Here We Go

November 12, 2013

I got an email today. It told me the National Board was about to release certification scores for last year’s candidates.

I’m not sure if you remember last year like I do. I won’t say it was miserable. I learned a lot. I became a better teacher. But it was stressful. I don’t really want to do that again.

If I’m reading the tea leaves right, I’ll get my scores next Saturday (right before Thanksgiving). And then the process will either be complete and I will celebrate or it will start all over again.

Stay tuned.

Recently, we went on vacation. It was a week of visiting Cate’s family in Pennsylvania (who I hadn’t met) and her dad in Baltimore. It was the first vacation we’d taken since our honeymoon.

Generally speaking, Cate and I are pretty responsible and we hadn’t taken a vacation because we’d been busy saving for one thing or another. In fact, we still are as the hope is that a new house will be forthcoming in the next year or so. Additionally, I tend toward hermitishness. I like my routines and I like hiding in the house.

But let me tell you something, I’d forgotten how much I like a good vacation. Having not had a good vacation since our first child was born, I hadn’t realized how nice it is to divorce yourself from the normal responsibilities. No house to pick up. No grocery shopping. Lax bedtimes. It was delightful change of pace. And, there were a bunch of lovely new experiences. We toured the Martin Guitar Factory. We took Simone to the Crayola “Factory.” And we spent time by the Sea. God, I love the sea. I think Tolkien knew what he was doing when he described the elves sea-longing. We spent an evening on the Chesapeake Bay at a little cafĂ© I found through the miracle of modern technology. There was a lawn and several docks, one of which had an osprey nest at the end of it. There wasn’t quite water all the way to the horizon, but it was close. Every time I’m at the sea, I find it almost impossible to leave.

Anyway, it was an excellent time and it helped me reset from a long school year. I’m back now to my normal routines. Writing (6200 words and counting), playing guitar, working out. Some of these are routines that haven’t been a regular part of my life in ages, and I feel like myself more than I have in a long time. I think a lot of it is because I had the chance to not be responsible for a week. We may have to make a habit of this.

Summer Goals

May 8, 2013

It’s not summer vacation yet, but I can feel it coming. This year has been rewarding, but also tiring, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I was looking forward to exploring some of my personal interests for the first time in a while. To that end, here are m goals for the summer:

1. Write 60,000 words of fiction. That, I know, is a ton. it’s about 1,000 words a day, but I think it’s doable. the summer before I started teaching I wrote roughly that much and this is the first summer where I feel I’ll really have the time to work like that again. I have at least three new projects in mind and another I want to finish up, so if I run into problems on one, I should be able to switch gears fairly easily. I also think it will help me to have a daily word goal instead of the monthly page goals I’ve done before.

2. Read at least 20 books. This would be a pretty normal summer for me. Mostly, I just want to make sure I don’t forget about reading in the midst of writing.

3. Learn to play “Beeswing” and maybe “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” It has been several years since I engaged in serious guitar playing, but lately, I’ve started to get back on the horse (buying a beautiful new guitar certainly helped). These two Richard Thompson songs will definitely push me, but it would be really cool to be able to play them.

4. Have a life. National Boards kind of killed my life this year. I want to go out with my wife, go to the zoo with kids, have lunch with friends. You know, normal people things.

I’ll start work in earnest on these in a few weeks. I think I can do all of these. We’ll see, though.

Accidents

March 11, 2013

I certainly have not been a prolific blogger lately. That isn’t intentional, but it is what it is. So, by way of actually posting something, I offer the assorted hodgepodge of things:

1. While I am very excited for the coming summer, I am very proud of the teaching job I’ve done this year. Obviously, I won’t know how my AP kids do on the test until much later, but the number of kids I have who intend to take the test represent a big leap forward for my school, and I think they will all, at least, feel prepared for college, which is what my real goal has always been.

2. Along those lines, I’m kind of amazed at the relationships I’ve formed with some of my students this year. I suppose this is what happens when the right teacher ends up with the right students.

3. It is possible that I will have what is for me a very, very big change to report on sometime in the next few months. I cannot say anything at all publicly right now, but it’s pretty exciting for me.

4. Speaking of exciting (or perhaps terrifying). I think I accidentally started a new novel this weekend. I seem to be putting the cart before the horse here as I have two novels on my hard drive that haven’t been published and a collection of short stories/vaguely novelish think that needs to be finished. But here we go. I let Cate read the first few pages and she wondered aloud why she even bothers trying to write. I’m pretty sure this was a compliment, so I’ll keep at it. I think I know what I’m doing this summer.

5. We have several friends coming by in the next few weeks, and I’m pretty excited. Cate’s best friend will be coming in this weekend and then a very good friend of mine (who I haven’t seen for several years) will be in during my spring break. Fun times.

I’m sure I’ll have some kind of deep/thoughtful post before too long, but I wanted to get something up in the meantime. I’m trying to become regular about this stuff again. We’ll see how that goes.

A Clear-Eyed Morning

January 4, 2013

I find myself suddenly ambitious, and I’m not alone in my household. Maybe it’s the start of a new year. Maybe it’s that I just had two weeks off. I suspect both are at play, but I don’t think that’s all of it.

Since July, I’ve been working feverishly on my National Board Certification and trying to be a decent husband and father when I wasn’t doing that. It’s been a mostly rewarding process, and I’m a better teacher for it, but I’m glad to be nearing the end because it’s come at a deep personal cost.

I only read 51 books last year. I didn’t write very much. I hardly picked up the guitar.

I like teaching. As a profession, it’s gratifying, and I love the classes I’ve been given to teach this year, but it isn’t my first love or my second. There are other things I need to spend time on if I want to continue to feel like myself and this year, I want to spend time on them.

I undertook National Boards because Cate and I want to move to a nicer house in a neighborhood we really love and that wasn’t happening without a raise. Assuming I pass muster, we’ll be able to save enough to move in a year or two, but I’m not someone who likes to put his wallet before his well-being and this year, I intend to par more attention to my creative endeavors.

So it’s simple, this year I intend to write as much as I can, read as much as I can, get more use out of the Richard Thompson songbook Cate got me two birthdays ago, and have a bit more fun than I did in 2012. I want to feel like a whole person again. It’s been a while since that happened. We’ll see how I do.

Crazy Together

December 12, 2012

Because I wrote about the sudden and new growth in my tumor several months ago, here is a short update:

All is well. Newest MRI shows no growth. Doctor and I both think it’s getting smaller. Me: Okay, so I’m not crazy to think it’s getting smaller. Doctor: If you are, we’re crazy together.

That’s a relief.

Welfare

September 25, 2012

I suppose because it’s election season right now, I’ve seen a lot of talk about how everyone taking anything from the government is lazy. I’ve heard this even from supposedly liberal friends. I thought, given that, it might be a good time to share some personal stories…

First Story

My dad was poor. Dirt poor. His father served in the Navy in WWII and Korea. When he came back, he worked hard. Still, there wasn’t always food on the table. The kids went hungry a lot. The parents went hungry even more.

Second Story

When I was little we were poor. Both my parents worked, but sometimes my dad was laid off. They both had a hard time finding work. We always had food, but sometimes we could only heat one or two rooms of the house. My parents both worked very hard and yet, sometimes they missed payments on the mortgage. Times were hard.

Third Story

I went to a good college. A really good college. The year before I graduated, practically everyone who came out either had a good job lined up or they were going to graduate school.

Then September 11th happened. When I graduated, the economy was in the toilet. I knew one person with a job. He had been hired by the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. If you don’t remember what happened to them, just Google “Enron.”

I took the first job I could get. Door to door canvassing. I worked strictly on commission. During an especially slow period, I worked two 40 hour weeks and got paid $140. It sucked, but no one else would hire me. Either I was over-qualified and they were sure I’d leave or I was qualified, but hey, here’s this other person who has four years experience and just lost another job.

Eventually, I quit the canvassing job to try and make ends meet as a substitute teacher. That didn’t go very well, either. I did find a job, eventually. It took me six months, but I got a job doing editing work. It’s the kind of job I would have been qualified for when I graduated from high school, but it was a job. It paid the bills. I was, at this point, what would probably be called under-employed. I never stopped looking for another job, but I never found one.

Eventually, I went back to school (and took on a bunch of debt I didn’t need) so I could be a teacher. This represented a substantial raise over what I had been making and it was work that didn’t make me miserable.

This entire process took six years. Times have only gotten harder.

During the first year after college, I had a lot of help from my family. My parents supported me. They paid my rent. They bought my food. I lived with them for ten months.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had them.

Because I needed some kind of help. I was doing everything you’re supposed to do. Everything even Mitt Romney says I’m supposed to do, but if it hadn’t been for my family, I would have had nowhere to stay. It is entirely possible I could have ended up homeless. With a college degree. From a good school. And a willingness to do just about anything to pay the bills.

Fourth Story

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I had surgery to remove a tumor when I was 18. My parents carried me on their insurance as long as they could and then they bought private insurance for me because they didn’t want me to have a “preexisting condition” dogging me for the rest of my life.

And then the insurance company dropped me.

Fortunately, I’d gotten a job with benefits and switched things over (though the coverage was pretty miserable). Otherwise, I would have been screwed.

What It Means

Look, I get that there are people who find a way to take advantage of the system. I get it and I don’t care. I think people who think of welfare recipients as getting an awesome free ride should look into it and see what they really think. I don’t know anyone who even has a concept of what middle class is who would rather depend on the government. I want those same people who don’t think healthcare should be a right to tell me why I deserved to very nearly have my life ruined by something totally out of my control.

There’s all this talk about how people should pick themselves up because we aren’t socialists and why are those other people so lazy?

My parents weren’t lazy. May grandparents weren’t lazy. Why did they have to go without heat or food?

I wasn’t lazy, but if I hadn’t had a family to help, there’s a chance I would have ended up homeless.

I had a conversation with a friend once and the very American notion that anyone can rise to the top came up. And, in one of my better moments, I said, “Anyone can, but everyone can’t.”

If everyone works as hard as they can, someone will still be at the bottom. In good times, that means working at McDonald’s. In bad times, it means losing everything. These are bad times.

I know that not everyone works as hard as they can. Few do, perhaps. But I also know there are many people at the top who did not work for what they have. I need look no further than the people who ran the company where I had my first real post-college job. They were incompetent. All of them. They were also the sons of the owners. That company went out of business not long ago. How do you think the incompetents at the top are doing now and how do you think the hardworking people at the bottom (and I know they were hardworking. I worked with them) are doing now? Who is better off? Who should be better off?

I look overseas, and every nation I can find doing better than us provides healthcare for its citizens. It often provides food and shelter for those who have nothing or some equivalent material benefit. It doesn’t ask for anything. It simply says, “you are cold and hungry. Eat this food. Sleep here.” I see that they have higher standards of living, longer lifespans, better education, and lower poverty rates and I think maybe there is something important about valuing every person, no matter how little they do. I think that maybe says something about your society and I think it maybe encourages your citizens in a way our “tough-luck” philosophy does not.

If you think that’s wrong, we disagree. I don’t want to live in a society where, “not my problem” is the response to other people’s struggles (go read A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer).

If you think you couldn’t easily be one of these people, you suffer from a lack of imagination.

Disruption

August 15, 2012

As you may have noted, I did not post last week. There’s a reason for that, a pretty good one.

I have posted, more or less yearly about the tumor I’ve been dealing with for fourteen years (Jesus, that’s a long time). It’s not life-threatening. It is a pain in my ass. tI has been stable for, I don’t know, something like eight years. Long enough for me to forget exactly how long it’s been.

And I had adapted pretty well. My right shoulder is bum from complications a million years ago, but that’s it. I have to catch and throw lefty. I can’t use a shovel very well. I have to write left-handed on the board when I teach. Those things took a bit to get used to, but I got there.

For a few years now, I’ve been right on the brink of no longer seeing my oncologist. This isn’t because he stinks. In fact, he’s fantastic, and I’m lucky he’s my doctor. The thinking was simply, this has been stable for a long time. Let’s check it via MRI in a year and then in another year and if it’s still stable, “You call me if you notice something.”

Last year was supposed to be the last one. But there was something the radiologist called an “enhancement.” No growth, per se, it was just brighter and thus, maybe a little denser. We checked again a few months later. And it was fine. Exactly the same as it had been for years. So, we thought the machine must have been working a little funny or the person reading the report wasn’t quite on the money or something. Okay, one more year and then we’re done. That was supposed to be last week. We were supposed to be done.

Then it grew. In two spots.

Just a little (one centimeter), but still, it grew. Fuck. That is what I have to say to that. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I hope you’ll forgive the profanity there.

So now, I’m back on Celebrex, which is the medication that halted things last time. It doesn’t bother me except that it messes with my stomach a bit. There’s thought about another possible treatment when we re-check in four months. For reasons too complicated to really explain, surgery isn’t really a good option.

It’s not going to kill me. It’s chronic. My risk, as my oncologist put it, “is zero. You have no risk.”

It still sucks, though.

In any case, there’s plenty good going on. Some I can tell you about right now and some I can’t. I’ll have posts about some of that stuff in the next few days. I feel like blogging right now, so I’m going to go with it.

Priorities

June 14, 2012

I write fiction. I want, desperately, for people to publish said fiction. The fiction I have primarily written for the last five years is a novel called Lonely Human Atoms.

I am terrible at self-promotion. I do not like sending things out. This means that LHA has spent a lot of time on my hard drive and not much time out in the world. Not long ago, I decided to change that. This meant I was going to do a couple of things.

It means I have been sending it to agents and small publishers. Some have rejected it and some I haven’t heard from. That, I am aware, is how it goes.

It also means that I decided to start saying yes to everything even vaguely writing related. Counting this blog, I now write for four websites. Starting today, I will likely have a regular column at The Hardball Times. I am also an editor there. Twice a week, I post at a book blog called Elephants for Bookends that Cate and I run together. I also post frequently, but irregularly at Redleg Nation, which is, as might seem obvious, a Cincinnati Reds-focused blog.

All of this is by way of explaining why posts here have been of the once-a-week-on-Thursdays variety for a while and why that is probably going to keep being the case. This blog is where I write about things that don’t fit elsewhere. It’s unfocused. That’s intentional.

But this blog, and all the other writing I do on the internet, has one underlying purpose – to help me with my fiction writing. Sometimes, that means keep my chops up when I don’t have the time I need to dedicate to good story writing. Sometimes it means getting my name out there as much as I can.

I like everything I do, but it’s gotten to be a lot, and so I’ve decided to stop saying yes to everything because in order to say yes to something else, I’d have to let something I’m doing now go. So now, I’m still saying yes, but only if the circumstances are right.

I feel like this post feels braggy. I don’t mean it to. Mostly, I just needed to write one of these “what I’ve been up to posts” because I’m at least a little overwhelmed right not and needed to vent about it. I do want to promise something, though.

Soon, I am going to publish a story here. I haven’t done this in a long time because if I publish a story here, I can’t send it to any magazines to publish. I feel like it’s time, though. I’ve been writing a lot of short fiction lately. I got the idea a while ago to write a story cycle where the subject of one story is the narrator of the next with the idea being that eventually, it would loop around so that where you began and ended was arbitrary. I’m almost finished and intend to enter the collection in a contest next month, if I can actually get finished in time. Fortunately, stories can be previously published. So yeah, look for one of those sometime soon-ish.

I don’t know what this post really was. Mostly, it’s a mess, I think. I’m kind of a mess at the moment, too. I’m just trying to be a forward-moving mess.

On Being an Introvert

June 7, 2012

I realize, suddenly, that while I wrote a review of the book Quiet over at Elephants for Bookends, I never got around to writing the more personal post I’d meant to put up here about what being an introvert has meant for me.

The first thing you need to know is that my mother is an extreme extrovert. In America. Where we love extroverts. What this means is that while I really enjoyed spending much of my childhood in my room organizing baseball cards, building with Legos, or reading books, I was constantly told that I “spent too much time by [my]self.” This terrified me.

I was terrified because there were no images in our culture to contradict this notion. People who spent time alone were hermits and cave-dwellers. They didn’t take many baths. Sometimes they turned into serial-killers. All the best people were Out in the World. They were Making Things Happen For Themselves. This was not my style, but I felt like it should be.

In the years after I finished college and before I met Cate, I spent a lot of time alone and often felt bad about it, even when I enjoyed it. I played a lot of guitar, read a lot of books, and watched a lot of movies. It wasn’t so bad really. In one three-month span the summer before Cate and I began dating, I wrote 60,000 words of what became Lonely Human Atoms.

I felt guilty the whole time. I felt guilty because, except for work, I would sometimes go two or three weeks without “going out.” I was in my twenties, after all, and “out” was where I was supposed to be. Oh sure, I still had friends, though most of my closest friends were distant. I talked to people on the phone. I emailed and IM’d. I didn’t shut my door to the world, but neither did I leave it wide open.

And of course, I know now that there is a reason I find small talk awful and a night out fun, but exhausting. I am an introvert, and squarely so. I know also, that this is why I’m good at writing and the guitar. That is, I get obsessive. I practice. I am not afraid to hole up and block out the world while I get better.

And that is what was so wonderful about reading that book. It was a giant letter that told me I am, in many ways, completely ordinary. Often, I have found, it is a relief to be ordinary.