On Saturday, January 17, 1970, late in the evening, I returned home from a dance at the University of Detroit High School in Detroit, sat up in my bedroom and, as the rest of the household slept, at the age of 15 years and 7 months, I wrote a poem.
It was the beginning; no, it was The Beginning. It was a starting point for the journey from child to adolescent to young adult. For the next eleven years, I closely chronicled that journey, truly a journey towards myself.
This first venture into serious creative writing embodied the motto that I later adopted and frequently reiterated within the journals: “WORDS ARE FUN!” The precipitating factor of this sudden outpouring of nonsensical rhyming was that I had met a girl at the dance on that fateful night, and something about this girl moved me to grapple with feelings and thoughts in a way that I had never previously experienced.
After that first poem, I began to scribble bits of verse, embryos of songs, experimental rhymes into a little black book that my father had provided to me, The Business Year Book – 1970. It was actually a daily planner for appointments and note-taking. But leave it to me to not know how to properly use such a book. Instead, I quickly converted it into my first journal, containing all of my newly mushrooming poetic impulses. I dubbed this item The Black Book, exhibiting right from the very beginning a keen sense of creativity (?).
At the same time, I had rediscovered the presence of our Wurlitzer spinet piano in our living room. I had taken lessons for a few years when I was in second and third grade, but opted to drop out when faced with a choice between piano and elementary school sports. Now, ten years later, I began to play “by ear”; initially, any and every thing from the world of pop music; and then, later, original compositions. In my journal, I penned lyrics to some of these songs. Over time, the songs evolved from truly banal to almost orchestral with inscrutable lyrics. The really good stuff lies somewhere in between those two extremes; and that is what I have, for the most part, included in this collection.
One disclaimer is that I very rarely did any kind of revisions on the material that I wrote. Just about everything was captured in a single “take”, no editing, no overdubbing, no multiple tracking. That results in a certain amount of rawness in the writing, but it also results in a certain amount of honesty, innocence and truth. As I review this material after all these years, and after a lifetime of experience, I am tempted to tweak and twist a number of phrases and expressions, but I have managed to avoid that kind of interference, with minimal exceptions. So, what you see is Who and What I was at the time of the writing.
This volume reflects a true evolution from adolescence to adulthood. The writing, its content, its quality, documents that evolution. For those who have little interest in the literary equivalent of drawing in stick figures, you might want to fast forward to 1973 or ’74. But if you really want to embarrass me, then by all means please feel free to slog through the pedestrian material that inhabits the first three or four years of the journals. (But don’t say that you weren’t warned!!)
In editing this collection, I chose to omit large swatches of less relevant or inferior material from journal entries. Probably only about 20% of all of the material contained in the journals made it into this present collection. So if you think that the stuff contained herein is crap, you oughta see what I purposefully omitted!
This tome is not an autobiography of Richard Patrick O’Donnell (did you not read the title?); it is an abridged version of my journals-- a very abridged version. Although it was at times tempting to turn this book into “the story of my life”, I have tried to always bring it back to the true focal point, which is the writing. It was always about the writing: the writing that lifted me up, that brought me down, that pushed me forward, that held me back, that brought me face to face with every conceivable emotional, cognitive, and spiritual experience during these unprecedented, formative years.
Thank you, God, for the priceless discovery I made so long ago, sitting in my modest bedroom, in the middle of a winter’s night, my head swimming in a profoundly new and different way-- the priceless discovery that “Words are fun!”
Richard P. O’Donnell
March 3, 2012