by Phil Geusz
©2006 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
It was a hot and humid summer day. I was about eleven, and lying on my bed. My converted attic bedroom wasn't air-conditioned. That was okay by me; back then a lot of folks' homes weren't air-conditioned. We didn't have color TV either, and computers were strange room-sized devices that performed arcane functions at the bidding of long-haired, lab-coated mad scientists.
In my hand was a book.
It was an Arthur C. Clarke book, though I don't recall exactly which one. Tales of Ten Worlds, perhaps. All I'm sure of is that it was a book of short stories; even now, I can think of worse ways to while away a summer afternoon than to spend it with a book of Clarke's shorts. Within the past few days I'd also read C.S. Forester's Beat To Quarters, though I didn't yet realize that it was part of a larger series, and at school I'd recently devoured Have Space Suit, Will Travel and Space Cadet by Robert A. Heinlein. Though I didn't know it yet, my literary tastes had already formed for life.
What I did know for certain, as I laid down my book and rested my head back onto the pillow, was that I'd found out what really mattered to me in life. Clarke's grand, sweeping ideas; Heinlein's dead-on-target insights into human nature; Forester's deep near-obsession with personal honor; these were already what I lived for. And I was grateful, so grateful, to these great men for sharing their gift with me, for taking me (as young as I was) aboard a British frigate in the heat of a desperate action, admitting me to a military academy of the future, sharing with me the moment when a Jesuit priest looked out upon terrible reality and lost his faith forever.
Someday, I swore to myself. Someday, I'd pay my heroes back, in the only coin that mattered. Not in a large way, most likely; I knew even then what the odds were against an aspiring writer. But, I swore, someday I'd dream a dream worth writing down and sharing. Someday I'd write a story too, publish it, and pass it along for others to enjoy. That, I told myself, was the one mission I had in life. It felt right, somehow.
Time passed. Childhood passed into stormy adolescence, and I lost faith in almost everything. I quit believing in god, in people, in myself, even for a time in my country. Yet even during the bad times, I never quit believing in books and stories. As miserable as my life became, I could always find a friend on the library shelves. And, though I sometimes laughed at how stupid and naïve I had been at eleven, to dare dream that someday I might write and publish a story, I managed to never forget my promise to myself.
Until, almost thirty years later, I kept it.
Life is at least as much about debts and the repayment of them as it is about anything else. I didn't see any reason to stop writing just because I'd published a story and paid one of them. I still felt that I had more to give. Eventually Andy Hollis and Jeff Mahr, the original publishers of TSAT magazine, offered me this forum to help other writers along as well. While I'll grant that it's largely been a case of the blind leading the blind, I've garnered a tremendous amount of satisfaction from penning this column. And, I've been deeply flattered when other writers have written and said they've actually learned something or been inspired by it.
But now, it's time to go. Time to move on to other fields of endeavor, time to write columns about other things. I'll never forget my many years here with TSAT, from almost its beginning to its end. Thank you, Jeff and Andy and Quentin and Michael. Thank you so much for your support!
Thanks to you, too, readers! You've been wonderful!
Most of all, however, thank you Arthur and Robert and Cecil Scott, for the beauty and power of your words, and for the impact they once made on a dreamy boy of eleven.