the good. In 2003, about halfway though my career at that school, I experienced a rebirth of sorts when my first son was conceived and, despite working full-time at the college and part-time on the weekends, poured myself into crafting The Brotherhood of Dwarves. I truly believed writing would be my ticket out of education and the way to provide a better life for my son.
Other than the birth of my second son, 2006 was a rough year for me. My marriage was unraveling in front of my eyes, and my relationship with the college had soured to the point that I would no longer attend meetings to avoid the negative bullshit. I felt besieged at home and work and felt trapped in a life that was draining me of all hope. To make matters worse, Brotherhood had been a resounding flop in terms of sales, and I had no way to release book two, Red Sky at Dawn. The only positives in my life were my two sons. Being their daddy made everything bearable.
When I look back at that time of my life, I feel like my youth was drained from me by a woman who didn’t believe in me and a college that never appreciated me. Today, that’s why I’m so steadfast in my mentality that no one will ever mistreat me again. I’ve paid my dues and, since the divorce in 2008, learned to live without my children on a daily basis. I cannot and will not accept anything other than respect and fairness. Without those two as a foundation, nothing can be healthy or positive, and I’ve already lost too much of my life to draining experiences. Now, I will not settle for anything less than an equal balance of give and take. Slowly but surely, I’m inching towards the man I want to be, and one day, I will get there.