Thursday, March 03, 2005

Recalling My Orange-Hattedness

Earlier this week, I got an e-mail regarding a writer's reading being given tonight at the BGSU Student Union. I don't normally receive e-mails about the readings; they hold one each Thursday, and if I want to know who's reading, I have to look at the Creative Writing department's website. In this case, however, I got the e-mail from the reader himself. It was Marc Sumerak, a friend and former classmate of mine from our undergraduate days in BGSU's writing program. He's now working as a writer for Marvel Comics (see his website for more details), so he was invited back to campus to read some of his work and talk about the writing process in a field that's a little different than what a lot of creative writing grads typically go into.

I was glad to get Marc's e-mail, and I knew right away that I would be attending the reading. The e-mail went out to a number of other former classmates, so I had hopes of seeing some of them there as well. I arrived a few minutes before the reading was scheduled to start, and I was not disappointed. I took a seat in the front row, joining old compatriots Brian Kenyon and Josh Minton. I got to chat with them for a few minutes before Sumerak came in to greet everyone. He didn't notice I was there until Minton pointed me out, at which point Marc said he didn't recognize me without my hat. I had totally forgotten that he had, back in the day, dubbed me "Orange-Hat Jon" for my habit of wearing a BGSU Falcons hat to workshops.

The reading began shortly thereafter. It was very cool to see that someone from those days is having some professional success in a writing career, and to hear him talk about it. It was interesting to hear how the lessons learned in writing classes, workshops, and readings still apply, even though he has taken a path less traveled. It was a different experience, hearing someone talk about the nuts and bolts and the day-to-day routine of a writing career from someone who has gone through much the same training as I have. The whole thing was fascinating, really. I'm not a huge comic book fan, although I have been known to check them out from time to time, but I was very interested to hear about all the different disciplines that go into a comic book coming together.

As much as I enjoyed the reading, the best part of the evening was in seeing some old friends. I was ready to break out some original fiction and turn the whole thing into an impromptu workshop. Even without that, it was good to see the guys again. I only wish that more of our old colleagues could have attended, and that we had more time to catch up with each other. Minton, unfortunately, had to take off almost immediately after the reading ended (although we keep in contact after a fashion by reading each other's blogs), but I did get to talk a little bit with Sumerak and Kenyon. Hopefully it won't be another five years before we manage to see each other again.

Besides that, what will stay with me the longest after this reading is the inspiration I take from it. As I said, Sumerak is someone with whom I share a similar background in terms of training. Hearing him read and talk about writing is not the same as hearing Tim O'Brien, or Rick Moody, or Sherman Alexie, or even Wendell Mayo. This was one of my contemporaries, someone that I've grown with as a writer. This brings home in a very real way that this can be done. I have just as much chance of being a successful writer as Marc had. He chose a career path different from what I will, but writing is writing. Armed with this knowledge, I now just have to put myself to work toward getting where I want to be. It's very heartening to know unequivocally that it can indeed be done. Someday I'd very much like to be where Sumerak was tonight--back at my alma mater in an official capacity, giving a reading to a group of aspiring and fellow writers, sharing with them the way I approach the craft.

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