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Four Years at the Mount

Senior Year

Sending out a message

Kyle Ott
MSM Class of 2015

(8/2014) This month I am tasked with answering a rather difficult question; "Why do I write?" Itís a question that is as intrinsically linked to the creative process as any Iíve ever answered. I pride myself on my skill with the English language and I love having a plethora of words available at any point, so it is with some shame that I say, and youíll have to pardon the joke, I truly have no words for why I write.

What I do have is a simple feeling. It was best summed up by a game designer named Edmund McMillen. McMillen, who talked about his artistic drive for the award winning documentary, Indie Game, summed up his need to make games as a desire to connect with other people, people that he was afraid he wouldnít like or who wouldnít want him. His desire to make something was driven by a need to create a dialogue with the people who experienced the finished product as much as it was about the product itself.

Thatís where I come in. For the longest time, Iíve known that I want to be a writer and a storyteller. Everywhere I look I see the inspiration for a story, article, or fiction piece. I love the world. Really and truly I do. I have never found or heard of a more interesting place, with a more fascinating set of characters than the world in which we live. I would look around, watch people interact with each other, and see the world that they inhabited. I would make notes of the things they did and said in my head and I was continually blown away by just how compelling everything was when I could take a step back and let it sink in. When I was little, I used to get in trouble for sneaking out of my bed at night just to go write at the old desk in our toy room. I was surrounded by all manner of action figures, yet I found myself drawn to a blank page rather than Stretch Armstrong.

Hereís a perfect example: a few years back I was driving to the local Taco Bell with some friends after a long day of school. I didnít intend to find any inspiration that day or do any sort of mental writing, but as we pulled into the parking lot I took notice of a young couple walking out of the restaurant hand in hand. They couldnít have been much older than I was at the time, making them somewhere in their early twenties. The man had a scraggly tuft of hair growing out of his chin that made him look a lot like a goat. He wore the kind of beat up hat you see advertised alongside Levi jeans and punk rock bands. His girlfriend was thin, but not unhealthily so, with hair that looked like it had been dyed so many times that the natural color was long since forgotten. On that particular day it was stained a dark magenta. Every inch of their bodies from their wrists to their shoulders, from the space where their Doc Martins ended and their cargo shorts began was covered in tattoos. Both of them had the kind of gages that stretched their earlobes into mini Hadron Colliders. But above all else, they were happy. Blissfully happy. Their hands were wrapped tightly around one another, and each step that they took bounced with the steady, pleasant gait of two people who had been comfortably in love for quite some time. I stood there for only half a second, trapped in the space between my beat up Nissan and the asphalt, watching their progress and marveling that in a world with so many billions of people, two humans could find themselves in someone else. They could find their mirror image, hold hands with that person, and eat greasy, terrible, food together. In that moment, they were more than a tattooed couple to me; they were a moving marvel.

Then one of my friends muttered, "Weirdos," under his breath, taking the moment and the marvel away as quickly as it came. The problem with taking the world in one breath at a time is that not everyone else does, and more importantly. very few people understand that view. I have a hard time connecting with other people and I honestly think thatís part of the reason behind it. In that instant, I saw untold beauty and purpose in two people who were just looking to share a cheap meal together. Regardless, I found something in them that I truly appreciated. The sad thing is that there really isnít a great way to articulate the things that I see and the little stories I write in my head. More often than not, my mouth just kind of hangs open or the wrong words spill out to the point where I very rarely try and say those things anymore. Itís not that I donít have friends or social nuances; itís that forging deep, lasting connections with other people is difficult when you know that the world they see and the world you see are so drastically different.

How do you tell your poker buddies about the quiet joy of watching a little boy clamber up the slide by himself for the first time, how his face burst into a smile of triumph more akin to Hercules than to a three-year-old? Is there any real way to explain to your blind date about the heartbreaking vignette that happened when you passed by the retirement home? How an old woman verbally accosted a jogger, pulling them into conversation, and realizing from the loneliness that punctuated her words that itís the first real conversation sheís had in a while. You canít really bring up how it felt like you got punched in the gut when she mentioned her dementia-riddled husband just as the jogger trotted away, leaving her confession to the open air. I wish there was a way to tell someone about it, but the truth is, sometimes it feels like you just canít.

But thatís the amazing thing about writing. Of all the mediums of art, itís one of the few that actively requires two participants to be fully successful. When somebody paints or sculpts, thereís always a finished product. Whether itís a lump of clay or a piece of canvas, the work of the artist has fruit. For someone who writes, however, the art is made when someone else picks up what weíve written and takes it in. The beautiful images and scenes donít occur in the physical world, but in the thoughts and feelings of the people who read. It is in that action, the author putting something down and the reader transforming that into emotions and images, that a real connection occurs. Think of all the people in the world who relate so earnestly to the characters in Harry Potter or Huck Finn. People donít just read these tales; they relate to them. A part of what the author wanted to say fused with the conscious thoughts of the reader, and in that instant there is an understanding.

Thatís why I do what I do. So that everyone who picks up a poem, or reads the first two sentences of an article, or just glances at the title of one of my works connects with me in some small way. If they read for an hour, half an hour, or even 5 minutes, they can see what I see, hear what I hear, and hopefully feel what I feel. In that time I can make the tattooed couple as real for them as it was for me, and in that moment we fully understand each other. Iím Kyle Ott. Wonít you sit and read for a while?

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