86: But You Were Just a Cop

86: But You Were Just a Cop

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

But You Were Just a Cop

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.

~James A. Michener

I used to dream of being a writer, of possessing the talent and ability to cohesively convert my thoughts to words on paper, and then offering my pieces to the public for their personal reading consumption. Oh yeah, I dreamed of being a writer all right — if only I had the talent and the ability.

But despite my shortcomings, I somehow succeeded. And surprisingly — at least to some — the seeds for my eventual success were sown courtesy of my former career in law enforcement. But long before I could hope to become any kind of writer, and even before my cop career commenced, writing and I would have to be formally introduced.

The C that I’d received for my required freshman writing course in college should have put me on notice that I wasn’t a writer, but somehow, it didn’t. While my instructor might have assumed that my failure to comprehend the essentials of proper sentence structure and effective writing techniques clearly demonstrated that I had no business entertaining any thoughts of writing, I apparently missed that memo. Shortly after concluding the course, I decided to write a book.

I’d noticed a paperback belonging to my younger sister — a lightweight literary precursor to what would be categorized today as Young Adult. After giving it a quick read, I concluded that it amounted to little more than trash. But then, an epiphany: If this was what kids were reading, and if this was what paperback publishers were printing, I could write this stuff. I mean, how hard could it be?

As it turned out, trash writing was harder than I thought, and so I asked a friend for help. Wayne, like me, had absolutely no knowledge of the writing process, but he had one qualification that surpassed my own: He’d received a B in our writing class. Wayne agreed to co-author my masterpiece. And so, with only a storyline to follow, we got down to the business of writing a tale about a couple of crazy kids spending a crazy summer together on the Jersey Shore. It was going to be real trashy and it was going to be a monster!

Our completed manuscript actually caught the attention of a few publishers, but in the end, real life trumped our part-time literary endeavors. Wayne became an accountant and I became a cop. Marriages and kids soon followed, and suddenly our trashy monster was forgotten — banished to an old briefcase — handed a life sentence with little chance of parole.

Several years later, I was seated at the dais of a banquet hall stage about to share my thoughts concerning current family values. I was speaking at this conference as a result of my background as a police detective who specialized in juvenile and family matters. I delivered my prepared remarks, which included several personal stories relevant to the topic. Afterward, during the applause, I noticed some audience members were smiling while others were crying. Their responses caught me off guard.

Later, while still considering the audience reaction, I thought about the power of words and wondered if I could take some of the key elements from my speech and incorporate them into a short essay. The idea of using words to make people laugh and cry while still delivering the intended message intrigued me. That night I wrote a rather mundane piece about my son kissing me goodnight. When finished I wrote a second — this time about my daughter. And when I was done with that, I wondered if either was good enough to be published.

Some magazine editors wondered this as well. I’d sent both essays to various publications, and received several rejection notices in return. I began questioning whether anyone would ever be interested in reading the kind of personal pieces I was now writing.

As it turned out, somebody was.

One afternoon I received an acceptance notice, and a few days later, another. My essay about my son kissing me goodnight would eventually appear in several publications — including a Chicken Soup for the Soul book! The piece about my daughter was also published. And just like that, I was a writer!

I’ve written lots of pieces since then — many of which have also been published. And these days, when people who are familiar with my background want to talk to me about my writing, some still feel the need to mention, “But you were just a cop,” as if my previous profession should negate my ability to string together a few sentences into a publication-worthy piece.

But to be honest, I credit my former career with affording numerous opportunities to speak publicly, thus necessitating the need to craft relevant speeches that were both entertaining and informative — the old “make them laugh and cry while still delivering the intended message” format that I still use today. Had I not been a cop, it’s doubtful that I’d be sharing my thoughts through my writings today.

I still dream of being a writer, except now I dream of being a better one. It’s become a passion and I’m humbled to know that people are sometimes moved by my writing — which, by the way, may someday include a trashy novella for teenagers. You never know! Until then, I’ll just continue offering the reading public my scribbled thoughts — the products of a not especially talented, grade C, writing ex-cop. Imagine that!

~Stephen Rusiniak

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