Antonio Perez

It was obvious to my parents before it was to me that I would grow up and want to write. They enrolled me in a Montessori kindergarten, so, from way back, I was gifted the inclination to be self-ruling. At school, what interested me most were these lined, pocket-sized notebooks. Dances with Wolves was popular at the time, and there is an over-the-shoulder shot of Lt. Dunbar filling in his diary that captivated me. I made the not-necessarily-inherent-to-a-child leap that writing results in grand stories. I wanted to replicate the look of Dunbar’s journal, so I filled those pocketbooks with long and wavy lines, like stretched tildes, and drew birds, sunrises, and mountains. This was my first act of storytelling: I learned the physical shape of stories rather than what was at their heart.

Any loneliness I suffered as a child was the result of self-exile for the sake of reading. Reading as much as I did meant the language and structure of writers percolated into me, so by the time I was thirteen a teacher had paid my writing its first compliment. Through high school and college I was glad to write, because it attracted praise even though I’d expended minimal effort. What I’ve since learned is that telling a child, “You’re a good writer,” is not a judgement of the child’s skill, but rather of their talent. I graduated college believing it was a trait—fully-developed—and when I wanted, I could reach into myself and pull whatever ripe fruit was ready.

I opted into America’s moral decay and became an attorney instead of a writer. While reviewing habeas corpus petitions, I realized I cared more about the stories in the lawsuits than the laws that governed them. The years of praise allowed me to think my future success as a writer was inevitable, but ten pages into a novel draft made me realize I was no good. I continued, however.

My writing was best, my dedication most fervent, while I practiced law. Writing was a potential escape. I don’t mean “escape” as in a momentary lapse from reality, but rather as a break from confinement. I wrote because I was in opposition to my life as a lawyer. But now, having left the law, writing has stayed on as an act of opposition: stories develop as ways to disagree with popular, so-called truths; a certain character trait seen in reality might revile me enough that I put it into words and create its foil; even a sentence’s structure develops because its earlier version is too inept for its purpose. This compulsion to write will live as long as there is something to resist. Whatever array of selfish or splendid impetuses put a pen in my hand, the desire to speak out and to the heart will keep that pen moving across a page.