Defining a Name

I was born with a name that lacks meaning.

Not absolute meaning, of course. The name ‘Wright’ means ‘builder,’ and the name ‘Colin,’ depending on whether you’re talking to a Celt or a Norseman, means ‘cub’ or ‘a person living on property with disputable ownership.’

But I wasn’t born in a country where an urgency is placed on names, like it is in some cultures. I didn’t grow up feeling like I had to carry a burden handed down from my father’s father’s father, or risk tarnishing something meaningful. For a person in a country where aristocracy isn’t really a thing (unless you’re a Bush or a Kennedy), my name lacks responsibility. I like that.

It means I have the ability to imbue my name with any meaning I want. It could become a name aligned with infamy, or a name remembered for great contribution. It could be a standard that I proudly fly, or a mask I hide behind. A name is a title without definition, and I have the opportunity to choose what mine will say.

To do so, of course, I’ll need to live. I’ll need to get out into the world and do things, lest some other Colin Wright should get there before me. Set a definition in stone that cannot be altered.

That’s not to say it’s a competition with others who share your namesake; you and your name-sharing brothers or sisters from around the world can add attributes to a collective definition, allowing your good name to become even better for each of your contributions.

But it isn’t something you can wait for someone else to do for you. I can’t rest on my laurels and hope some other Colin Wright grants the name meaning worth having, because even bearing that name, the significance of the words would fall flat on me, not having earned them myself. There would be no substance behind the words, should I wear them without having contributed to their construction.

A name can be a valuable thing, but for most of us, it starts as an empty piggy bank. The payoff can only come if we invest the time and energy required to fill it.

Update: April 13, 2017

I was thinking, for a time, of writing a book called something like Stalking Colin Wright, for which I’d go out and find as many other Colin Wrights as possible and see what they’re all about.

The idea stemmed from an increasing awareness of other people who share my name, due to the age of the internet in which we live, but also because of a clash or notoriety that can’t help but emerge when your key identifying factor is shared by other people who also wish to be known for things.

Which is to say: there’s an MMA fighter, a juggling mathematician, a photographer, and another author, all of whom share my name, and those are just the ones that show up most frequently in the search results alongside my work, photos, and videos. For most of us, there are hundreds or thousands (at least) of other people out there who share our name, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as the population increases further, and we become even more interconnected, and the things we stick to names, like reputation and even economic burdens, become increasingly misplaced.

For what it’s worth, those other Colin Wrights seem pretty rad, and it would be nice to meet them, even without the book as an excuse. If you’re one of them, feel free to reach out and say howdy.



The following is a chapter from the first book of my A Tale of More series, Trialogue.


“Never begin a story with dialogue.”


“It sets unrealistic expectations for the rest of the tale. It says to the reader, ‘Hey reader, so listen. This is going to be a character-driven effort, and the character who’s talking now is going to be paramount to the plot in some way.’” Rainer leaned back in his chair, tilting back onto two legs, the metal so cheap it moaned under his negligible, scrawny-twenty-something-Indian-kid weight. “And that’s not always the case. Not in a good story.”

“Why? Wouldn’t you want to open with something important, and someone important saying it?”

“Not necessarily.” Rainer spread his arms wide, exhibiting the expansive-but-rundown warehouse in which we sat, every square inch of shelf- and floor-space covered with boxes of books. He slapped the nearest example — a graphic novel displayed on the wall behind him — with the back of his hand. The victimized publication was held in place by a transparent piece of acrylic shelving, which almost rattled free upon impact. “These fucking things have made it pretty clear that you need to be able to roll with the punches. To change mid-stroke. To kill people off when necessary, and to adjust expectations of who’s the hero and who’s the villain.

“In short,” Rainer slammed his chair back down onto all four legs. “You’ve got to leave the reader wondering. Leave them unable to decide where the story’s going. Will the person I’m rooting for end up letting me down? Will the villain turn out to be the good guy? Will the piece segue into something more large-scale and concept-driven, or will it hone in on the minuscule — some kind of relationship that was unimportant at first, but turns out to be the most vital thing in the world?” Rainer folded his arms and kicked up his feet onto the display case behind which he spent most of his days. “It’s the nature of a good tale.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, standing up from my own chair, positioned against the wall, just across the narrow entrance from Rainer’s spot next to the cash register. The chair was Rainer’s idea, so the people he cornered with conversation would have someplace to relax while he lectured. “What do you have for me today?”

Rainer jumped from his chair, startled from his rant by my reminder that I’d stopped by to collect my ‘subscription.’

“Oh yes.” He scuttled from behind the counter and tore into box kept separate from all the other boxes. “Yes yes, this one will blow your mind. I just finished it, and I’m still picking up brain pieces from the experience. Brain pieces everywhere.” He handed me a thick-bound graphic novel, the cover a black matte cardboard, with a tiny yellow triangle about the size of a thumbnail in the center as the only graphic element. The triangle was accentuated with gold foil.

“What is it?” I turned it over, looking for a title or some kind of information about the book, but there was nothing else on it, save for a barcode on the back. I flipped the book again and started to page through it.

“Wait wait wait,” Rainer reached out and held it closed, the book  pancaked between his hands. “Not this one. You don’t want to jump ahead. It’s special, man. Really special. It’s called Pyramid and it’s one of those books you just have to…” he seemed to be at a loss for words, sucking at his teeth momentarily before finishing his sentence. “Absorb. You know?” He seemed unsatisfied with his description. “Like really soak up. Take it in.” Rainer’s face almost seemed panicked, the way it looked any time he was having trouble making himself understood. “It’s just good, man. It’s good.” His mouth twisted unattractively and he turned away, retreating back behind the counter.

“What’s it about?”

“Oh stuff and things. Just read it. You’ll like it. Guaranteed!”

I left the warehouse before Rainer could tell me all about his special-friend guarantee, which apparently was attached to all of my purchases, part of the ‘Rainer’s Recommendations’ subscription program I’d somehow gotten talked into.

As far as I knew, I was the only subscriber.

Which was fine. It was how our relationship worked, mine and Rainer’s. He spoke and I listened. He got enthused and I rode the wave of his enthusiasm. He sold me on whatever he was obsessing over at the moment, and I bought what he was selling. Or at the very least stood silently, nodding my approval.

It was actually nice to listen to Rainer, even at his most manic. At the very least, it kept the Narrator at bay. For a while.

As Cain walked from the warehouse, he kicked at the brownish clumps of grass churned up by the immense windstorms that had passed through town days before. The clumps, he thought, were much like the town of Smithton: small, beige, and soft. Once a sturdy mining village, the people of Smithton had become provincially minded and morbidly obese; a combination that had Cain clinging to Rainer as his only friend; a fellow castaway trapped on an island of lethargy.

To Cain, Rainer seemed to be the only other person in the world who understood what it was like to be cooped up in the back corner of nowhere wondering what ‘somewhere’ was like.

The worst thing about the Narrator was how often it was right. It wasn’t enough that there was a voice in my head — two, actually, but only one that still spoke — documenting every decision and misstep with sniper-sight accuracy; the thing also had insight into the motivations behind my actions, along with an inhuman perspective that sometimes felt cold, detached, and strangely focused on my, and everyone else’s weight. Its voice, monologuing inside my brain, wasn’t as distracting now as it had been when I was younger, scaring the hell out of me when it first started yammering on my tenth birthday, decimating my social skills, and worrying the psychiatrists as I entered my teens. But despite my increased ability to block it out, I could still hear it, chattering away at the edges of my conscious mind, most especially when I was alone.

An unfortunate thing, compounded by living in such a small town and not owning a car. I often told myself that great, creative men and women would kill to live in a place like Smithton — mountain-adjacent and rugged, in a Hemingway-esque fashion — but my arguments always felt damp and too heavy to fly as I slogged through the muddy, dirty, awkwardly humid streets. It was only a thirty-minute walk from one end of Smithton to the other, but I could feel every second moistening my soul, causing it to mold. I weighed and measured every moment spent plodding through that hell-hole of a town, and the resulting figures made for some melancholy math.

Cain glanced in the mirrored window of the old Cinemark Theater, noting that he had gained a few pounds since he last chose to acknowledge his reflection. Once quite athletic, the years had not been kind to Cain, and he reflected that the stagnant Smithton had perhaps taken more from him than just his youth; it had also taken his health.

Sonuvabitch. It was like having a gossip magazine in my head sometimes, though okay, sure, maybe I’d put on a few pounds over the past few years. Or months. It’s not easy keeping yourself motivated when working for tips at the only diner in town, where the only real benefit of employment, outside of the almost-minimum wage I pulled in, was access to the unsold pastries each night. Maybe, just maybe, I had started to look forward to the moment I tucked them in my backpack on the way out the door, after sweeping and mopping and scrubbing the tables.

Being honest with myself, those half-stale pastries were the highlight of my existence. They were the boost that kept me going. They allowed me to make it through another night, charged with sugar-based enthusiasm so that I could wake up the next day, heave myself out of bed, and walk back to the diner, scraping my shoes of mud and clumps of dead grass on the doorframe on my way in, maintaining what little dignity I retained from my status and geographic location by telling myself that someday, someday I’d get out. Go to college. Do the things a twenty-five-year-old is supposed to have already done, none-the-worse for my tardiness.

A slight drizzle enveloped downtown Smithton, and Cain pulled his windbreaker jacket tighter, knowing his clothing would be soaked in seconds and his umbrella had been left at the diner; two blocks and too much ambition away for him to bother retrieving it. There was nothing left for him to do but trudge home through the lukewarm spray, and hope that tomorrow had more in store for him than the past twenty-five years had provided.

I stopped mid-stride after the Narrator’s words registered.

No ambition? I have ambition. I could have ambition.

I took a sharp left and headed toward the diner, aching to win a tiny victory against the voice in my head. One block left to go, I looked up the street toward the outskirts of downtown, and stopped to stare.

Lights. Everywhere, lights. Forgetting my umbrella, I headed toward the dazzle of civilization — the literal luminosity of the unknown — and allowed myself to focus, for just a moment, on everything except the world around me, and the tiny, muddy, country-fried portion of it I occupied.

Trialogue is available on Amazon or wherever you get your books.


Master Student

My mastery of the English language has improved dramatically since I started traveling.

I’m primarily interacting with non-native speakers, so I spend most of my time speaking very simple English. As a result, I have to think carefully about which words I use and how I use them.

Back at university, I found that teaching others helped me learn faster, and better. Concepts stuck with me because I had to explain them in different ways to different people, pondering perspectives I wouldn’t have considered had I simply learned a concept and moved on.

The same is true with my use of language. The more I converse with non-native speakers of English, the more I find myself explaining why vowels sound a certain way, or how to combine words to express larger ideas.

It’s strange, because I grew up with English, yet frequently find myself coming up short when trying to explain why words bend a certain way, or why certain nonsensical rules apply in some circumstances but not others.

Einstein once said if you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I tend to agree, as the ability to shrug convolution from a lesson seems to be the hallmark of a true master.

I feel fortunate to be surrounded by people I can teach, and who are in turn teaching me so much.

Update: April 13, 2017

This is still the case. I often learn interesting turns-of-phrase from non-native English speakers. They don’t know the “correct” way to use the grammar, so they come up with their own, or adhere to local usage, and in many cases that usage is just far more interesting, or even more correct in some ways, than what I grew up with.