I know a lot of people who think that being a writer is this sexy career. And I guess for some writers it is. But I honestly don’t even know what I would do if I couldn’t make a living as a writer. Probably working in middle management somewhere, and trying to hide my drinking. 

Anyway, not all writers are the same. Some are technical masters. Others are great at reporting. And others, like me, just have wild imaginations that we’ve learned to control a bit. 

But let me tell you – having a vibrant imagination is not all it’s cracked up to be. 

I was hospitalized as a child because I tried to understand how my friends in our neighborhood felt during Vietnam. We lived outside of Jacksonville NAS and Navy families were everywhere. During the war there was so much heartache and pain. So much death. So much grief. Except for us. We weren’t in the Navy and were like this island of serenity where the worst thing we had to think about was our siblings gaining favor with our parents. So, in an attempt to “feel” what my neighbors were feeling, I would imagine scenarios where my family died. It took a lot of practice, but eventually I was able to understand (the best I could.) 

The problem was that I was too young to know how to manage my imagination and it eventually got the best of me – landing me in the hospital where they shaved my head and put these electrodes on my scalp. I still don’t even know what the hell it was all about, but do recall my mother saying that I was “stressed out.” I was like 10. 

Anyway, my imagination carried me through 5 high schools and 4 honorable years serving in the USAF. No way do I get through any of that without my imagination.  

My imagination was also pretty important to surviving the five years between the Air Force and my great epiphany when I drifted around the east and Gulf coasts with no driver’s license or official place of residence. Sadly, also during this time, darkness got in there and started tweaking things. I almost didn’t make it out. 

These days, I make a living as an advertising copywriter. Which, as it turns out, is a really good job for deeply empathetic people. That is, so long as you’re willing to use that empathy to help sell stuff. 

I feel like I’m in complete control of my imagination these days – which, remarkably, hasn’t waned in its vibrancy since I was a kid. It’s just easier to call upon now. And I work with it to get shit done – short stories, poetry, novels, work, whatever.

I have never had writer’s block. This is not a flex. But, and I realize how contradictory this sounds, I can’t imagine not having access to my imagination. I think that must mean death. 

Ok so here’s the thing – there’s still a part of my imagination that takes me into terribly dark places. Mostly this occurs between the productivity stuff. While I’m in the shower, or scooping poop, or walking the dogs – quiet, “non-focus” time. 

And, quite often, I have the same kinds of thoughts as when I was a kid – the “what if” or “how would I have done this thing” scenarios. Sometimes it’s darker than what I can talk about here. Darker than I can even share with another person, frankly. But the thing is – I don’t fear these little walks in the deep dark. Not that I embrace them either, I just accept that I am capable of conjuring things that almost anyone who was taken by darkness can conjure. A peek behind the curtain of madness. On the other side of “normal.” 

During the day on July 4, I was thinking about all the fireworks that would take place that night across America – and how this might be a perfect opportunity for a mass shooter. The idea flew out of my mind almost as quickly as it entered. But then, that night on Twitter I saw people in Philadelphia running in terror from this exact scenario.

I nearly vomited. 

I don’t know which is worse – sensing/seeing terrible things before they happen, or just being blindsided by them. Because there’s nothing that surprises me anymore. And too often irony plays such an important part that these things are almost predictable. If you use your imagination. 

I am so sorry we have to deal with all this bullshit in America. I would happily take it all in myself and lock it away with the rest of the madness so you never have to see it. 


Twenty-Five Years
The Heartbreak of Being an Astros Fan

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.