By Robin Postell
Hard to forget the first time you see your name on a byline, right? If you’re a published writer, you know what I mean, And if you’re not, you still know because you are dreaming of it.
Frankly, I have never tired of it.
Thanks to my father, I was able to make my first paycheck from a freelance writing gig before I was 20. He sent me on an assignment covering the “Goat Man,” a legendary figure who was known for traveling throughout the state and beyond with a passel of goats. He’d do handiwork for people in towns he passed through and was quite an historical figure – way before my time.
My father had found out he was a resident at a nursing home somewhere not far out of Atlanta, which was his beat at the time for a real estate magazine named ACCENT for which he served as editor.
My mission was to go find the Goat Man at this nursing home and do a story. Inexperienced as I was, I did find the rest home in my battered cornflower blue Volvo and wandered in aimlessly, asking around where the Goat Man was. I found him. And I loaded him up in my car and headed out in search of his son’s property, he said. This turned into a honest-to-god wild goose chase, circling around for hours. By the time we got back, I had my interview, but the sheriff was there ready to arrest the person who had kidnapped the Goat Man. Born was, “Kidnapping the Goat Man,” and my very first paid assignment.
For that, I’ll forever be grateful to my father. Most people don’t have a family member to hire them as a writer, and I would say I was fortunate, because I was, but also, I was born into doing what I do.
Writing is my jam.
My father knew my talent, since he’d fostered it since birth. I’m not kidding when I say that. He would sit by my bed at night, when he thought I was asleep, and whisper to me that I was the most talented, most beautiful, most prolific writer in the world, seriously attempting to manifest my success. He thought I was asleep most of the time.
When I turned 21, I was a student at the University of Georgia, sort of half-ass exploring being an actual student with a goal in sight. This isn’t a place for lies, though. I’ve made a conscious decision recently to stop with the bullshit and write what is, not what isn’t.
The truth was, I detested going to class because I was a small town Georgia girl who had also detested high school, where my principal called me “Hostile Postell.” Not that education was beneath me, au contraire! I loved learning, just not by the so-called book.
During high school, my photography teacher deferred to me. I taught the class while he sat at his desk with his feet up, or wandered around in the halls and staff lounge killing an hour. In my UGA English 101 class, I got a failing grade because I knew how to write compound sentences and wasn’t following the curriculum. I felt like I already had a Ph.D in journalism at 21, so I told my father I was not returning to class but would pursue my freelance career.
Ah, man, was he ever pissed off. He’d been sober for a month of two, complete with AA chips to prove it, and that announcement led to him ordering two shots of Stoly. But the waitress told him they couldn’t serve doubles – so the astute drunkard ordered to singles. His eyes turned red as the devil when they hit his bloodstream – and it was not a fun moment.
We became estranged, even though I knew he wanted me to succeed. He just wasn’t sure I could pull it off without a degree. After all, he had written my very first paycheck!
But I knew I could.
So, I wrote. I wrote everywhere, all the time, on anything I could find. I toted around a Writer’s Market like a pocketbook, reading it like some Bible-Belters read the Bible.
And eventually, I made a national sell, for Black Belt magazine covering the Ultimate Fighting Championship. At that time it was in its infancy. I was there for UFC 5 and from then on, it was work, work, work, sell, sell, sell.
Byline, after byline, after byline. I stayed busy.
Writers write, always. That’s what my daddy always told me. Ad infinitum. Sometimes ad nauseum.
Seems like a no-brainer, right?
Well. Let’s just say that I always knew that writing the truth was absolutely essential in being not just a good, but a great, writer. However, I fell off in the last decade. I won’t go into why, but let’s just say my privacy was greatly depreciated by someone close to me who, unlike my parents, did not value my personal space regarding my journals.
This shut me down.
The writing I began doing was so rote, so distant from who I am, I can barely read any of it.
But prior to that, I was a bleeder. And what bled not only made others read it, it would give me shivers and sometimes I would even cry. Over my own work!
I’ll add to the whole bleeding thing that if you don’t cry when you read your own work, chances are it isn’t great. Keep trying.
You gotta cry, I mean, you gotta really cry. When you do, you’ll begin to recognize when the muse is afoot. She’s a hard-to-get gal, but man is she worth it.
My father always preached that I have to write what I know, and write till the page bleeds. But then he up and died, I was violated, my freelance career tanked, and I was left writing some onerous dispirited material that I’ll never be able to take back.
You live, you write, you learn.
Write now…whoops…I mean right now…I’m dedicated to one thing and that is to write honestly. When that happens, it’ll bleed. So get ready to get a little dirty.
As an homage to my father, I’m writing this to show how much his efforts to cultivate my career, even as a child, mean to me. He may be out of this realm physically, but by god, his spirit is clearly sitting on both my shoulders at the moment (because he really was both angel and devil, but hey, we all are).
Let’s get ready to rumble, inkslingers!
Robin MF Postell