Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Now Know Exactly How Ralphie Parker Felt

A while back, I was delighted to find that an author whose books I adore is originally from my home state of West Virginia.  He now lives in and writes about a different part of the country, but anyone from West Virginia will tell you that once you're a Mountaineer (in the state sense, not the WVU sense), you always will be.  I should draw attention to the order of the events I just described.  First I loved his writing and then I found out he was from West Virginia.  I didn't take up his books because he was from here.  That he was is just a bonus.

So, being kinsmen of sorts (after all, isn't the joke that there are only fifteen last names in West Virginia, so we're probably related anyway), I, being a fledgling author hoping to do what he has already done, thought he might be willing to help out a newbie, especially a small-town guy from his birthplace.  So I contacted him on social media.  I don't remember what site I used, but it was not Facebook or anything like that, but instead something for writers and lovers of literature.  I told him I loved his work and that I was excited to find out that he was also from West Virginia.  Finally, I asked if he had any advice for a fellow small state author who was trying to find someone to publish his newly completed manuscript.

I'm not sure what I hoped would happen.  I guess, best case scenario, he would respond by asking to see my manuscript and then sending it off to his agent or publisher.  But I wasn't so deluded that I really thought that could happen.  I hoped he might at least give me a contact or a method I could use to be discovered. I mean, fellow West Virginians, pay it forward, and all that, right?

After a long enough time that I finally decided he wasn't going to, he responded.  I got an email notifying me that this person had replied to one of my posts.  I was so excited!  A best selling author whose stories had been adapted into a wildly popular television series was responding to me.  Me!

"Follow your dreams."  

That was the entirety of the response.  I read it several times, hoping to glean some hidden meaning, but it's hard to pack much into just three short words.  I felt a little like Ralphie Parker when he finally got his Little Orphan Annie Decoder Pin and gleefully decoded his first message from Annie herself, only to find it was merely a commercial for the show's sponsor.  My response was very much like Ralphie's. People familiar with A Christmas Story will understand why I don't quote it here, but I actually did think it.

It was basically an auto-response.  Something I now imagine he had sent to dozens, if not hundreds, of others asking for similar favors. I guess he can be forgiven for it.  How many times can you personally respond to people who want your help? But then I thought of the fact that the celebrities that people truly love and respect are the ones who take the time to actually stop and talk to people when they're signing autographs, not just dash their name on a sheet of paper as they hurry on with their own lives.  When asked about it, they talk about the fact that those folks outside the velvet ropes are the reason they're famous and it doesn't require that much effort to take a few extra minutes to actually interact and make those folks feel special.

I have to admit I'm not as enamored as I once was with this author or his works anymore. He has published two new books since this incident and I haven't bought either one. And this has definitely taught me a lesson. When I'm in his position someday, I plan to remember how he treated me and never do the same to another new author seeking help.  Sure, I might sell a couple extra books to someone grateful for my attention, but that's just gravy as far as I'm concerned. It's that I've done the right thing that will be reward enough for me. After all, the golden rule is, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," not, "Do unto others as much as you have time for; after all you're really busy and famous and who has time for the little people anyway?"

No, instead of "Follow your dreams," I'll leave them with the immortal words of the great philosopher Jean Shepherd:  

"Be sure to drink your Ovaltine"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Everyone

To anyone who reads this that doesn't celebrate Christmas, happy whatever you do celebrate.  Happy Christmahannakwanzmadon.  I don't take offense if you tell me happy holidays or even happy Festivus (I'm always up for a good grievance airing or even some feats of strength).  I hope you won't take offense that I celebrate Christmas.  Specifically, I celebrate the birth of the Christ child.  I know that historically he was pretty much certainly not born on December 25, or any time in December for that matter.  I still celebrate it then, just like Christians have for hundreds of years.  The Protestant church doesn't believe Christ arose every Sunday either, but we celebrate a mini-Easter every single week.  That's why we have church on Sunday instead of the Jewish Sabbath, which falls on what we now call Saturday.  In case you wanted to know.  Anyway...

Someone I follow on Twitter was, oddly enough, complaining about how people complain about little things too much.  I used to feel the same way.  Don't get me wrong--there are a lot of whiners out there who have first world problems, like their wallet's too small for their fifties and their ruby slippers rub their pinky toes. But the last year has taught me that I need to be careful about judging someone's complaining, for just because it doesn't seem big to me doesn't mean it's not genuinely, life-changing, what-am-I-going-to-do-now, things-will-never-be-the-same-again big to someone else.  Yes, big picture, it might be a minor issue, but it's sometimes hard to see the big picture when you're mired in your little dark corner of it.

And it could be that the grievance we're airing on Facebook might be the only one everyone sees because it's the only one we have the courage to share with the world.  I may be complaining about traffic because I can't tell everyone what's really going on in my life.  It's too hard. I can barely talk about it with my family and a few close friends, so I'm certainly not going to air it on Facebook.  So I hope you'll excuse me when I have a little harder time than usual handling how long it took to get to the mall.

I'm not saying these things to try to get people to feel sorry for me.  I know God loves me and a whole lot of people also love me and things will work out over time.  What I'm saying is let's try to have a little grace for each other.  And what better time to be reminded than the time of year we Christians celebrate Advent, when the God of the universe became like us, in order to share the ultimate Grace.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Free Nativity Clipart

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Does It Count As Writing If It's Not On My Novel?

Life gets a little hectic sometimes.  I'm sure we can all say that.  But something that has really cleared up some writing time for me is, and I know this isn't news to anyone, not watching so much TV.  I know intellectually that this is true, but the lure of coming home from a job where I'm paid to think all day, putting on my pajamas, and vegetating in front of the telly is so attractive sometimes that I just give in.  The irony is that, when I do this, I both get less accomplished and also get less sleep.  I can't go to bed until this show ends.  Oops, got interested in the next one.  Well, if I get to bed by 10pm, that's still okay.  Darn, I really like the show coming on next.  Eh, I can take a nap when I get home from work.  How do I nap best?  In front of the tube.  And the cycle continues.  

What's the answer?  Pretty simple, really.  I don't turn on the stupid thing when I get home.  I fool myself.  I know that by saying it out loud I should be able to catch me at it, but I just keep slipping it past me.  I say to myself that if I get the work done that I have set aside for the evening, then I can go watch for a bit.  It's like the old do-your-homework-before-you-may-watch-TV trick that parents have been using for decades, except I'm doing it to myself and I'm happy to report that I fall for it every time.  And the best part is that I almost never end up going down to the basement at all because I invariably find something better to do when my work is done, like a good book or even just going to bed early.  So, aside from keeping the dishwasher emptied and the cat litter cleaner and the laundry kept up and all the other domestic chores that I never seemed to have time for before, I'm not continually behind on grading, and, best of all, I actually am finding time to write.

That brings up the question referenced in the title.  Because I do have to grade quite a few papers, I only have an hour or so to write on most days--if I'm lucky--and, frankly, I'm not always feeling the novel.  I have nothing compelling to say about Harry and Dee tonight, but I might have a poem in me, and I really wanted to get this blog off my mind before it burned a hole in the back of my head and ruined my best sweater.  So, my fellow writers, is writing writing?  I know of a lot of authors who say that they have a goal of so many words or pages a day or per week.  Does that only mean on their primary project at the time and anything else is gravy?  Or is writing a well-crafted blog post or a heartfelt poem about my salad days just as noble and worthy of being counted as my writing for the day?  

I know there aren't any rules on this except those we impose on ourselves.  I'm just curious how some other folks feel and what you do.  I love to write.  I just don't always love to write the novel I'm currently working on.  Many nights I do, but sometimes, like tonight, I want to do something else.  And I'm okay with that.      

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tribute To a Man Who Died Too Young

Ralph Board was only 58 years old when he died suddenly.  All of his friends, former students, and colleagues share in a stunned, wide-eyed horror at how he could just be here one day and gone the next. His loss reminds us all of the importance of valuing every second, for not one more is guaranteed. And it also cautions so many of us who have been less than diligent about keeping in touch with loved ones just how vital it is that we not be so derelict because we never know when the last thing we say to someone will indeed be the last thing we say to him or her.  

I worked for and with Ralph for his entire tenure at PHS. In fact, I was on the committee that hired him. Frankly, there were some who didn't like him or appreciate his leadership style.  Even more frankly, I was sometimes among the people who questioned his decisions. But that is hardly an indictment of the man. No principal, or leader of any kind, will please all of the people any of the time. Sometimes he made decisions with which I didn't agree. But those were policies, not matters of morals or ethics, something about which he and I definitely agreed.

I learned early on in my time with him that he was on my side. I had been accused of something I didn't do by a student with an axe to grind. He could have thrown me under the bus, but he believed me. I was fortunate in that the student's story was a weak one and involved another student who was as puzzled by the accusation as I was, but the point is that Ralph advocated for me to the board office and the situation, one that could have turned ugly had it gone further, was dealt with quietly and without any damage to my reputation. Sadly, I'm not sure I ever told him how much I appreciated that.

Another thing that no one ever questioned was that Ralph Board was a Big Red through and through. To have been hired as the principal of his alma mater was, he regularly made clear, one of the proudest moments of his life. Every student who went through the doors of our school knew what Ralph's favorite saying was.   That slogan was more than just a group of words to him. To him, PHS was a close-knit community made up of everyone who had ever attended or worked there, and the members of that community should take care of each other. He lived those beliefs daily.

I didn't realize how much Ralph's death had affected me until I tried to talk about it this morning with my first period class and struggled to choke back tears. Though I rarely saw him since he changed jobs, when we did run into each other, his greeting was always genuine and warm; it saddens me to think I'll never shake his hand again, or hear him say those immortal words: