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I remember my days in elementary school—sitting in class, daydreaming incessantly. In the middle of the teacher’s lesson, a giant robot would suddenly crash through the wall and start attacking my classmates. Everyone would be screaming in panic, but I’d hurl a chair in order to get the robot’s attention. Then the robot and I would have a fierce battle and, somehow, I’d rip its cables out, defeating it.
Most children have great imaginations; the ability to easily transport themselves to a world where nothing is impossible. They laugh, play and live without a care. Their innocence is beautiful. Unfortunately, as we age, the realities of life tend to strip away the world we created. The real world tells us that the word impossible is more than a word—for many of us, impossible is a culture. Impossibility is a culture of negativity that impedes the progress of all that you try to accomplish. If it doesn’t impede you, then it simply redirects, alters and keeps you off course. Before you know it, your imagination dies and with it, your drive as well. We’ve been brainwashed for years to believe that certain things aren’t achievable.
I know this because I am the offspring of the culture of impossibility. Like many of my fellow black men, I was raised in an impoverished single parent home and, while education was stressed, survival was paramount. And while it’s easy to make that an excuse to not do better, for many of us the issue is about not knowing what better is. I graduated high school knowing that college was next—not because I wanted better for myself or my future, but because it was simply the thing to do. What else could I do?
Honestly, I didn’t even know the difference between SUNYs, CUNYs and private colleges. I just filled out about five applications and went with the closest one. I couldn’t leave my mom to fend for herself. Having absolutely no clue what I wanted to study or what I should pursue, I did what was practical and what I thought would make me some money: business. Granted, in high school I had great grades in English and wrote short stories in my spare time, but how could I make a career out of that? My advisor threw me into a bunch of classes so I could accumulate enough credits (and debt) for graduation, then they sent me on my way with a bachelor’s degree.
Years later, I found myself administering CPR and drugs to a patient in cardiac arrest. They didn’t teach me this in college but paramedic school did. Here I was saving lives while my degree collected dust. I didn’t even frame it. While my job allowed me to earn a decent living, I was dying inside because it wasn’t my dream.
One day, while in my ambulance, I thought about the giant robot from elementary school. I missed the passion of my imagination. In that moment, I realized then that the robot was real. I’d been fighting him my whole life. And the worst part is he was winning. He came in the form of lack of guidance by our school system, poor academic advisement in higher education, poverty, broken homes and, most of all, lack of confidence and self-accountability. I asked myself, ‘What do you want to do?’ Live and dream, or live your dreams? I chose to live my dream. I began writing again.
Every day—in between patients during my 16-hour shifts and any time I had the chance—I hammered out some words. Now, an ambulance isn’t exactly a standard office environment, but being outdoors and absorbing the sights and sounds provided the perfect writing atmosphere. I never carried a laptop to work so all I had was my trusty phone. An app called Evernote (which I’ll probably buy stock in if it ever goes public) served as my main writing tool, apart from my mind. After about a year, I found a writing mentor who explained to me that writing is the combination of art and science. I had the art down; my ideas were brilliant. But after a year of writing, I discovered I had absolutely zero science. My grammar needed an overhaul, the pace and structure of my writing needed major work. Another year of double shifts, another year of writing. Was I discouraged? Not even a little bit. I refused to be denied. I joined a writer’s group, sharpened my skills, and honed my craft. The worst part about getting better at something is realizing how far you have left to go. The business side of writing proved to be its most difficult aspect.
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