“Up Above”

I learned, further, that brain was likewise a commodity. It, too, was different from muscle. A brain seller was only at his prime when he was fifty or sixty years old, and his wares were fetching higher prices than ever. But a laborer was worked out or broken down at forty-five or fifty. I had been in the cellar of society, and I did not like the place as a habitation. The pipes and drains were unsanitary, and the air was bad to breathe. If I could not live on the parlor floor of society, I could, at any rate, have a try at the attic. It was true, the diet there was slim, but the air at least was pure. So I resolved to sell no more muscle, and to become a vender of brains. – What Life Means to Me, Jack London


When I first read Jack London’s short story, I was a true jock, a Chipola Junior College baseball player. I was labor, highbred contracted muscle, American muscle, bred for performance on the field. It wasn’t just what I did; it was who I was. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I would never make it “up above” as a baseball player. I knew that much. But I did not know who else I could be.

As I read the story, I could see myself in most every word written on the page, and for a moment I felt hopeless. I knew I was smart. I had gone to Georgia Tech and succeeded, at least by the school’s standards. And in my first semester of Junior College, I maintained a 3.8 GPA while taking twenty-one hours of class, fulfilling my athletic commitments, and tutoring my teammates in English by night to pay for food. Like the speaker, I felt dead ended. I worked so hard for so little. I had no idea what I could offer to society that would help me climb the ladder. I wondered if I would be cheap hired labor forever, paving the way for someone else’s American dream.

I leaned on the speaker for answers, and prayed that life was more than just a crab barrel where I would always be at the bottom. When I came across the quotation above, it changed my life forever. I wanted to be what the speaker became, a vendor of brains. But I did not want to be just any brain. I wanted to be a wordsmith.

I set off on a journey, an odyssey for knowledge, following the speaker’s road map closely. I wrote every day without fail. My works were absolute garbage at first, and I knew it. So, I read. I read every essay I could possibly google from any author I had ever heard of on form, craft, planning, situation, and story. By the end of my time at Chipola College, I had maintained a 3.2 GPA; I had led the baseball team to a deep playoff run, and I had completed a three hundred plus paged novel manuscript. But it wasn’t enough. Many years of playing sports at a high level had taught me that being prepared and understanding the most minute details of one’s craft separates success from failure. I did not know enough about my craft. I needed to know more.

When I transferred to Jacksonville University, I became an English major. I took every English class that was offered, particularly anything with an emphasis in creative writing. I was still writing, practicing my craft, every day (to the detriment of my grades in my first semester), and I was reading more than ever, studying texts to borrow techniques from other authors as I had borrowed from the speaker in London’s piece. I learned, and I improved. By the end of my first year at Jacksonville, I was a featured author, published in The Aquarian, Jacksonville’s literature and fine arts magazine; I had gained the respect of my English professors and classmates; and I had redrafted my entire manuscript, changing points of view in order to expand my world beyond the limits of first person.

In my second year at Jacksonville, my hunger for knowledge and improvement was insatiable. I was no longer hired labor. I was anything but American muscle. I was a brain, a wordsmith. Though I continued to perform at a high level, for the first time, baseball was truly something that I did. It did not define me as a person.

I continued to learn and to improve, and for that I was recognized. I was contracted by my English professors to start the Inklings Writing Club at JU, for which I served as president for two years. I was hired as assistant editor for The Aquarian staff, where I was also a featured artist in that year’s issue, and I worked as Head Tutor of the Jacksonville University Writing Center. I also discovered that I enjoyed writing non-fiction as well, and my first nonfiction essay was published in JRAD, Jacksonville’s Scholarly Journal. In 2015, I graduated, and also won English Student of the Year. And once again, I redrafted my manuscript, this time placing emphasis on defining situation and story within the piece.

I entered the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program with the same goal as my first semester of Junior College— to continue to define myself, to learn, and to improve. In two years of study, both my understanding of writing and the content I produce have flourished under the mentorship of writers such as Nancy Holder, Susan Conley, Theodora Goss, and David Anthony Durham. My lyric essay “In Black and White” was published in the Tahoma Literary Review. I have worked as a reader and editor for the Stonecoast Review, and I also had the opportunity to serve as a contest judge for the Maine Film Initiative’s Screenplay/Writing Contest, but these accomplishments still are not enough.

I have found a love for writing not only nonfiction essays but fiction and screenplays as well, and there is still so much I need to learn in order to reach the level of quality I want to achieve in my writing life. I want to learn everything there is to know about how to freely play with irregular forms, transgressive writing, subversive narrative, and the avant-garde in both fiction and nonfiction, which will allow me to produce the content I want to produce and teach creative writing more effectively to future generations of writers.

Literature, language, and words are living and ever-changing. I can never stop learning and improving. I’ve discovered a passion, something that I cannot go a single day without. I love writing, and I love crafting narrative. Most importantly, I love sharing my passion with others. And one day, just as Jack London guided me, I want to guide others “up above.”

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About Cameron Gibson

Cameron Gibson is a twenty-four-year old author based in New York City, New York. He is currently an MFA candidate in Nonfiction and Popular Fiction at the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast Program, and his nonfiction has been featured in The Tahoma Literary Review. He can be contacted by email at cameron.gibson@maine.edu