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Nobody would have ever looked at me and said, “now there’s someone who’s going to become a great writer someday.”
I grew up in Japan. What do you expect? I knew how to communicate in both English and Japanese, but I wasn’t at a point where I could read and write competently in both languages.
Well, my parents did expect. Significantly more, in fact.
In elementary school, I had an active social life. So, if I knew I was going to a friend’s after school, I would leave a note on the counter for my parents. Because I wrote everything out phonetically, I often misspelled words. I’m sure the intended meaning wasn’t lost in translation, but you can’t cover up those types of weaknesses where your parents are watching.
I may have been able to reduce the presence of Mr. M in my life (he was also my social studies teacher), but the moment I didn’t have any after-school commitments, my dad gave me a set of tasks to complete (mostly to do with improving my English skills) in exchange for allowance.
I’m sure his heart in the right place. But in that moment, I couldn’t tell apart one tyrant from the other.
I didn’t learn to read in English until I was 13.
Once I set my mind to it, it didn’t take much time or effort at all.
I still didn’t have any interest in English class. Yes, the merciless “putting things on paper” continued, even after I returned to the Canadian school system.
But after my dad passed, I was determined to do several things – learn how to use computers, email, and build websites. To an extent, learning an instrument was on that list too, but we’ll get there.
Putting things on paper was great. But I soon found out putting things in digital ink was also a blast.
Around that time, Hanson had emerged as a popular pop rock band, and some way, somehow, I found a website called We Hate Hanson Girls. What struck me about the website was just how smart the creators (Jason and Ryan) sounded.
They would respond to the hate mail they got from Hanson fans, and their responses were always intelligent, creative, witty, and funny. This might be a weird thing to say but I was impressed with their vocabulary.
So, what did I do? I started my own anti-Hanson website called Teenagers Against Hanson. I’m admitting this knowing I might get hate mail for outing myself.
Now, it’s entirely possible I started Teenagers Against Hanson first, and then found We Hate Hanson Girls, but either way, it doesn’t matter.
From then on, I would focus obsessively on writing and vocabulary too, because I wanted to
This didn’t help me much in grade nine or grade 10 English.
But in grade 11 and 12, I would go onto take three English classes, and for once, I started applying myself to something other than my creative impulses and interests.
My efforts weren’t always met with the highest grades. But as result of my hard work, I got honors in grade 12 social studies, and I finished grade 12 English with 100% on the essay portion of the test.
My short stories sucked. They were clearly derivative of other works (especially manga and JRPGs). They violated all good form and structure, and if that wasn’t bad enough, my English still wasn’t that good.
But in those days, I didn’t care a whole lot. I just wrote for the fun of it. I never thought of becoming a writer, author, lyricist, or otherwise.
Again, nobody would have looked at me as a 13-year-old and said, “he’s going to write best-sellers in the future.”
But writing did add a new dimension to my creativity. It allowed me to create English comics or novels, satirical newsletters, and song lyrics.
So, it didn’t much matter that I sucked. And I didn’t think that one day I would get better. All I knew was this writing thing gave me another way to express myself on paper.
The award-winning Teenagers Against Hanson did incredibly well, peaking at over 20,000 visitors. You can still find the site online if you search really hard. Some clever hackers got hold of my password and I never managed to log back into the site. I guess they wanted to shut me out but had no intention of changing the website (or maybe that just didn’t occur to them).
At the time, getting traffic was all about getting listed in the Yahoo directory, and if you kept adding content to your site and kept harassing Yahoo by submitting your site to their directory, eventually you would get a listing and people would flood to your site. Yahoo would even list your site as “new” for a while, and that mean even more traffic.
Having discovered that formula, I eventually got to work on my next project, We Hate Britney Spears Boys (clearly inspired by We Hate Hanson Girls). And again, I’m admitting this knowing full well I might get hate mail.
Lo and behold, that site exploded. At its peak, it got the neighborhood of 1,600 to 2,000 visitors per day.
I’ve had some success with websites since, but I don’t think I’ve ever duplicated those kinds of stats.
And if I’d had a hot clue how to monetize that site back then, I probably would have. But I didn’t have any agendas or plans for it. Maybe I just wanted to prove to myself I wasn’t a one hit wonder. Eventually, I stopped working on We Hate Britney Spears Boys, because things were turning ugly, and spreading hate isn’t what I was ever about.
Getting traffic also became a vastly different game after that.
I’ve been building websites and writing about music since I was 13.
So, even back then, my interests and passions were beginning to intertwine in unexpected ways.
Looking back, I can see that even if I wasn’t hitting my passion and skill bull’s eye, I was at least hitting the dartboard.
Because it wasn’t long before I started writing lyrics. Writing lyrics would soon turn to learning the guitar, developing my voice, writing songs, recording, and gigging.
My teens weren’t exactly easy. But they were building to something.
Shh… Don’t tell anyone. Only the cool kids are talking about it.