About Me and Why I Write

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I JUST WANT TO BE AN EXCELLENT WRITER. That’s it. Keep me pure. I want a future where I’ve written so much that I can showcase my texts on a handmade shelf in my office. And then I’ll be somewhere pining over my latest piece or novel or story, wondering if I can keep up with myself and my readers. I just want it all to be excellent.

Personally…I have an amazing wife and three children who color and create my universe in the best possible way, and I am the luckiest man ever. I will never tire of thinking or saying that. I’ve taught high school English and coached soccer for more than a decade now, and I get to write curriculum and tutor kids too. I love all of it, I really do. I’m currently editing a book of essays and working on my first novel and my first graphic novel. I also have a ton of short stories I’m trying to sell to magazines. Oh and I do all of this in Massachusetts.

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I write because I’m a writer. I have ideas every day and have to put them down. I see stories and characters and conflict where there are none, and then create a world to encapsulate these motifs, even if the worlds are short and combustible. Some stars need to explode.

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I write because I have to. If you’re a writer and you try to walk away from writing, and you do so successfully, then you’re not a writer in the existential sense. If you write every day, and dream about more time to write, and scan and re-read books looking for those magical pockets of literary moments that made the writing alive, and practice them yourself, and think about your life in terms of when you can become published, then you are a writer. But you have to write.

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YEARS FROM NOW some kid will be forced to read my novel or one of my stories or essays in high school, and think the title is boring, and not really read it, and hopefully the enthusiasm of the teacher will carry the day. I’m okay with that, because I’ve been there as a reader and teacher. But if one of my writings made it into the classroom? What an honor. That means that someone was so moved by something that I wrote that they would want to share it with a class. I do that as a teacher and it’s one of my dreams for the future.

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Backyard sledding.

I’m finally at the beginning of where I want to be as a writer…I want to thank la ostra magazine, The Gloucester Clam, BLUNTmoms, the Original Bunker Punks, DAD Bloggers (Oren Miller’s group), and The Good Men Project for allowing me to work and do what I love, so far. I’ve just started.

Here's me with Gatsby.
Here’s me with Gatsby.

…And now for the interview questions from the Original Bunker Punks tour:

Original Bunker Punks: What is your most prized possession?

Me: I have so many…I’m a few steps away from being a hoarder, says my wife. But with a wife and three kids there isn’t one object that holds all the prized possessive power without alienating someone. I have this ratty sweatshirt that is in most of our family pictures, including a few Christmas pictures, and I wear it every night, next to my wife or holding my children, or sitting around the house. So maybe that. I don’t even know where I got it.

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In real life I sort of look like Hans from Frozen. Really.

OBP: How do you unwind after a long day? 

Me: Time with the kids, a drink or two, and something on DVR with the missus. Or writing if I stay up past everyone.

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Back from protesting days.

OBP: What is one song that has followed you throughout your whole life?

Me: “Rocket and a Bomb” by Michael Knott. I’ve listened to it and his Aunt Bettys album on a monthly basis since 1996. I have the mix tape “regulars” that span the spectrum, and it’s on every one.

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Hosting “Hey Everybody! Take Care, Have Fun!” …the series was short run.

OBP: If you could give one piece of advice to new bloggers in your field, what would it be?

Me: Just focus on the writing. Forget the likes and shares and all that – but it’s easy to get caught up in it. And take your time making it really good. If the writing is no good, then we can see right through it. Decide what you want the blog to be, and stick with it or change it, only based on the purity of your goals. My goal is to write at least a hundred good essays, and then make a career out of writing that I’m proud of away from the blog world (that may not happen the way things are). I have lists of writing goals to keep to and change, and it took me about seven tries to make a blog I liked and kept with. Nerdy Dad Shirt is still an experiment!

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Uncanny or ironic or fitting? Father’s Day, 2014.

Original Bunker Punks: Now that you’re famous, we need a quote from you.

 Me: “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” I stole that from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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Beardo, grading papers, 2004.

Thank you! Leave a comment if you’re still reading…

Traffic (a poem sprung up lately)

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BEFORE I WAS A LAZY BLOGGER, I WAS A NOVELIST AND SHORT STORY WRITER. And before that, a poet. Some undusting here. I still “am” a novelist, short story, screenplay, and assorted essays writer, but at one point I wrote a lot of poetry, like a Ginsberg/Whitman-Supermarket-bunch of poetry. Here’s one.


Traffic

I planned on being on time,

but then I wasn’t.

 

Some say traffic

is like

nothingness-

 

Some say traffic

is like

everything-

 

You never know why it happened

no one ever tells you

but every now and then

there is a pile of wreckage

and you’re like

oh that’s what it was.

 

I planned on being there early,

but the highway was full of returning saviors

and unwanted children

and burning tanks-

 

The highway was full of hopes and wishes

and alarm clocks

and anxiety dreams about being late-

 

I was delayed by relaxed shoulders

and choice of driver’s music

and rising early

and such and such

and nada Hemingway

and my happy place

which is not the highway-

 

The highway was full

and empty

of the same cars I see every day-

the same bend,

and hidden patrol,

and the first four tones of the morning news-

 

Some say traffic

is like-

 

Some say life

is like-

 

I planned on being here on time,

and then I wasn’t.

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Dad to Dad: Dr. King

Dad to Dad: Dr. King

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Back in my activist and rock and roll days, I had a moment to define whatever movement I feel like I’m a part of for life: I was standing next to Noam Chomsky at T.T. the Bear’s in Boston listening to Howard Zinn speak. Let me write that again – I was standing next to Noam Chomsky while watching Howard Zinn speak. If you live in Boston, there are a few times this kind of thing might happen. If you don’t live in Boston, or the Northeast, or aren’t part of the kind of crowd that reveres or seeks out this kind of thing, it was a big deal that happened by accident, but still happened.

It was one of those moments I’ll forever hold in that weird celebrity part of my brain, like sitting next to John Updike in a movie theatre (well, across the aisle) or talking with then Senator Kerry while waiting for my turn on the microphone at an AFL-CIO conference, or getting a half an hour with Kurt Vonnegut in his office when he was teaching at Smith.

I’m enough distanced from these moments that now when I think of them, I do so as a Dad. When you’re young you march and protest alongside other young people, and then you go out to celebrate and publish the happenings in your ‘zine. Then you pick it up again as soon as you can, and repeat. When you’re a little older and a parent, you march and protest as long as there’s a sitter, or you can do so around preschool hours and days off. The Movement is always moving, however old you’re getting.

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On this MLK day, I think of Dr. King the Dad, recalling his constant referencing to his children over the course of his life as a speaker and essayist. Like him, all parents have a grandiose view of an idyllic society, one where our kids can play and learn in peace. As a parent, continual maintenance of the local playground is more of a focal point for city activism than fighting the WTO or corporations or the Man (Damn the Man! oh wait, am I the Man?). This is where true change happens in a society: moms and dads making it nice for everyone. And this sentiment is essentially the idea behind every great movement: let’s just make it nice for everyone. You know, for the kids.

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Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 10.51.48 AM(the author as a little leaguer)

Since Dr. King’s day, the marches and sit-ins have changed dramatically in focus – in a First World setting, we’re fighting for things like Minimum Wage increase, the Dream Act, Sustainability, Marriage Equality, and some equitable legislation toward solving the drop-out rate in high schools while fighting the effects of poverty seen in American children (and hopefully children around the world). We’re signing petitions online between play dates and diaper changes, and posting the you-should-care-about-this videos and memes on social media while getting ready for that second job so the kids can have a few more presents during the holidays. Aside from a pro-breastfeeding “sit-in” and Farmer’s Market signature collecting, parents don’t have the same marching and parade options as the parents in the 60s and 70s did, although the Unions keep this proud tradition alive, and every now and then we’ll see millions gathered for a cause (gee I’d really like to Occupy Boston, but I have to work and take the kids to soccer). But while we’re fighting for the reparations of the last list of incongruities here in the First World, there is a huge world of Dads and Moms out there just trying to make ends meet in countries where food and vaccines can’t just be bought at the other CVS or Walgreens in your city.

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The other day I was pleased to hear my kindergardener tell me about an outdated world where there were “Whites Only” signs and people were mean to each other because of skin color. We talked about being kind, peaceful, and how to share, and what Dr. King did to help people. Absent from the conversation was the heavy topic of racism, but for a six year old in 2014, ideas about race from the 1960s can be summed up in that wonderful story of Once Upon A Time people were mean to each other because of skin color, and now they’re not as mean. And that’s pretty much it, from Dad to Child: you just have to be kind and fair. My four year old constantly asks why we look white and pink (why do people look like each other? is one of my favorite questions from her), and I tell her about DNA and families and somehow she gets it (although she thinks all females have brown eyes and all males have blue eyes, which is only because she and her mother have brown eyes while the boy and I have blue). To add to this we live in a drastically different media world than ever before, as if Handy Manny, Dora, and Doc McStuffins have led the way for our children to see the world in a way that I only started to see back in the 80s. Is this the romantic future the marchers were imagining back in the abolition days and on through towards the 60s? Maybe so. 

And so, on this MLK Day, I salute the thirty-something Dad who spoke, marched, petitioned, protested, was jailed for, and preached on behalf of his children, their classmates and their families, and how he continues to inspire this thirty-something Dad to speak out and write on behalf of my children and their classmates and their families when and where I can, albeit in a different world than it was a few generations ago, and toward the (brand) new or revised world it will be by the time my children are writing about their children.

Nerdy Dad Shirt #37

 

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For Christmas I received my thirty-seventh Nerdy Dad Shirt, a Vader for President Old Navy special. And I love it.

I love it along with my Star Wars shirts, Avengers shirts, Justice League shirts, Star Trek shirts – you get the idea. Even my Vonnegut shirt is a nerdy dad shirt (…he was a nerdy dad who wrote science fiction, I’m a nerdy dad who loves him). I love it because it’s not some in-your-face political statement or some hipstery design. Plus my kids get a little excited when they can figure out the cartoons on my shirt (whether it’s a large mushroom from Mario that someone has also tagged all over town on walls or a lesson for me to teach them what “Live Long and Prosper” means).

My daughter, three, is my nerdy sidekick for life (yes, her name is Zelda* and no she is not named after the game) because she’ll always sit down with me to watch Clone Wars and anything Star Trek or Star Wars related, while my son, five, currently likes his Star Wars only in the Lego or Angry Birds variety (he also protests watching Green Lantern but will wear the logo-centric underwear). He is in my grasp, however, and will one day out-nerd me in all things science and math and engineering. At four he could set up the chess board perfectly and each day he takes a big swig of my Earl Grey Tea (yes, hot.) He will most definitely come up to me at a later age saying something like, “did you know Star Trek is like this great Western about diversity and peace and understanding?” And I’ll tell him something along the lines of, “I’ve been telling you that since you were a baby.”

Oh, and two days ago there were having their first light saber duel. Zelda had her pink-and-silver custom-made saber and Harrison (no, not named after the comic storeor Harrison Ford – well, sort of but not really-) his green saber. It was glorious.

I didn’t wear nerdy shirts before kids – I wore thrift store shirts or black shirts or maybe something with a hipstery design or political message. I still do sometimes, but it’s not as much fun on the playground. Plus a nerdy dad shirt is the clarion call to other nerdy dads and moms – whether they be nerds of different varieties – that we can gather and commune over our own nerdy habits (writing, chess, science fiction, craft beers, tv series to Netflix) and be at peace.

And isn’t that what Vader for President is really about?

 

 

 

 

*The Legend of Zelda creator nerds chose the name from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s (The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise) wife, Zelda. So take that, English Lit nerds!