Warren Stories: Rockets, Loneliness, and Macedonia: My Journey to Becoming a Writer

Our Warren Stories series turns the spotlight on writers, readers, and artists within our community. Here, we’ll share their work, artistry, and personal stories in our effort to uplift every member of our community and make their voices heard. Have a story you’d like to tell? Contact us today!

Today, we’re going to hand the mic Lucas Dines, a fellow writer that we met through Twitter. Lucas has a both funny & devastating story about coming into his own as a writer. We’re thrilled to share his story with you today.

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Which is worse, freezing to death or having a rocket kill you? I remember this question running through my mind in December of 2008 as I laid down in a shabby Palestinian hostel just outside the Old City of Jerusalem. I listened to Al-Jazeera’s heartbreaking news about the invasion of Gaza blare through my wobbly door, frosty breath drifting to the ceiling, and all I could think about was that point when freezing to death becomes a more pressing concern than dying from incoming missiles.

The violence around me was nothing new. Prior to my time in Israel, I had been living in the Republic of Macedonia, so I had already seen violent celebrations/protests to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and local elections punctuated by gunfire. However, the state of fear, paranoia, and hatred in Israel was something different, and when you combined this potent mixture with the awe-inspiring spirituality of Jerusalem, a threshold of raw emotion, cognitive dissonance, and need for expression was reached, giving birth to my writing career.  It was a compulsion. An action meant to initiate some order, or sense of control, over the clash between new experiences and personal dogma that demanded attention.

Dramatic enough? Pretentious? My thoughts exactly. You just read some run-on sentence, thesaurus-scouring nonsense. I’m sorry. I think I’m nervous. Maybe I’m using a lot of big words to sound more like somebody who goes to poetry readings in NYC, or feels at home in an artist community (no offense Dead Rabbits). Maybe my insecurities as a first-time novelist, self-published and struggling to sell one copy a week, are responsible for my overcompensation. Probably. I have never been to a poetry reading and my beer-brewing, hog-smoking buddies might snicker if I told them I was an artist or was writing a blog post about becoming a writer. Fuck it. Regroup. Start again.  

Everything you just read about Israel and the question about freezing to death is true.  That moment punctuated 2008, the year I truly became a writer. So, to be fair to my own experience, and I demand that you be fair, please indulge me as I confess to the whole year.  

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In 2007 I finished my doctorate in clinical psychology and realized, after five years of studying and treating patients, that I was not meant for the work. I was ill-equipped to deal with suicide. I needed a change and it had to be big. So what does every sane, twenty-seven year-old who has never been outside of the United States do? This: I bought a one-way ticket to the Republic of Macedonia, sold everything I owned, and jumped on a plane with no job.  

Why Macedonia? No job? What the fuck were you thinking? Good questions with entertaining answers, but no time for that; I must focus on my Grand Journey to being a Word Artist.      

I arrived in Macedonia and needed a job, so I followed a lead at an Albanian-language university in Tetovo, a city in the northwest of the country. I showed up, met my contact, and he took me to the head of the university. This dude, as I would find out later, was mobbed-up and running all kinds of gangster shit out of the place. He looked at me, waved his hand a few times, and gave me a contract. Later I was paid in cash out of a special safe in a small room guarded by a chain-smoking mobster henchman. I do not know why that is relevant, other than to let you know that getting paid in cash out of a safe crushes direct deposit.

Back to it. That was the start. So here I was, I did not know a soul, was unable to speak the language, and completely out of my element. It was exciting at first, but once the newness wore off, I remember feeling so lonely. I had been lonely before in my life, but nothing like this. I would go entire weekends without speaking to anyone in a meaningful way. Over the summer that would last for weeks at a time. By the time fall came around, I felt like a balloon stretched to capacity. My thoughts had grown tired of my limited tools of expression that consisted of mumbling to myself or half-honest emails to family.   

Ok reader, let’s summarize, to this point, my journey to becoming a Creative Book Spirit: professional dissatisfaction, insane leap overseas, bizarre cultural experiences, and intense loneliness. Cue my trip to Israel during the 2008 invasion of Gaza.     

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, I was on my own. No tour group. No screens. Just two books and my thoughts. The entire country was gripped by paranoia and fear. It was palpable. It was against this backdrop that I ran my hand over the Western Wall, walked along the Sea of Galilee, and sat in the shadow of Al-Aqsa. Inside of me, it was all coming to a head: my break from America, loneliness, culture shock, and the transcendental nature of my surroundings. I was bursting at the seams. My thoughts felt important. The phrases tumbling through my head were personally profound in a way that I felt the need to record them. So I wrote them down. And then I wrote down my analysis of what I had wrote down. Then I started writing commentary on my analysis. Outlet found. Personal expression initiated. From that point on, writing has become essential for me to process the world and to evaluate my role within it.     

There you have it. My journey in less than 1,000 words. Concluding epiphany: I was a lot of things before 2008, but I was not a writer. So, to a year in the distant past, I say thank you. Thank you, Macedonia. Thank you, Israel. And thank you to that terribly sad moment I spent wondering how cold you had to be before you stopped worrying about rockets and bullets.

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Lucas currently lives and works as an educator on the island of Jeju in South Korea with his beautiful wife and two amazing sons. He and his wife have lived all over the world, including the Republic of Macedonia, South Korea, China, and Kuwait.  

His debut novel, Sons of the Soil, is a historical fiction set in 1902 in Macedonia about a young Albanian man caught in the middle of a Great Power conspiracy, Balkan revolutionaries, and a wave of ethnic cleansing.  

Find out more about Lucas here: