I read everything, all the time.
Who is the Half-Breed Writer?
I’m a mixed-race member of the Akwesasne Nation, Turtle Clan; half my mother’s Mohawk (Kanien’kehá:ka) Indian and half my father’s Scotch-Irish.
I was born in Syracuse, NY, and I attended Syracuse University as a Musical Theater Major when it was ranked third in the country (I was in a Minorities in Theater group with Taye Diggs and did lights for Vera Farmiga’s one-woman La Vie En Rose). I didn’t want a program teaching me about art or writing, my first loves, because I thought it would cloud my personal vision. I didn’t want to conform, I wanted to break boundaries.
Looking back, I was scared to fail. I ran from art and writing because if I gave those my all and failed, it might have killed me.
I couldn’t keep up with the talented actors, singers, and dancers who had been working on their skills since they were children, and I flunked out. I was devastated, but I took comfort in the fact that I’d only been doing it for a couple of years, so what did I expect?
The money I’d saved from working at Leo & Sons Big M Supermarket and Bonwit Teller, along with the pizza delivery and ushering jobs I worked during school, ran out after two years, so I flunked out at exactly the time that financial shortcomings would have forced me out anyway.
Because I didn’t know what else to do, I kept working at Bonwit Teller during the week and Leo & Sons on weekends. I continued to write and paint into the wee hours of the night. I also dabbled in sewing and cooking. And drugs. Lots and lots of hallucinogens.
This is my biggest regret. I can say without exaggeration that I had a very fine mind; I didn’t live in the 1% financially, but I did in intellectual capacity. It’s taken me years to rebuild something resembling a mind from the pieces left to me, and I wonder who I would be if I had never taken acid.
When I quit Bonwit Teller to become a dishwasher at Bennigan’s, it was because I wanted the job with the least amount of responsibility (years before Lester Burnham made it cool). Of course, clean or sober, exhausted or rested, I’ve always prided myself on doing a good job, even if that job is washing dishes. In two years, I worked my way through every position and was tapped for the management program. Needless to say, my creative side was shriveling.
I moved to Miami in 1997, the year the Marlins won their first world series. The traffic crawled. People in their cars and trucks inched along, blaring music, dancing out of sunroofs and in the truck beds, banging pots and pans together. For a kid from a staid college town in the northeast, it was one hell of an introduction.
For the first time in my life, my appearance made me blend in rather than stand out. Miami allowed me to find myself in a lot of ways, growing more confident in myself and in my voice. I took classes at FIU and U of M and realized that everything I wanted to explore in life – all the careers and hobbies – could be plumbed with characters I invented.
It was a long, winding road back to the writing life.
Aaron John Curtis is an author, blogger, bookseller, and avid reader.
He wrote a monthly column called “Book Junky” for Moxxi Magazine and also wrote for Miami blog collective The Heat Lightning. Look for his book musings soon on Coral Gables Love.
His essay “Past the Flesh” appeared in The Sun Sentinel’s City Link Magazine, and his love-letter to Florida – “It Grows on You” – was published in World Book Night’s first ebook. He has performed for Lip Service, and for WLRN’s Under the Sun as part of Lip Service, five times. His story “We Are More Than These Shells” was included in the book “Badass: Lip Service True Stories, The Double Album” from Lominy Press.
He performed in MANO’s Borrowed Words art show in the Bird Road Art walk, clacking out original poems for strangers on a Smith Corona. He was billed as “Miami Poet Aaron Curtis,” a flattering misnomer. He’s never heard from anyone who took a poem; he sometimes wonders where those poems are and how they are faring.
Aaron has been a reader for IndieBound’s Indie’s Introduce debut author program, the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, and the Southern Independent Booksellers Association awards. He was on the American Booksellers Association panel for the Revisit & Rediscover backlist initiative, and he’s currently on the ABA’s Booksellers Advisory Council.
While he would not call himself a critic because that involves too much plot synopsis (synopsis and jacket copy keep us trapped inside the things we like and how will we ever discover anything new reading that way?), he loves recommending books.
Since 2004, Aaron has worked as a buyer (among other things) at South Florida’s largest independent bookstore, Books & Books.
Do Not Dwell on the Past, Do Not Dream of the Future, Concentrate the Mind on the Present Moment
Meh, what does Buddha know? If you’re curious about where I came from, check out my old site.