I remember well the jury-rigged IBM Selectric typewriter that I used to write in the summer of 1983. I’d purchased the machine from a friend for $100 and it worked fine except for the fact that the carriage would sometimes stick on the automatic return.
The Chicago apartment we rented sat on Menominee Street at the corner where Lincoln Avenue angles back into Wells Street in Old Town, right by Lincoln Park. My roommate was a high school and college friend enrolled in graduate school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He also worked nights as an orderly in the CAT scan room at Rush-St. Luke’s Hospital.
That meant there was considerable time for me to be alone and write. I was working on a book titled Admissions, much of which I’d originally written on legal paper (by hand) while commuting to the city by train. The typing process became the editing process. It was quite the discipline.
Between writing sessions, I’d go out for training runs morning and night. I’d just moved back to Chicago after having been sent out to Philadelphia in a work transfer the year before. The newly formed marketing department at the investment banking firm lasted until April of 1983. Then the company closed it down as fast as they’d formed it and sent the bulk of us packing. We got severance checks and a pat on the back.
So I was feeling a bit disjointed and trying to figure out what comes next in life when the offer came from my buddy to come back and live with him in Chicago. Having never lived in the big city before, I didn’t really know what that meant. But I wasn’t quite ready to move back to the suburbs and the house I’d rented back in Geneva had new occupants. So I moved in with my friend to find out what Chicago had to offer.
Life in the city
Those summer days of 1983 were hot and filled with the sound of traffic rolling down Clark Street, the noise of garbage trucks unloading dumpsters across the street and the hiss and roar of buses stopping and starting their journeys.
And the smells. The textures. Every day the waft of tar from roofers working on apartment buildings filled the air. When the windows were left open a fine grit from the city air would seep through the screens and gather on the surface of the typewriter and the paper left on the roller.
I’d brush it all off in the morning and start writing again. Page after page I worked on my novel. Th editing process was intense as I tried to identify and clarify the voice and pace of the novel. The characters were well established, and I mapped out the plot lines and twists on a sheet of paper to keep it all straight.
In the morning I’d run six miles on the lakefront. In the evening I’d run 6-10 miles up to Montrose Point and back. Building fitness, racing occasionally and keeping an eye on the fall calendar. In between I was writing stories for a small publication called Illinois Runner, working freelance graphic design jobs and serving as a running consultant for a company my former track coach ran called One On One Fitness. Scratching out a living, in other words.
Slowly the severance money drained away. I’d kept it all in traveler’s checks and paid my share of the rent and fed my skinny body when necessary.
And most days I would write.
The novel centered around a fictitious college called the University of Wisconsin-Dells. The concept was that every student enrolled in the school would work in the tourism industry to fund their education. That model has come true in a number of ways, specifically at Disney. But my prediction was made in 1983, well before Disney went through its massive change from moviemaker to media juggernaut.
I made other novel observations that came true in the future as well. For example, I predicted that a conservative movement called The Mandate would take over most of AM radio and turn it into a massive talk show network to influence politics at the national and local level. This was well before the likes of Rush Limbaugh came along, but I saw it coming back in 1983 during the height of the Reagan adminstration. I predicted in my book Admissions that The Mandate would use media to target and harass those who disagreed with conservative policies. In many ways that presaged the concept of InfoWars and Alex Jones. Even then I saw back then how conservatives operate, filling vacuums of social commentary through propagandistic media strategies designed to capitalize on ideological opportunities at the street level. That has come true with Fox News and now, even more powerfully, with Sinclair media buying up media properties across the nation.
So the time has come to complete my novel Admissions.
But it wasn’t all serious stuff. I wrote a chapter called Doing the Icons about a woman who develops a sex fetish for costumed mascots. And a chapter about a motel owner whose deep Wisconsin property becomes a hangout for swingers. That’s pretty much come true as well with the Don Q Inn in Dodgeville.
The chapters were all written as free-standing sections with the plot line woven through them. The main character Sean and his girlfriend Charise wander through these adventures much like the novel Candide, where both and good things happen, but the final lesson was simple, “We must tend our garden.”
I invented a term in the novel for the things that happen to us in this world. I called it “Life Tectonics,” the crashing together of continents of self and others. That idea was taught by an iconic professor named Jith Lakota, an East and American Indian descendant whose studies on the topic were being carried out at the University of Wisconsin-Dells. When I first heard the song “Crash” by Dave Matthews band it also made me jump out of my car seat to yell, “I thought of that first!”
The good professor in the novel also preaches a practical philosophy: “Sometimes you have to be smart enough to admit your faults, and stupid enough to know what’s good for you.”
That aligned with the fictitious idea that the UW-Dells made use of a voice recognition technology for recruiting that could identify deep personality traits and intellect just by making a recording of a person’s speech. That would eliminate the need for an application process, as the analysis would produce an accurate portrait of your worst faults in learning ability, personality and character. These became front-end learning points in one’s education.
I still believe that’s going to happen someday.
The novel today
The novel Admissions sits on floppy disks that I’ve kept all these years. My brother sent me a drive that allows you to transfer information from a floppy disk through a USB port to a contemporary Mac. It requires me to convert MacWrite files into plain Text files, but these can then be opened in Word.
So I’m in the process of doing just that, as my son and I are going to take that novel and finish it off. There are many other predictions I made in 1983 about the future that were to come true. Some of them seemed outlandish at the time, like the concept of an all-Beatles channel on the radio. But now that exists too.
Whether my thoughts on auto technology will come true remain to be seen. The novel proposed that cars would someday be propelled by opposing magnetic coils that would be charged up electrically and wound into an opposing force that could drive an “engine” much like the rubber band on a balsa wood glider. Perhaps I’m wrong about that one, but this is a novel, after all. Some fantastical ideas are allowed.
Back to the Future
So it feels like time travel for me to work through these chapters and turn them into modern forms of text that can be edited. By the time I got it all written I was a young father with a job to hold down and kids to raise, so the novel faded into the older technology of my Powerbook 540c Mac.
But I so well recall the feeling of typing those words on the IBM Selectric in that Chicago apartment as I dreamed up the characters and the plotline. I’d run those four to six miles in the morning and run even more in the evening. Between, I’d write what I hoped would someday become a novel predicting some much about the world.
Life interceded as it always does. But you know, the process of being a writer is a marathon, not a sprint. And that process continues. I have two other books in the works already, and a conference call with a literary agent next week to plan next steps.
Someday I hoped the book titled Admissions truly gets to see the light. Because writing has kept the light alive within me all these years.