With the new year upon us, I’ve been taking stock of where I’ve been, where I am now, and where I want to be when 2015 comes to a close. I’m pretty happy with my life right now, which is nice to be able to say. Upon thinking about it, though, I came to the realization that much of my life is the way it is right now because of a story.
Writers and filmmakers are fond of talking about the power of story. Famous screenwriting instructor Robert McKee has called storytelling “…the most powerful way to put ideas into the world….” Certainly we’ve all read a book or seen a film that affected us in some way. I credit Star Wars with giving me an enduring love of science fiction and movies and Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has probably influenced my writing style more than anything else I’ve ever read.
But my life isn’t the way it is now because I read a story. It’s because I wrote one. We don’t think about the effects of a story on the story’s author as much. Sure, there are exceptions, such as J.K. Rowling. Her ascent from financially-struggling single parent to one of the richest people in the UK thanks to Harry Potter has been well documented. The story she created has given her a life that she probably never dreamed possible 25 years ago.
I may not be as rich as Rowling (My income would probably amount to a rounding error by her accountant), but the effect writing a story has had on my life is just as profound.
Let me tell you a story…
(Yes, it’s a story about a story. Deal with it.)
I was born in the mid-70s, and like most, if not all boys from that time, I loved Star Wars. I was in the Star Wars fan club, I wrote a letter to Mark Hamil and got back an autographed picture that I still have, and the best birthday present I ever got was my Millennium Falcon. When Return of the Jedi came out, one of my friends’ parents kept him out of school so he could see the matinee on opening day. He showed up at the end of the school day, and we threatened to kill him if he spoiled any of the movie for us.
During that time, I was vaguely aware that Star Trek existed, but in my mind every episode was just Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to some planet and getting captured. I had no interest in the show. I did see Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, but I think my parents just took me to those under the overall umbrella of “our son likes space stuff.”
That all changed in 1986. My family moved from Tennessee to Maryland, ripping me away from all of my friends. I was a tad displeased by this turn of events and decided to show said displeasure by actively trying to alienate myself from my new schoolmates. Not that I needed much help in this arena being the new kid and a “Southern hick” to boot. In the end, the only one I ended up hurting with the course of action was myself, of course, but that’s what I did. Since I was busy being friendless, I had plenty of time to watch TV, and I discovered Star Trek reruns, which aired at 5PM everyday. I was hooked, and the release of Star Trek IV that November just increased my interest. Then, lucky me, I learned that a new Trek series would be premiering the next Fall in first-run syndication. When Encounter at Farpoint aired in 1987, I was camped out in front of the TV with my dinner on a TV tray while the rest of my family ate dinner in the kitchen like normal people and wondered what the hell was wrong with me.
Five TNG-filled years later, I started college at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. For high school, I went to the small private school where my mom taught, and, while I had some great friends there and spent a lot of weekend nights playing D&D, none of them were really into Trek. Once I got to college, though, that all changed. I made friends with a group of people who were already fans. And others I dragged in by hook or by crook. Somewhere within about the first couple of weeks of our Freshman year, we ended up having a discussion about what positions we’d have on a starship if we had one. My good friend and eventual roommate (We’ll call him Alex, for the sake of anonymity) was the unanimous choice for Captain, I was First Officer, and we went down the line.
Soon thereafter, Alex and I were sitting in Webb Center, the ODU student union, for lunch when Alex suggested that I write a story with us in the starship positions we’d been assigned. I can honestly say that, at that moment, several things in my brain clicked into place. I had the first chapter of what became the first Star Traks book written by dinner that evening, and the whole thing was done in a week or so after that.
That story became the first of many written while I was in college, and, once I had graduated, I kept going, and, because I wanted to do something with them, I taught myself basic HTML and the stories on a web site. Knowing HTML is what got me through the door at the job I have now (The year 2000 was a simpler time), which means I owe my career to writing that first Star Traks story. That career is what pays for the place where I live, the car I drive, the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and the kids I’m raising.
I’m still in touch with many of my college friends who were the basis of the characters in that first story. And afterwards, Traks continued to bring people into my life. Two of my best friends in the world, including our beloved site-mistress, I met and/or became close friends with because they read that first Star Traks story and liked it.
If I hadn’t written that first story…If Alex had made that suggestion and I’d said, “Ehhh…no,” I have no idea what my life would be like. So much of who I am now springs out, whether directly or indirectly, from writing Traks. When I stop to think about it, it’s actually kind of scary that my adult existence has been shaped in many ways by something I started as a whim when I was 18.
So pay attention, kids. You never know when you’re going to do something that affects the rest of your life. And maybe that something is as simple as telling a story.
- Alan Decker
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