Saturday, May 31, 2014

Change is Inevitable

From a logical standpoint, things are just things. Inanimate objects have no real intrinsic value. But God didn't make us completely logical beings. The older I get the more I believe that we are better people when we embrace our emotional sides.

The reason I'm talking about this is, as I sat in my writing nook trying to figure out what I was going to write this week, I began to look around and contemplate the fact that I'll be leaving this house, and most importantly, this room soon, never to return. It made me melancholy. I'll have another place to write and read and contemplate, but it won't be this place. These white shelves will have books and knick knacks that aren't mine. I won't be able to look above me and see the little stain on the ceiling from when we had a downpour before the contractors had our new roof finished. I won't be able to look out the window and see my slightly crazy neighbor mowing his yard for the third time in a week--at 8am on a Sunday. I won't sit and think for the thousandth time about what I should do about the TV cable sticking out of my wall that isn't hooked up to anything but will leave a big hole that goes all the way outside if I just cut it. I won't write another book here.

So maybe it's not the place directly that I'll miss but the memories that are attached to it. But that's just my silly logical side coming out. This room has become a friend to me. It's undergone transformations over the years; there used to be a huge computer desk in here and, after that, there was a futon for a while. It took a long time to get it just the way I wanted it. It's kind of like me. I've taken a long time to get to a place where I'm comfortable in my skin, but I think I'm getting there. So we're a lot alike, my old friend and me. And just like it brought several tears to my eyes this week to say goodbye to my beloved students, it's going to make me pretty sad to bid farewell to this place.

But, of course, that's not logical.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Time To Say Goodbye

This blog is, for the most part, about my life as a writer. But if you've been paying attention at all, you know that the thing I do for a living, for the moment at least, is teach. More specifically, I teach high school seniors. And I love my job. More to the point, I love my kids. I have no children of my own, but for about nine months every year, I adopt a bunch of them and love them with all my heart. I learn which ones hate themselves (almost all of them at one time or another), which ones have good home lives and which ones don't, which ones have crazy boy/girlfriends, which ones are going to do amazing things (most of them), and which ones are dealing with heartbreak (again, almost all of them at one time or another).

Which brings me to this time of year. It's so hackneyed, but this truly is a bittersweet time for me. I'm excited to see them go off to do wonderful things with their lives, but it's time to say goodbye to another set of kids I love like my own. It's genuinely hard to do. That last day is just one little heartbreak after another. Even though I'll see them again the next day at graduation rehearsal and Color Day, it will be different. They're now my former students and that unique relationship is gone. They are now in that great sea of kids who used to be mine. 

Every year, a select small group say to me that they'll be back to visit all the time and every year I nod my head and say okay. They say no, they mean it, that they'll be different than all those other kids. I just nod and say okay and hug them. And every year, with a few sparkling exceptions over the decades, they're gone. I may see them a time or two at concerts or when they come home that first year for Christmas break, but the reality is that they've moved on. I'm sure many of them have warm memories of me. Once in a while I get an email from someone who is moving and comes across his/her portfolio and, thinking of me, drops a line to say thanks. But mostly not.

And you know what? That's okay. It used to tear me up. I thought we really would be friends for life. And when we weren't, I spent a lot of time brooding and angry over it. But with age has come some perspective and a couple of lessons. First, that only hurt me, because they weren't around to notice. But second, I was wrong to expect it. Yes, the nature of the class I teach and, well, my personal nature makes the bond I share with my kids kind of an intense one. We spend a lot of time talking about literature, which is, at its core, about life and death and emotional responses to both. So while they're mine, we develop a sort of intimacy that makes it appear that we're friends. And I guess, for that short window of time, we are. 

But it's healthy that they move on in every sense of the word. Ours is a friendship for a specific period of time and then they go off to college or the military or the work world and start developing more permanent relationships. Friends and partners with whom they'll be intimate forever. 

And that's not to say I'm not friends with any of my former students. Other than biological family, some of my closest relationships are with former students. And I treasure each and every one of those friends, who have become family to me.

But mostly not. And that's okay.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Who is Harry Shalan?

It's the question nearly no one is asking--yet. Who exactly is Harry Shalan? I hope that soon, people all over the country or--dare I say it--the whole world will be asking who this man is that they've begun hearing about. And you'll be able to say that you knew who he was before he was somebody.

Harry Shalan was born in in 1981 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He was the youngest son of a factory worker and a stay-at-home mother, Harry was the first in his immediate family to graduate college, graduating in 2002 from Glenville State College with a degree in secondary English education. Always athletic, Harry excelled in baseball and cross country in high school while also participating regularly in theater. Not good enough to compete on a college level, Harry continued to run to stay fit, as well as participating in martial arts classes he had started as a small child. He recently earned a brown belt in Tae Kwon Do.

Harry is driven by three things: his faith, his belief in helping people in need, and his love of literature. Initially, this led him to teaching. He taught for just two years, however, before being falsely accused of sexually harassing a female student. Though he was completely exonerated when the girl admitted she had lied in retaliation for a bad grade, Harry felt betrayed and lost his joy for the job, so he decided to leave the profession in favor of seminary, with the intention of becoming a youth minister. He landed in Louisville, Kentucky, where two important things happened that led him to becoming the man he is today.

First, he found a job as an assistant to a private investigator. After working there for 18 months, first answering phones and doing paperwork and eventually working in the field with his employer, he found he had both a facility and a deep interest in the work. He found he loved it so much that he dropped out of seminary to become a partner in the firm. While there, he gained a reputation as a dogged, talented investigator and tough man who was skilled with a gun and hard to beat in a fight.

Second, and most importantly, he met a young woman named Deanna Baxter. Harry loves to tell the story of how he heard her before he saw her. She was singing a solo at church one Sunday. Looking down at his bulletin, he heard the angelic voice of the soloist and thought to himself that he hoped she was pretty because he was going to marry her. She was and he did. They dated for six months as she attended the University of Louisville while he worked as a private investigator. He proposed in December of 2007 and they were married the following August in Parkersburg. His best man was his oldest friend, Otis Campbell, a Parkersburg City Police officer. After the wedding, Harry and Deanna moved back to his hometown, where Harry opened his own private investigation practice. He worked alone until 2013, when Deanna, who had worked until that time as a nurse at a local hospital, became his partner.

As of this writing, Harry is again working alone, as he and Deanna are expecting their first child, which is due in January 2015.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Seems Like I Should Be Enjoying This

I'm at a weird spot right now. It's a little like I imagine empty nest syndrome might feel. Every writing project I had planned is either complete or at a point where I can't do anything with it for a bit. I'm at a loss about what to do with myself writing-wise. 

My second manuscript is in the hands of readers (with whom I'm ashamed to say I'm growing very impatient--sorry guys; I love you!), so I have nothing to do with it for a while. I have one single plot thread figured out for the next one, but I'm nowhere near ready to start writing anything. I don't think I would want to until I have the second in final form anyway. 

I just finished my second short story this week too. I finished it twice, actually. I completed it Thursday, only to wake up in the middle of the night to realize it was all wrong, so I went back and re-wrote the entire ending yesterday morning and then proofread and edited it yesterday afternoon. I'm going to give it a last once-over today before posting it on my website, but I feel pretty sure it's where I want it to be. And I have no other plot ideas in mind at the moment. 

So what does a writer do when he has no projects under way? For one, I'll probably be blogging a little more regularly. For another, I think this is a good time to concentrate a lot more heavily on finding an agent and/or publisher. I really believe this material is good enough to sell, so it's just a matter of finding someone in power who agrees with me. I've been shopping my first manuscript to agents and publishing houses for over a year now, so I think it's make or break time. If I haven't made real substantive progress toward a publication deal by the end of summer, I fear it will be time to make that decision to self-publish. 

So all you agents who are out there reading this--show yourselves!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Quiet Saturday Contemplation

I've had my coffee and breakfast is over. It's been a quiet, contemplative morning. It will be followed by a busy day and busier evening. I treasure these quiet alone times when my body and mind can relax for a bit. But contemplation is a two-edged sword.

On a positive note, I was reminded today just how thankful I should be that I teach what I teach and, even more significantly, to whom I teach it. I give my AP seniors a hard time once in a while for being irresponsible and forgetful, but I got a dose of harsh reality this week when I gave our state's beloved high-stakes test (please read that ironically--all parts of it) to a group of freshmen. By the end of the afternoon, I felt like I'd just spent three hours in an ape enclosure at the zoo. The next morning, all I wanted to do was hug every single one of my kids. I complained bitterly about having to give this test the week before the AP exam, but, as usual, God has a plan and I came out both admonished and grateful.

On the other hand, this week marks the beginning of a process that will forever change who I am and, I believe, how many people will view me. A handful of family and friends know what this is and, without exception, the people I love have been nothing but supportive and caring through the many months that have led up to the decision that my wife and I have, with great pain, made.

It is at quiet times like these that the impact of our decision is the greatest. I am reminded of how utterly inadequate and self-centered I am and I wonder if I've made the wrong decision. Can I take it back? Can I miraculously somehow  instantly become a better person? Yes, there is a way that could happen, but it seems that, by this point, God would have worked that miracle if He were going to. I've waited and prayed for it for almost a year now and it's time that we move on with our lives. While not discounting the possibility that a miracle may still happen someday, we aren't going to put everything on hold until it does.

One thing that I have definitely learned is that I have amazing loved ones in my life. People who do whatever it takes to support me and make me know I'm valued. For that I am deeply thankful. Another thing I've learned is that I deal best with stressful situations in exactly this way--by writing. I don't know how I coped in the years before I took this up. Poorly, I think. Writing is breathing. Writing is thinking. Writing is growing.Writing is praying. Without it, I am convinced I would wither and die, at least spiritually and intellectually.