Why Maddox?

Ever since I snapped up “maddoxnelson@gmail.com” five years ago, I have faced the inevitable question many times: Why Maddox?

No, I’m not a fan of the controversial blogger who greets page viewers with his middle finger on his wikipedia page.

It’s not that I think Maddox is just a cool name  (although it is — check out this entry on a baby-naming website:

“Most new names created from surnames sound like they’re ready to lounge around at prep school. This one’s too busy skinning bears and catching bullets with its teeth. The name was nearly unheard of before actress Angelina Jolie chose it for her son, but hundreds of parents quickly jumped on the idea. Macho, yet surprisingly elegant.” ).

I actually found the name in 2006 after reading a copy of Madeleine ‘L Engle’s “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” a lesser-known sequel to her award-winning novel “A Wrinkle in Time.” The book attracted me to its effortless fusion of fantasy and modern science and probably was the first time I seriously became interested in physics.

In the novel, the child prodigy Charles Wallace travels throughout time trying to save the world from an imminent nuclear holocaust that can be averted through by changing the outcomes of a series of “Might-Have-Beens.” His journey draws him toward historical points in the life of the Maddox family, whose good or evil decisions will decide the fate of the world.

At the time, I was at the extreme beginning of a career in journalism. My understandings of the profession were laughably limited, but even then I could understand the dangerous power that journalists grapple with everyday. Do you report the sexual assault or leave it out? Is it necessary to include the atmosphere of a city council meeting or do you just report on what happened? Will this paragraph about an abortion ruin a life?

A journalist’s scribblings can directly affect people and indirectly influence the course of history forever, a common ground the tortured Maddox family of the novel shares. And the book’s title, “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” is applicable as well — the planet never stops spinning and the news never ceases.

I chose the name Maddox Nelson to keep in mind the idea that the choices I make in my writing affect real people and real events. The name reminds me that I’ve got to make the decisions that are right, and not necessarily the easiest or smoothest ones. I chose the name because I don’t want to look back on my life as a series of “Might-Have-Beens,” because unlike the struggling Maddox family, I will have no Charles Wallace. I know journalism, and I know physics too, and reality doesn’t work like that.

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