You Have a Book in You, Too

Why haven’t you written yours?

Here was my excuse:

  • Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) had four younger siblings. Three died in squalor, one of them at seven weeks’ age. McCourt himself almost died of typhoid at 12. In the midst of the Great Depression, McCourt’s alcoholic father took the family to Ireland in search of steady work, which he was unable to find, and eventually he abandoned his family. In a Limerick slum, they slept in one bed.
  • Stephen King tells of his mother’s taking in laundry to pay for food, his father having deserted her, Stephen, and his brother. In the Maine winters, her hands cracked from working on clotheslines outdoors, and she balmed them with animal fat. Her sisters also left her to care for their bedridden parents.
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s mother and father died before his third birthday. Poe was taken in by the wealthy merchant John Allan. Poe took little interest in his adoptive father’s trade, drafting poems on the backs of ledger sheets. At college, Poe excelled but had to borrow excessively to make up for Allan’s small allowance. By the end of his first term he had to burn his furniture for heat. In Poe’s absence, his fiancée got engaged to another man. Two years later, Poe’s adoptive mother sent word that she was dying of tuberculosis. He arrived after her burial. Eventually, Allan died and left Poe out of his will.

So many great writers’ lives were plagued with conflict, tragedies, and poverty. They faced enormous obstacles in the quest for a normal existence. Writing would be the tool to silently unravel their knots in solitude.

Sophia LorenMeanwhile, I grew up well-fed, safe, healthy, and comfortable in a two-parent, air-conditioned spec house in Suburbia, U.S.A. I never really needed for anything, and was never “at risk” unless you count the absence of bike-helmet laws. In fact, everything about my childhood was utterly normal in the context of late-20th Century America. Banal, even. What could I possibly write that would be interesting to anyone else?

It would take a few decades of life experience for me to realize that the normality of my growing up was, in fact, a book-worthy matter.

In human history, it is not normal for a male to grow up surrounded by constant sexual provocation. But it’s quite normal in our time even for a simple hunting-gathering trip—accompanying Mom to the grocery store—to include eye-level displays of cleavage and thigh, in this case, on the checkstand magazine rack.

Elsewhere, motion pictures and TV exposed this little boy to much more. I didn’t understand why my attention zeroed in on Sophia Loren’s chest every time she graced a scene in Man of La Mancha. Nor did I grasp why she was so often pictured damp. But I memorized those blouses, and all that they left uncontained. I was seven years old.

In due time, teens including me would be actively marketed-to by the music and clothing industries, and junior high posed its own unique hell for boys. Girls—especially those handy with the phrases “real dad” and “mom’s boyfriend”—showed up every day sporting a kind of denim shrink-wrap from waist to ankles.

In their own way, they were clueless, advertising their fertility to an audience unable to grasp its significance nor to take responsibility for it. This open display would also affect the psyches of the less-shapely girls.

And this all, too, was … normal. More accurately, it was the norm. Normal would be something different, something more in accord with human nature.

Just 300 years ago, photographs and color printing were unknown. No swimsuit issue, no Van Heusen ads, no music videos. People weren’t sinless, but a man who wanted to ditch his wife for a younger woman had to speak to his bishop about it, not to a lawyer.

And yet biologically, we are the same people today that we were three centuries ago. The symptoms of our inability to adapt to nonstop sexual provocation—abortion, a 50 percent divorce rate, and a 40 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate—are all around us. We live in a new norm.

My generation came of age free from the squalor and infant mortality of our forefathers’ time. Instead, we would be exposed to a scorching hypersexuality that forced our buds open and facilitated the term “hookup.”

Knowing no different, I felt okay about that, more or less.

I would eventually have to see my own time through the eyes of my children to decide that our new norm was anything but normal.

So there’s my book’s theme: How to overcome the world’s corruption and reintegrate the gift of a fulfilling, thrilling sexuality into our short lives.

What will your book be about?