By Trey Williams
Early on, I thought writing was supposed to be simple. You sit down and write what is true. You let the words pour out of you the way yolk escapes a perfectly poached egg when you cut it. If that image makes you scrunch your nose in disgust, too bad. I really like eggs.
Poaching an egg has always seemed to me the most masterful culinary act, involving a high level of difficulty. The art of it, like writing, is hard.
I’ve spent nearly the entirety of my life writing and thinking about the artistry of it. Both of my parents were writers — journalists — my mother still is. I, too, am a writer, a journalist. I followed in their footsteps.
I’ve always been a good writer — usually the best in class. I don’t remember ever thinking about my writing when I was in school. I don’t remember tormenting myself over the words. They would just flow, and I loved it. There was little question that I would write when I grew up (except for the brief period in fourth grade when I wanted desperately to be a sports agent — I had watched “Jerry Maguire” a few too many times).
Writing always seemed so simple, that is, until I stepped into my father’s shoes by trying to complete the book he left unfinished.
☐ ☐ ☐
When I was growing up we ate dinner as a family every night. It was OK to miss a night if you were at a friend’s house, or if you were going to be late and the rest of the fam couldn’t wait. But dinner, for the most part, was a Williams family affair. My younger brother Jordan and I did our homework, and Dad would call my mother at work to ask what she had a hankering for, then Jordan and I would help cook. I was always sous chef.
“Writing always seemed so simple, that is, until I stepped into my father’s shoes.”
After the table was set and the clanking of forks on teeth began, current events were the topic of discussion, and our journalist parents made sure to include Jordan and me. They would grill us on what was happening in the neighborhood and surrounding metro area, as well as the world at large. We were required to contribute thoughts and analyses too.
Pops also encouraged my brother and me to read the dictionary when we were young.
“When I was your age, I would read the dictionary for fun,” he would say.
“Yeah? How many times did you make it through?,” I would ask.
I was a smart ass. I think my brother enjoyed reading the dictionary more than I did — my vocabulary is shit by comparison. Growing up, my mother used to tell me cursing was for people who had poor vocabularies. She had the propensity to curse like a sailor and simply wanted to challenge me.
When encouraging me to read the dictionary didn’t work, Pops would purposefully use words I didn’t know and refuse to fork over the definition: “If you want to know what it means, look it up,” he’d say.
These were my parents. Words were important, and writing became an immeasurable part of my life.
☐ ☐ ☐
For the majority of my youth, my dad worked as a journalist, professor and high school teacher. But by the time I was in high school, he had become a stay-at-home dad. He had quit his job as an editor at The Kansas City Star after having an argument with his boss, losing to his pride. Work became hard to come by. He’d freelance and do odd journalism jobs, but for the most part, he wasn’t working. He had a lot of free time and decided to write a book.
He said he was writing it for me, his firstborn — it reads as a bedtime story to me, albeit a rather long, sometimes inappropriate bedtime story. It was his life in love, loss and lessons learned. He starts it by saying he was afraid of being a no-good father like the one he had. I never knew how he felt before reading his words.
“Words were important, and writing became an immeasurable part of my life.”
But the book wasn’t easy for him to write. Watching my father struggle to write a book is when I finally realized writing is hard, and writing a book is damned near impossible.
Here was the man I looked up to, the man who could turn monotony into tragedy, struggling to do what had always come so easy — struggling with his truth.
He never finished the book. He died when I was a sophomore in college. It was unexpected. A pulmonary embolism, a blood clot, killed my father. My mother was devastated; so was I. I offered to drop out of school stay home and help out. I don’t know a word strong enough for how glad I am she didn’t let me. I stayed in school and that summer had the opportunity to go to Kenya to write for a newspaper there.
☐ ☐ ☐
It’s weird, but when people die, you go through their shit — sometimes it happens almost immediately and sometimes it takes years. You decide what to give away or throw in the trash and what is a treasure. Before we even found the pages, we knew we had to keep his book — what he’d written of it at least. He only made it through a few chapters, and I don’t think he’d given it a title.
It wasn’t until a year or so ago that my brother found the book after rummaging through computer files some late weekend night.
“Trey, I read it. It’s really good,” he told me. “I think we should finish it.”
I thought about how much work that would be: tracking down some of the people who had been in his life, traveling to them, interviewing them, the daunting task of piecing together a story we don’t already have in our heads. Writing a book is damned near impossible, not to mention there was no way I was even ready to read it.
By then Dad had been dead maybe three years — I can never remember — and I still thought about him every day. Often I thought about our connection through writing, and here I was face-to-face with him — with his demons and my own — in the form of his labored, honest words.
It took me a year or so and some important life events to build up the courage to read the book. It’s good. I want to try to finish it.
But writing is hard. And writing a book is damned near impossible.
Trey Williams is a writer-journalist living in Brooklyn, New York. He writes about media and entertainment companies and sometimes the marijuana industry during the day, and he writes about how little in life he understands for his journal at night.