My first memory of being drawn to literature came in the seventh grade at Montgomery Bell Academy, an all-boys school in Nashville, Tenn. We were studying the poetry of Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe. I remember being mesmerized by Frost’s use of iambic tetrameter in “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and Poe’s use of alliteration in “The Raven.” It was the first time in my life that written words moved me. Then and there, I began to be captivated by writing. I started penning my own poetry—casting consonance aside—and tried to capture my thoughts and feelings about life in poetic form. At my teacher’s urging, I entered a haiku in a regional competition and wound up winning. When they announced my name, I thought it must’ve been a mistake.
As I grew older, my appreciation for literature only increased. I loved being able to unpack a metaphor and began to savor prose and the richness of language. Consequently, I began to see literature as a true art form, and I wanted to be an artist. I wrote for myself mostly. I never considered myself a very good technical writer—my flagrant violation of various rules of grammar resulted in many papers being returned to me drenched in red—but I had a deep passion for narrative. It consumed me. At 14, I began to journal. I would write anecdotally about all of my daily experiences. It wasn’t enough for me to simply write down what the facts of the day were. I needed to make sense of them. I felt compelled to develop a story. I soon discovered that journaling was both a wonderful creative outlet as well as a powerful catharsis.
To me, writing also carries an incredible aura of permanence. A Latin translation of the words of Hippocrates, the Greek physician, sums it up simply: Ars long, vita brevis, or “Art is long, life is short.” The thought of having a voice and making an impact, no matter how small, beyond the time line of my own life, has always seemed a worthy endeavor. A letter written to a daughter or son, a speech written to communicate an idea, and a relatable narrative that speaks to the human condition are all examples of the longevity of a good composition. Not much in this world has more endurance than a well-told story.
Ultimately, I believe the most fantastic aspect of writing is the realization that we are creating our own stories daily. Every day, a new page is written. Every relationship is a chance for further character development. Every experience could be a life-changing moment. As Isaac Bashevis Singer so eloquently put it, “When a day passes, it is no longer there. What remains of it? Nothing more than a story. If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, man would live like the beasts, only for the day…. Today we live but by tomorrow, today will be a story. The whole world, all human life, is one long story.”
Apart from throwing knuckleballs for the New York Mets, R. A. Dickey is a husband, father, believer, Star Wars geek, and occasional mountain climber. When not on the road with the team, he lives in Tennessee with his wife, Anne, and four children. This month Blue Rider (Penguin) will publish Wherever I Wind Up.