My favorite piece of paper

Elysha and I attended yesterday's Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. It was her first game in years, and she picked a good one.

With less than 2:30 on the clock and down 33-28, Tom Brady orchestrated an eight play, 75 yard touchdown drive that won the game for the Patriots. With less than 30 seconds left on the clock, he threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Cooks that caused the stadium to erupt in celebration.  

It was exciting. Thrilling. Supremely satisfying. 

Over the course of the last 17 years, Tom Brady has brought me enormous joy. Constant celebration. Countless memories. 

I've also been fortunate enough to begin attending games regularly at the very beginning of his career. Brady has played in 239 regular season games and 34 playoff games over the course of his NFL career, and I have been inside the stadium to witness many of them. 

Brady was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Pick #199. A compensatory pick as a result of losing four players to free agency: Todd Collins, Tom Tupa, Mark Wheeler, and Dave Wohlabaugh.

Four forgotten players whose exit from the franchise changed it forever.  

This is the draft card, submitted by the Patriots organization, that gave them the rights to Tom Brady. It is my favorite piece of paper in the world. 

Tom_Brady_Draft_Card.jpg

Republicans don't read The Bible

Last month, the Republican Congress sought to repeal ObamaCare, slash Medicaid, and strip more than 35 million Americans of their vital healthcare.

They came one vote away from achieving that goal.   

This week they are at it again. A new, even more draconian bill is being considered in the Senate that would once again strip healthcare from millions of Americans, slash Medicaid, and eliminate pre-existing condition protections. 

What they never say is that the repeal of ObamaCare would also trigger a massive tax cut for the wealthiest of Americans. 

The Republican Congress is also attempting to pass tax reform, which they claim will simplify the tax code and give all Americans a tax cut. While this may be true, they fail to mention is that the vast majority of proposed tax cuts are for the wealthiest Americans. This effectively turns their tax cut (and the possible repeal of ObamaCare) into a massive transfer of public assets from the neediest Americans to the wealthiest Americans. 

Call me crazy, but taking healthcare away from children, the disabled, the poor, and other needy Americans while putting money back into the pockets of the ultra-wealthy strikes me as especially evil. In fact, it's exactly the kind of thing that Jesus explicitly advised against.

Read the first four books of the New Testament (or 1 Timothy), and the message is clear:

If you're wealthy, you'd better be using your good fortune to help the needy. 

Remember this often quoted bit of Scripture?

“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

This comes from Matthew 19, where Jesus tells a wealthy man to sell his possessions and give to the poor if he wants to gain access to heaven.

Jesus really couldn't have been clearer on the issue. If you're wealthy, you'd best be helping the poor. 

I don't happen to be religious. I'm a reluctant atheist who wishes he believed, but in my search for faith (and because I was an English major in college) I have read The Bible cover to cover three times, and I'm absolutely certain on Jesus's views on these matter.

It's indisputable.

As a result, I can't help but seriously doubt that most Republican lawmakers have actually read the Bible. Members of the GOP are constantly citing their faith in God and appealing to groups like Evangelical Christians for support, yet their deepest, most consistent desire is to transfer wealth away from poor, working, and middle class Americans to the wealthiest Americans.

I know that Jesus preached nonviolence, but I honestly think he would punch some of these Republicans in the face for wrapping themselves in the cloak of Christianity while knowing nothing about one of it's most important tenets. 

bible.jpg

Never call it a "side hustle."

I have long been an advocate of dedicating a small percentage of your free time to developing your next possible career. Whether this is painting or poetry or poker, you should be pursuing an interest that has the potential (however unlikely) to become a future career. 

This is not to say that there is anything wrong with staying in the same job for your entire life. I've been teaching elementary school for 19 years and don't see myself leaving anytime soon.  But I still believe in creating options, cultivating personal interests, developing the possibility for multiple income streams, and preparing yourself in the event of unforeseen catastrophe is a good idea. 

Once you're homeless, you feel like catastrophe is just around the corner. 

In 1997, my friend and I launched a wedding DJ business with no experience or equipment and uncertain if we would ever find work. Twenty years and almost 500 weddings later, that experiment has paid off well.

Image2.jpg

Over the course of my DJ career, I also became an ordained minister in order to officiate a friend's wedding. Then I offered my ministerial services to DJ clients, uncertain if anyone would ever hire me. Fifteen years and more than three dozen weddings, baby naming ceremonies, and baptisms later, I've created a small but interesting business for myself. 

The same has been true for storytelling, poker, writing, and Speak Up. All began as simple pursuits of personal interests and have turned into profitable ventures. 

My poker earnings paid for our honeymoon.

My first four novels allowed Elysha to remain at home until both of our children entered school. The writing has also led to a position as a humor columnist, the opportunity to write for magazines, and this year my first nonfiction and young adult books.

Storytelling has turned into a professional speaking career. It prompted us to launch Speak Up. It has allowed me to teaching storytelling all over the world to countless people from all walks of life. Salespeople. Politicians. Performers. Writers. CEOs. Archivists. Therapists. Professors and teachers. Priests and ministers and rabbis. 

Matthew Dicks.jpg

Even with these opportunities, I'm always looking for the next thing. Cultivating further interests. Today I'm writing musicals with a partner. Though they have yielded almost nothing by way of profits, the musicals are excellent, and perhaps someday someone will take notice.

I produce and co-host Boy vs. Girl, a podcast with a small but growing audience. 

Slide2.jpg

I'm taking the stage as a stand-up comedian this year.

I'm seriously considering pursuing careers in educational consulting, unlicensed therapy, and screenwriting. 

Here's what I'll never do:

I won't ever refer to any of these pursuits as "side hustles." This is a phrase that has gained popularity in today's fractured economy as Americans seek to fill the wage gap with additional income steams. A look at Google Trends shows that the word has recently surged into the lexicon.

Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 8.37.05 PM.png

But my pursuits outside my teaching career are not side hustles. They represent areas of personal interest that were identified, cultivated, and grown into something meaningful.

"Side hustle" implies something less important and less focused. Something easily ignored or discarded.

It's these so-called side hustles of my life that have made my life interesting. 

I ask people to find something they love and pursue it. It's rare that an area of personal interest can't ultimately result in profit if done exceptionally well. And while you may never reach the level of exceptionality, if it is something you love, you will inevitably enjoy yourself during the pursuit.

You may never sell a painting, but if you love to paint, why not try?

You may never become a golf pro, but if you love the game, why not work as hard as you can to be the best?  

Your recipes may never find their way into a cookbook, but if you love to cook, why not make delicious food for yourself and others and see where it takes you?

Your knitting may never grace the cover of Love of Knitting, but you'll still end up with an array of under-appreciated sweaters, hats, and scarves while trying. 

Choose something you love. Try to do it better than most. Then see if someone wants to pay you to do it.

That is not a side hustle. It's the systematic approach to maximizing your passion for possible future profits.  

side hustle.png

Lyric Problems: Van Halen's "Jump"

"Lyric Problems" is a new, reoccurring segment on this blog in which I point out a serious problem in a set of well known lyrics.

Today I'm talking about Van Halen's "Jump," a 1983 hit by Van Halen.  

Following the first chorus of the song, David Lee Roth sings the following lines:

Aaa-ohh Hey you! Who said that?
Baby how you been?

Did you see that? In the middle of the song, Roth suddenly breaks into at least two separate personalities that briefly converse with each other.  

The first says, "Aaa-ohh Hey you!"

The second asks, "Who said that?"

Then presumably the first answers with "Baby how you been?"

In listening to the song, it sounds as if Roth is surprised by the lyric he has just sung, as if it emerged whole and complete from some mysterious part of his psyche.

It's weird. It's dumb. I always feel stupid singing along to it. 

If you watch the video, you'll see David Lee Roth sing these lines around the 1:25 mark. It's clear that he doesn't exactly know how to handle them either. 

 

 

 

For the first time in his life, my son cried because of a book.

I read The Giving Tree to Charlie, my five year old son, last night for the first time. 

It was incredible. 

He sat quietly beside me on the bed as the boy and the tree played together in the summer sun. 

He remained quiet as the boy returned years later, first taking the tree's apples to sell for money and then her branches to build a home.

Then the boy - now an older man - returned with the desire to sail far away. The tree offered the boy her trunk to build a boat, and when the boy chopped the tree down to a stump, Charlie gasped.

Then he began to cry. 

The boy - now an old man - returns to the tree one final time looking for a place to rest. The tree offers him the only thing she has left - her stump - as a fine place to sit. 

He does, and the tree, at least according to Shel Silverstein, is happy.

I closed the book. Charlie's eyes were filled with tears. He began speaking. 

"I hate that book," he said. "Why did you read me that book? Why would someone write such a sad book? Why did you choose that book, Dad? Don't ever, ever, ever, ever read me that stupid book again."

I told Charlie that it's a very famous and popular book. "Lots of people read it." 

"Why?" he asked. His sadness had shifted into anger. He was mad. "Who likes a book like that? I hate that book. I hate that boy. Why did he do that? Don't ever read that book to me again."

Elysha came into the room, and Charlie summarized the book for her.

"I liked the book when the boy and the tree were playing together, but then he chopped the tree down. Why did he do that, Mom? I hate that book. I never want to read it again."

Then he insisted that I stay for the before-bed cuddle. It was the first time he's ever asked me to stay and cuddle with him before bed.

I don't disagree with Charlie. I despise The Giving Tree. I'll never understand why anyone likes this book. I chose to read it to Charlie for the reasons I explained:

It's a famous and popular book. You should read it at least once in your life.

But once was more than enough for Charlie, and I agree.  

I despise the book so much that I wrote a a satirical twist on The Giving Tree last year. We hope to find a publisher for the book in the coming months.   

I told this to Charlie. 

"I hope the boy and the tree stay friends in your book like in the beginning of this book," he said. "I liked the beginning of the book. I hope your book is good like that, Dad."

Not quite, but good luck explaining satire to a five year-old boy. He'll read my version someday, and though it's not the idyllic story that he is hoping for, I think it's a hell of a lot better than Shel Silverstein's classic. 

the giving tree.jpg

Quite possibly the worst person in the world

In the unfortunate event that you are suffering with a despicable person in your life - colleague, family member, neighbor, boss, clergy person - I offer you my condolences and some potential solace. 

This is a question posed to Dear Prudence (Mallory Ortberg), Slate's advice columnist. After reading this person's question, you may feel a little better about the rotten person in your life.  

It's hard for anyone to compare to the awfulness of this person. 

___________________________________

Q. Daughter’s friend being in wedding: My 27-year-old daughter and her best friend, Katie, have been best friends since they were 4. Katie practically grew up in our house and is like a daughter to me. My daughter recently got engaged to her fiancé and announced that Katie would be the maid of honor (Katie’s boyfriend is also a good friend of my future son-in-law). The problem is that Katie walks with a pretty severe limp due to a birth defect (not an underlying medical issue). She has no problem wearing high heels and has already been fitted for the dress, but I still think it will look unsightly if she’s in the wedding procession limping ahead of my daughter. I mentioned this to my daughter and suggested that maybe Katie could take video or hand out programs (while sitting) so she doesn’t ruin the aesthetic aspect of the wedding. My daughter is no longer speaking to me (we were never that close), but this is her big wedding and I want it to be perfect. All of the other bridesmaids will look gorgeous walking down the aisle with my daughter. Is it wrong to have her friend sit out?

worst person ever award.jpg

Share your failures with the world

One of the more surprising reasons that people take my storytelling workshops is for dating.  

Men (so far it's only been men) realize that what they say on a first date does not yield them a second date. Something is going wrong. So they arrive to my workshop hoping to improve their ability to engage, entertain, and amuse.

This makes sense. When Elysha was asked by someone how she first fell in love with me, she surprisingly didn't say my rugged good looks or muscular physique. She told the person that it was my stories.

As friends and colleagues, Elysha and I went to dinner one night while waiting for a school talent show to begin, and over the course of the meal, she discovered that when you ask me a question, I often respond with a story. By the end of that night, she had learned that I was different from anyone she had ever met, and that I could tell a good story.  

I managed to marry the perfect woman thanks to storytelling, and this was long before I ever took a stage and started performing. 

So when people look to storytelling to help them find love, I understand. It makes sense. 

What I've learned in talking to these people is that most don't realize is that stories of your failures are almost always better than stories of your successes. So many of the men who come to my workshops believe that the best way to impress a woman is by demonstrating strength and self confidence by projecting an image of high achievement and success.

"I'm an amazing person, and I did an amazing thing, and it turned out amazing."

Not a good story, but an excellent way to identify a douchebag. 

So many people are repulsed by the idea of talking about a moment of embarrassment or failure. Rather than telling stories of disappointment or ruination, they talk about their recent business successes. They name-drop their Ivy League credentials. They find a way to mention their recent sculling victory or the trellis in the backyard that they built with their own two hands.  

All lovely things and worthy of mention at some point, but unless you flunked out of your Ivy League school or recently capsized your boat, these are not the ways to connect to another human being. Your Yale law degree or your sculling trophy will not endear yourself to anyone. These are not the things that make a person laugh and wonder.

They also fail to project strength and self confidence. In fact, they do the opposite. Listing your greatest hits is an excellent way to demonstrate uncertainty, fear, and low self esteem. 

Think about the President. He is constantly engaged in self congratulation. Does anyone really believe that Trump is a supremely confident man? Would a person with a shred of inner fortitude insist on lying about the size of his inauguration crowd or his Electoral victory? Would a person who believed in himself stage a moment wherein each of his Cabinet members publicly praised him while the TV cameras were rolling? Would a confident person tweet about his net worth or retweet the praise of random Americans? 

What people don't realize is that sharing your mistakes, your blunders, your failures, and your moments of embarrassment is the best way of demonstrating supreme confidence. Telling a person about the time you spectacularly failed to achieve a goal is far more interesting and relatable than sharing your latest business deal.  

You know who understands this? Elon Musk, founder and majority owner of SpaceX. 

SpaceX, a company whose sole mission is to commercialize space flight, recently published a video of their spectacular string of failures while attempting to land an orbital rocket booster. A company that hopes to send human beings to Mars and needs other companies to trust them with their multi-million dollar satellites produced a video showing the many ways that their rocket boosters exploded during reentry and landing.

Were they worried that this video might undermine confidence in their ability launch hardware and people into space in the future?

Of course not.

On the contrary, their willingness to share their failures demonstrates the confidence they have in their future.    

Want to connect with another human being in a deep and meaningful way?

Tell them a story.

Want to project strength and confidence?

Tell a story about your own orbital rocket booster disasters. Talk about the time you went up in flames. 

Our dream-come-true comes to an end. A new chapter begins today.

Today my wife returns to work after eight years as a stay-at-home mom.

For a couple years when Clara was in preschool, Elysha worked part-time as a reading tutor in the school where I work and where she once worked, but for all intents and purposes, she has been home, raising Clara and then Charlie, ever since they were born. 

A few weeks ago, Charlie finally entered kindergarten. It was time for her to re-enter the workforce.

About a week after Charlie started school, Elysha was hired to work as a teaching assistant in my school district. Her goal is to become a kindergarten teacher (after more than a decade teaching grades 3 and 5), so she's hoping that a year spent in a kindergarten classroom with an experienced kindergarten teacher will serve her well.

A paid internship of sorts. 

It's been a glorious eight years, for both Elysha and me. Though I have often felt envious of my wife for being able to stay home with the kids, I'll always view these years as some of the proudest of my life. Thanks to my tireless work in my many careers, as well as my publishing success and our launch of Speak Up, we have managed to give our children a full time parent during these exceptionally formative years.

It wasn't easy. We made enormous sacrifices. We traveled almost nowhere. Most of our furniture is hand-me-down. Wardrobes declined. Our dreams of home decor were put on hold. We incurred debt that we will now have to eliminate. 

But what we received in return for these sacrifices have been more than worth it. Our kids are so well prepared for the challenges ahead of them. They are happy and kind and so filled with curiosity. And as a husband, it's felt so good about being able to make these past eight years possible for Elysha. 

We honestly never thought it possible. Sometimes I didn't think it would continue to be possible. Every time, we found a way.  

Elysha did not waste a moment of this time with our kids. Our children know every museum in Connecticut like the back of their hands. They can describe every library and bookstore with incredible precision. They are experts on the playground architecture of Connecticut. They have picked every kind of fruit possible, pet every species of farm animal, and attended every outdoor concert available to them. They have sipped hot chocolate and eaten scones in the finest coffee shops in the greater Hartford area. They are masters of the playdate. Their lives are filled with friends both young and old.  

All of this is thanks to Elysha. The best mom. The best wife. Soon to be the best teacher once again. 

I know this time is bittersweet for my wife. I know this is an incredibly difficult chapter of her life to close.

Our babies are no longer babies.  

But I also know that Elysha is excited about the school where she will be teaching. She's thrilled with the teacher who she will be joining. She can't wait to meet the children who she will be helping. 

It's hard to end a dream-come-true, and in many ways, that is what these part eight years have been for us. A seemingly impossible dream come true. 

For me, the dream-come-true has been Elysha. The smiles, the laughter, the joy, and the love that she has brought to Clara and Charlie. They are good and happy and kind because of the time that they have spent together. 

Today will be beautiful and bittersweet for my wife. I understand. But Clara and Charlie and I will forever be grateful to her for all that she has given to us over the past eight years.

There has never been a better mom. Those kindergarteners have no idea how lucky they are.   

A Columbian tradition that I will make my own

I received an email from a mother and son from Columbia, who just finished reading Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend. She explained that it's a tradition in her country to sign the last page and date it when finished reading a book. 

She sent me a photo of the last page. 

I love this idea. What a perfect way to record a moment for posterity. What a treat for readers to land on the last page and have a record of anyone who has read the book previously.

I'm doing it. I'm going to teach my kids to do it. I think you should, too.  

epilogue.jpg

Mystery machine

The Scooby Doo gang was pretty presumptuous to name their van The Mystery Machine.

I realize that they encountered an uncanny and irrational number of criminals trying to cover up crimes by using the ghost story and costume, but still, did they really expect it to continue week after week?

Who could assume that after encountering a fake Yeti on a ski trip and a two-million-year-old caveman while out fishing, similar encounters would happen again and again and again? 

It seems fairly irrational. 

For 41 episodes in the first iteration of the show and hundreds more thereafter.  

Presumptuous, I say. 

Also (and this might be nitpicking), but if you own a van, why the hell is everyone always sitting in the front seat?

mystery machine.jpg

Teaching is full of unexpected surprises

One billion years ago, I taught a third grader named Kaity to multiply. 

Last night, as Elysha and I were leaving for a Moth StorySLAM in Somerville, I asked Kaity, now an adult and frequent babysitter to our children, to help my third grade daughter with her multiplication homework. 

It was surreal. 

No one ever told me that so many of my former students would remain in my life as they have, and I could never predicted that when I was teaching Kaity to multiply all those years ago, I was also investing in my daughter's future.

Being a teacher is full of surprises. 

When we arrived at The Moth a couple hours later, we discovered that four of my former storytelling students were at the show, their names already in the bag, hoping to tell their stories. For all but one, it was their first time at The Moth.

the moth.jpg

I wasn't called to the stage last night, but three of my four students were called. They all performed brilliantly, and one of them, Tom Ouimet, won the slam!   

It was quite a night for a storytelling teacher, listening to stories that I had helped to develop, told on stage so well by storytellers who I've spent lots of time with honing their craft.

As a teacher, you can never know where the lessons you teach might take root and grow. And it's impossible to predict where the fruits of that labor will flourish. 

It would've been nice to take the stage and perform last night, but as a teacher, I found a far greater reward than the applause of a audience and the opportunity to come out on top.

TEDx Pomfret: It's Not the Curriculum

Last year I spoke at a TEDx conference in Pomfret, CT on the subject of education. Specifically, I spoke about what is important and what is not when it comes to teaching children and young adults.  

I have yet to watch the video. I'm highly self critical of my own performances and will need some time to watch closely, take notes, tear myself down, and nitpick every single mistake, as tiny as it may be.

But friends and colleagues have watched and approve, and the video has been used in a few school districts as part of professional development, so here it is.

I hope it's not terrible.

A serious commitment to golf

I've played golf in the rain many times. 

I've once played golf in the snow. 

To be fair, it wasn't snowing when we started the round, and the forecast hadn't called for snow. But it was definitely cold enough for snow. 

But this photograph of golfers in California playing as wildfires burn in the distance is both unbelievable and most impressive. 

summer-2017-fire.jpg

An untimely poop and a blocked toilet lead to magic.

I grew up next door to my grandparents. They owned a small house at the top of a hill on a sprawling piece of farm and forest.

My childhood home was at the bottom on the hill.

As a boy, I saw the two properties as one. One enormous adventure-land to explore.  

On Saturday, we attended our annual family picnic at the former home of my grandparents. My great uncle - the last resident of my grandparent's home - passed away earlier this year, so it's likely that the house and the land will eventually be sold, bringing an end to the seven generations of family members who have lived on that property.

It's sad to see a place with so much history and heart be lost.  

Every time I visit my grandparent's home, I look down upon my own childhood home, lost in my mother and stepfather's divorce. Just before the home was sold to the current residents about six years ago, my high school sweetheart, Laura, a real estate agent at the time, took me through the house for one final tour. At the time, the house looked almost exactly like I had remembered it.

I thought for sure that I would never see the inside of my childhood home again.

Enter Charlie's poop.

In the midst of the picnic, Charlie had to poop. As is customary, he waited until the last moment and was in full panic mode as I carried him to the single functioning bathroom in my grandparent's home. 

The door was closed. Someone was inside.

Charlie screamed in agony as I loudly assured him that whoever was behind the door would quickly vacate the premises. 

After a protracted length of time, the door finally open and the occupant said, "I'm sorry. It was clogged when I walked in."

The toilet was overflowing. It was a disaster. I attempted to plunge it with no success as Charlie wailed. Finally, I grabbed Charlie and ran to the stairs, trying to remember if there was a bathroom on the second floor. I started up the first step with Charlie in my arms, forgetting that the doorways are short in my grandparent's house, and I smashed Charlie's head into the door jam, causing him to wail even louder.

I didn't know what to do. I was panicked. I called for Elysha.  

It turns out that Elysha knew exactly what to do. She grabbed Charlie from my arms and said, "We're going to your old house."

The current residents of my childhood home were hosting a birthday party for their teenage daughter in the backyard. We walked down the hill and over to the couple who we presumed were the owners. "I need help," Elysha said and explained the situation.

"Of course," the woman said, rising to lead us to the bathroom.

"It's okay," I said. "I grew up in this house. I know where the bathroom is."

So once again, I found myself inside my childhood home. Charlie was sitting on the same toilet I had sat on thousands of times during my fourteen years in the house. Much work had been done on the interior of the house. It looked better than it ever had when I was a child, but the layout was the same.

I could still see my childhood beneath the new countertops, stained floors, and tiled backsplash. The memories were still there, alive and well. 

I spent an hour in the house with the new owners, swapping stories. Talking about the neighborhood and my many relatives on the street. Answering questions to mysteries they had yet to solve about the house. 

Yes, our washer and dryer were in the kitchen. Right beside the refrigerator. It didn't seem strange at the time, but boy does it seem odd now.

Yes, my father converted the garage into stables. Horses lived where cars were once parked. 

Yes, this pile of stones was once a flower bed that my mother loved. 

Yes, those were the names of me and my siblings, written beneath the wallpaper in the bathroom.

Yes, I lived in that unheated disaster of a room in the basement. 

No, those chalk drawings on the basement walls weren't done by me. They were done by my aunts - both now deceased - who lived in the house before I did. 

The owners couldn't have been more gracious, and I was so pleased to show Charlie my childhood home. It was good to see the house being so well taken care of, too. It looks better than it ever has before. It's sad that our family no longer lives on that beautiful piece of property, but it's good to see good people living in the space where I have so many memories.

It was so happy to see it again. So happy to step back into the past for a little while. 

All thanks to an untimely poop and a blocked up toilet.  

My favorite billboard

The billboard is up on Southern Boulevard, which is one of the only streets that links directly to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

With Hurricane Irma now battering Florida, my thoughts are with everyone whose lives and property are at risk from this cataclysmic storm.  

My thoughts are also with this particular billboard. Envisioning how angry Donald Trump must be knowing how close it sits to his property and how visible it must be to every guest driving up to his resort warms my heart.

I'd hate to learn that it was lost in the storm. 

billboard.jpg

I am not talented.

I don't believe in talent. I believe in hard work. 

In speaking to a writer recently about her struggles to get published, I said, "Maybe you should write another book. Not everyone publishes the first thing they write."

"You did," she snapped.

While it's true that I managed to publish the first novel I wrote, Something Missing, the road to publication was not so easy.

something missing.jpg

I began writing in November of 1988, and since then, I have written every single day of my life without exception.

In high school, I started a business writing papers for my classmates. I wrote for the school newspaper. I started a shortly lived magazine in the spirit of Mad. I wrote political satire. Short stories. Poems. Letters to girls. Lots and lots of letters to girls.  

After high school, I began writing a blog on a bulletin board system: a small scale, localized precursor to the Internet. During that time, I filled journals with stories, memoir, poems, and rants. I wrote hundreds of letters every year to friends around the country and next door. I wrote monthly newsletters for all of my friends. I wrote Dungeons & Dragons adventures. Short plays. Parodies of songs and movies. Comedy bits.   

When I was homeless and without a phone or address, I wrote letters to keep in touch with friends. I wrote long accounts of my life for my attorney, who was defending me against a charges for a crime I did not commit. I wrote long, sad pieces of memoir about how hopeless and alone I felt.   

When I finally made it to college, I studied creative writing. I wrote for the school newspaper and their online magazines. I wrote short stories, speeches, short films, and several failed, unfinished novels. 

In 2004 I took a blogging class at Trinity College and have written a blog post every single day since. For six years, I wrote a daily post to my children on a separate blog.

I've written children's books. A book of poetry. Personal narrative of every length. In addition to the four books I've published and the three that will publish next year, I have two unpublished novels, a unpublished memoir, an unpublished book of poetry, several unpublished picture books, and an unpublished book of personal essays. 

I have been writing a lot for a long, long time. 

I published Something Missing in 2009, 21 years after I committed myself to the craft of writing. I practiced writing on a relentless, daily basis for more than two decades before someone finally paid me money for my work. 

Am I talented? 

If I were talented, would it have taken me two decades of practice before reaching my goal?

My former editor bristles at my assertion that everyone can be a writer, and with enough hard work and practice, perhaps a published writer, too. 

Friends and former colleagues think I'm foolish to believe that anyone is capable of writing good, meaningful, important stuff.

I remind them of how it took my two decades of constant, relentless practice before I was able to write things worthy of publication.

I don't believe in talent.

I believe in my ability to keep my ass in a chair longer than most people.
I believe in my desperate, unwavering dream to be a published author.    
I believe in my refusal to give up. 
I believe in the power of practice, repetition, study, and failure.
I believe in grit, tenacity, determination, and persistence. 

The path to success can often seem short and simple. But when viewed through the longer lens of time, talent will almost always give way to hard work. 

If you can't publish your first novel, write another. And another. And another. 

Or quit and fail. 

The choice is simple. The path is not. 

A sad, retired, perhaps unstable man

My friend, Rob, retired last year.

Like my previously retired friends, Rob has attempted to rub it in with photographs of his endless vacation. 

But unlike my previously retired friends, who send me photos of picturesque golf courses and idyllic swimming holes, Rob is not nearly as good at hurting me as the rest.

Look at the photos he sent on the first day of school.

These are scary.

Cloudy, solitary beaches. 
A dead tree. 
An empty boardwalk.
A buzzard?

I'm worried about Rob. He seems a little mentally unsteady. Unimaginably sad. Perhaps filled with longing and regret. Unstable.  

When I attempted to taunt Rob about the ineffectiveness of these photos, his reply was this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 10.21.28 PM.png

It's worse than I thought. 

My son thinks I'm a golfing god

I haven't beaten one of my golfing buddies in well over a year. I've been drastically altering my grip and swing, but I'm also just not as good as the guys who I play with. They hit the ball farther and more consistently than me.  

I managed to squeak out a tie against one of them this summer, which almost felt like a victory.

But I'm getting better. Hitting the ball farther. More consistently. Understanding all that was lacking from my game. Still, beating any one of them is probably a ways off. 

It's fine. I love golf. My father-in-law gave up the game years ago when he realized that he was never going to break 100. I understand his desire to be competitive, but even if I never beat a single person again for the rest of my life, I'd still play the game. 

But it sure would be nice to win again. 

As the summer drew to a close, Elysha and I took the kids to mini golf. 

The one thing I can do on a golf course is putt. A three-putt is a rarity for me, and when I'm reading the greens well, I can sink long putts.

Sadly, the expression "Drive for show, putt for dough" doesn't apply when you hit your driver as far as your friends hit their pitching wedges. 

An exaggeration, but only slightly.   

On the nineteenth hole of mini golf, I sunk the miracle putt to win a free game. As the buzzer sounded, my children went wild. My son told everyone in the vicinity that I had won a free game, and he kept telling them until we finally walked away. 

Honestly, it wasn't luck. It was a straight putt that needed to be struck just hard enough to leap over two troughs and land in the hole without going past. I judged the distance carefully and swung. 

It dropped. 

Two weeks later and Charlie still talks about that putt. My free game. My miracle shot. 

I'd still rather beat one of my friends occasionally. I'd like to be a competitive factor as we make our way into the final hole. But if that can't happen, Charlie's belief that I am an amazing golfer is a solid consolation prize.