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…

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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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My People Run The World Now

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Years ago during a night shift job I got hooked on the old Comedy Roast commercials – not the actual roasts,  which cost money to order, but the commercials featuring Dean Martin, Johnny Carson, and the old comedy guard of the 60s and 70s. You’ve probably seen them: half hour commercials featuring the Rat Pack and an aging Lucille Ball and that schticky woman who hit people with her purse, all on a dais with Carson and Martin and Rickles and Rich Little and even Truman Capote. There was something official about them – the forty-somethings who once ran the world of entertainment, all smoking and drinking and made up to look younger on camera, those comedians and entertainers born out of the earlier golden age of entertainment, which had been the original age of television, right after people stopped buying radios.

Now that I’m thirty-five, I’m realizing that my people now run the world – that is to say,  the world of entertainment and education is run by twenty-five to forty-year olds, but specifically thirty-five and up category. The world of entertainment and media is run by the Class of 1992 to 2002 – and I’m inbetween as the Class of 1997, so there’s a range to fill, like Mark Zuckerberg being five years my junior and Kayne West a year my senior; the cast of SNL which I’ve followed every Saturday night since I was thirteen now runs every movie made it seems, including all the movies I rent for my kids; music belongs to the young, but the judges on the Voice and those other judge shows are in their early forties, if not closer to thirty-five. Justin Timberlake, Brittany Spears, and Usher are all slightly my youngers – so my people run late night and the radio too, which is evidenced by a thirty-nine year old Jimmy Fallon having a forty-five year old Will Smith and a fiftysomethings U2 on his first show.

Whoever the new Frank Sinatra is – Jay-Z? – I’m the plebian radio listener who is stuck inside of a time period where he is the Boss, and I’ll be stuck with that until, in the elderly care system when I’m 91, I’ll still be reciting every word of “Hard Knock Life.” I think of my grandmother’s love for Johnny Mathis, and my parents’ generation love for the 60s acts, and the entertaining class that I’ve stuck with since the 90s  – we are all servants of the same maxim: the world is always run by twenty-five to forty-somethings, whether it’s the book you’re reading or show you’re watching. Go ahead, look – then google the age. You’ll see. More often than not, you’re reading something written by someone more successful and younger than you. It’s okay.

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Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country,” and unfortunately, and logically, that’s what is happening now. Whoever owns the company that owns the company that owns the company that produces that show you love, is well aware of the class of 1992, ’97, and ’02. It’s our time! Those teenagers are on our tail, and soon we’ll be too old, fat, and bald to have a say. But until then, damn it, we run this show.

Just think, Dr. King was in his thirties when he helped shape the world; Thomas Jefferson was thirty-three in 1776; Hemingway, Whitman, Fitzgerald, Bradbury, Vonnegut, Updike, Baldwin, Dave Eggers, you get the idea: all of them did their best or first works roughly in this magical age. Christian Bale’s Batman was roughly twenty-five but played by a thirty-something (he’s now forty) and the new new new new Batman, Ben Affleck, is forty-two. And I’m still contemplating my theatre degree.

Boss Mug

Nowadays the Comedy Central Roasts are hosted by my people – early forty-somethings or late twenty-somethings trying to make it on the B list, usually roasting legends who beat the age curve. And in twenty five years, will we be watching outdated celebrities on late night television infomercials? We just might.

In fact, most dramatic or comedic hit movies out there are about “a 36 year old guy trying to find his way” whether it’s Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, or Bradley Cooper, who are all, well – my age. At some point my age became the safe place to launch a thousand film tropes and arcs from. Only all of them are hapless, single, childless guys still with their own hair and much too physically fit. Hollywood, make that money off of my people!

So, well…Shit. I have to get to work. I won’t be young forever, but at least my students think I look young – especially when I shave my beard off. “Twenty-eight,” they say. Or twenty-four. A guess a decade doesn’t matter in the eye of the mind of the beholder.

I am reminded of Whitman’s lines in Leaves of Grass, “now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin” and I’m a bit comforted. Once on the dais, with good make-up, we can look eternal. Even if we’re only thirty-five.

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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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.

The Dad Stays In The Picture

The Dad Stays In The Picture

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Last night my wife showed me a picture of Kayne West and his daughter from Kim Kardashian’s Instagram page, where Kayne just looks like a dad having a good time, playing Sea Horse Express (that’s my own invented game, anyone can borrow it) with his child on his back. 

“That’s such a great picture of a normal dad,” we both said, eerily, knowing full well the enormous media-industrial complex institution behind the picture (celebrity to the power of wealth multiplied by fame-seeking).

“And he’s smiling. He doesn’t look like a huge asshole,” added the wife. It struck me: this is exactly what my life has looked like since becoming a father – and the exact moment that true joy becomes a life-long thing no one can deny. See that joy? That’s Dad Joy.

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This Dad Joy got me thinking of several recent articles regarding pictures of Dads and Moms. Recently Doyin Richards (Daddy Doin’ Work blog) made a dent in online bloggership fame (and daytime talk tv) by reacting to the reactions of this photo his wife took and he posted: 

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When he originally posted this picture on his online media sites, he got a large sharing bump (~23,000 plus Faces pages shared this picture and the picture received over 452K Likes) and a bit of a sexist and racist backlash. Racist trolls of every avatar persuasion posted comments you can just imagine (commenting on race mostly), and thus a little bit of fame found this DDW (ABC News, Katie).

The picture tells a tale of the mundane morning routine for most Dads, and a tale of outrageous abnormalcy for others. Add in the fact that this is a black man doing these tasks, and for some reason people reacted in the most race and gender-based ways. Perhaps if you put anything out there you might eventually get a snowball effect from a part of the population just waiting to say something snarky. Or there might be a bigger story there we still don’t know about. If there is a “bigger conversation” about dads and parenting, I’d love to be in on it.

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My own morning routine as a dad is a lot like the above, especially on weekends and/or when the wife is working and I’m trying to dress two kids and feed two kids and brush two kids’ teeth and get out of the door and keep them alive and make sure the kids don’t look like oh, isn’t that cute? Dad’s taking care of them and they look like wayward gypsy people with bed hair.

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Today we see in-the-moment pictures all the time online, and usually it’s women posting, that is, Moms posting in the 30s-something Dad world that I inhabit (I know, I know, a lot of you have no idea what this world is like, and that’s okay, and you will someday soon enough). I became a Dad the same time the internet became a non-stop place for everyone all the time everyowhere, it seems. In my 20s the internet was for Myspace, email, and a bit of googling, and that’s about it; I became an internet savvy person too late to be hip or young-ish.

Let’s face it: regarding posting pictures, the internet belongs to women and the rest of us have to claim what corners we can. The Mom in “The Mom Stays In the Picture” has nothing on my Mom friends: my Facebook and Instagram feeds load a million new Mom-n-baby or baby selfies every six seconds, and I say this is a good thing, because eventually Dad will come home and, like my wonderful shared internet feed, I get to be in a few pictures and enjoy the rest. I love looking at my wife and kids, and one day I’ll be old and out of step with online picture taking and wish for the days of Posts and Likes. I’ll be in my sixties looking at my Holo-Wall of all the “media in the Cloud” and remembering when we were young and excited about direct mailing each other on Instagram.

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We used to take pictures every now and then, mainly parties and holidays. There was even a time when we videotaped everything because you never know – we might be famous one day, or use this in a movie. Now we take pictures every few hours, and soon we’ll abandon the art altogether as a new medium takes over.

Regardless of the moment in a visual, I’ll stay the Dad who is still learning to braid his daughter’s hair (I was very successful the other night!) and navigate the finer points of Lego-building with my son. And guaranteed the wife will snap a pic, and I’ll snap one too, and maybe we’ll share it, and maybe you’ll Like it, and maybe we’ll all start a conversation of our own.