September 1, 2020:

Change began to percolate when Nasty Debbie raved about Dostoevsky.

Debbie was a brilliant girl a year older than me with a sharp-tongued New York sense of banter. People affectionately labeled her "Nasty" because her sarcasm sometimes drew blood, although never in a mean-spirited or deliberately hurtful way. I looked up to her for her intelligence, her enthusiasm, and her patience. She was never mean to me, and she was always willing to explain the things she loved. Top of her list was literature. Listening to her gush, I began to feel I was missing out on something beautiful and important.

It caught my attention especially because since childhood I'd wanted to write. For some time I'd contemplated semi-seriously the career of military historian. Why not? I liked to write, I was riveted by military strategy and tactics. Mostly I didn't know what else to do, other than not work in the same factories as my mother and grandmother. Debbie's influence nudged me in a different direction. Importantly, it was her enthusiasm — her love — for literature which had that impact. Something no teacher in the San Diego City Schools had ever been able to even remotely achieve.

We had long talks about Dostoevsky. She loved the passion, and the brooding over ideas. When I confided I was in conflict with my family over the meaning of Christianity she clapped her hands and read me the Grand Inquisitor dream from The Brothers Karamazov. Brilliant move on her part. Because now I'm paying very very strict attention.

I asked her what to start with, she recommended The Idiot, and that was that. It's all over, I know what I want to do. I'm going to write realist novels like Dostoevsky's, and I'm going to start learning the craft now, as, right this instant.

I began carrying spiral notebooks, the Mead ones with 400 8x10 sheets beneath green covers. I wrote sketches I much later began to call "vignettes". These were snips of conversation, incidents on the bus or at the beach, descriptions of teachers I loathed or girls I loved or lusted after. Sometimes pure descriptions, other times small scenes like plays completed in one-tenth of an act. At the time and for many years I considered these exercises: honing my chops for what would one day become full-scale conventional novels. It was much later I came to value them for their own sake.

For the first time since third grade I began reading seriously outside military history. Dostoevsky, of course. Also Salinger, also of course, because that's who you read if you're a teenager with an interest in literature. And Sylvia Plath, who was and will always remain head and shoulders more talented than Salinger. Where the one true service Salinger performed was to point elsewhere: to the authors of the interesting quotes on Seymour's wall. Kierkegaard, Kafka, and with them my futures with Christianity, interpersonal ethics, literary Postmodernism, and most immediately, depression.