life, teaching, Uncategorized, writers, writing

E.B. and Me

One of the essays I most love to teach is  “Once More to the Lake” by E.B. White. In that short essay, White recounts lake trips he took with his father each summer, and he tells the reader about his own encounter with his son at the same lake. Throughout the essay, he sees his father in himself, and he sees himself in his son. The essay is full of vivid imagery (as one would expect from the author of Charlotte’s Web), and it muses fondly without straying into rank sentimentality. 

Last weekend, my wife, sons, and I went back to a lake house where I spent some summer days in my own youth. Much like White, I got to see history repeating itself. My boys discovered the joy of diving off a dock, feeling the white sand of the lake bottom against bare feet,  collapsing at night in the pleasant exertion of a day spent swimming, swinging from a rope swing, and soaking in Florida sunlight.

But there were differences, too. For one, my experiences at the lake house were usually large family affairs, surrounded by countless cousins and massive amounts of home-cooked food. People were busy skiing and knee-boarding, and it was hard to find a place that was not already occupied by beloved others. As much as I revel in the memories of those large family gatherings, this past weekend had several advantages over the bigger productions of my boyhood.

We were able to connect to one another in meaningful ways since it was only us. We played card games, watched a movie or two, and the rest of the time was spent on the lake or engaged in some form of relaxation. My sons used light-up swords to “duel” each other in the evening outside. We made memories. We conversed. We escaped.

And while part of me longs for the days of yesteryear, complete with now-departed family members and the squirt-gun spirit of boyish mischief, another part is deeply satisfied with this present — a time when I as a father can watch my sons discover the new-old joys of a near-summer day on the lake, one complete with colder morning water that warms gradually throughout the morning and into the afternoon.

I get it now, E.B. I’ve stepped into your shoes a little. I’ve felt the creep of age slowly maturing me from descendant into ancestor, and I’m okay with that. One day my boys will undoubtedly have similar feelings as generations continue to unfold. It’s the way things are meant to be.


life, Uncategorized

The Traditional Birthday Post: What 43 Means

man sitting on red wooden chair while reading newspaper
Photo by on

43 is not a big deal. 43 is ho-hum, I’m not 40 anymore but not old enough to get a senior coffee at McDonald’s. 43 is having risen to middle management only to find that it’s not paradise, but you need the paycheck, so, well, here you are, and at least you’re experienced enough to know what to do.

When you add the digits of 43 together, you get 7, which is supposed to be a lucky number. Also, 43 happens to be my old rural route school bus number. Being 43 means having been bald long enough not to care and actually preferring your head that way. 43 apparently means developing grays in your remaining “horseshoe,” though, and in sporadic clumps that exactly reflect the degree of stress from two sons: right side of the head = oldest, left side of the head = youngest. I’ll let you guess which gray patch is bigger.

43 means most of the people in the generations before yours are now gone from your life or are headed that way, and you better know how to handle it. Grief doesn’t get any easier, but by now you’ve had to be involved with the nuts-and-bolts of people’s passing and so you know what’s coming from a practical standpoint. It still sucks, though.

43 is wondering about the retirement fund, holding on to a final few lifelong dreams that haven’t yet been achieved, and praying that the kids get hefty scholarships for college. 43 is thinking about who you might eventually become as a grandparent, then quickly throwing that thought aside while assuring yourself you’re too young to think that way. “Isn’t there some work I need to do?” you ask.

43 is regular dentist visits, cardio, and worrying about whether diet soda causes dementia. But it’s also the place that the older generation calls “the prime of your life,” that space where you can make your biggest difference since you’ve been around long enough to gain a little wisdom, but you’re not so old that you’ve burned out.

43 means deciding whether to be “the company man” like others before you, or continuing to change employers every few years just to keep things interesting. Do they still give out gold watches for years of service? Do you even want one? Decisions, decisions…

Maybe above all else 43 means having the maturity to think about what 43 means. You’ve learned to reflect, to think about your thinking, and to be thankful for the path so far. And barring unforeseen circumstances, you’ve got a good bit of road ahead, so you might as well get busy.


poetry, Uncategorized

The little chapbook that could

combboundThe very first collection of poems I ever published were put into a plastic comb-bound chapbook entitled Satin Grit: Poetry for the Average Joe. I know, I know — a truly horrible title, and unfortunately, the poetry inside this little 25-page first effort wasn’t much better. Forced rhymes, trite metaphors, tired cliches, and “borrowed” clip art from Windows 95 made that initial attempt truly laughable in retrospect.

But that first little gathering of bad poems, which I sold for $5 apiece from a folding table at a small central Florida authors’ get-together, gave me some elementary experience in the business of publishing. I understood what it meant to assemble a collection, choosing just the right piece for just the right page. I gained some sense of the work that goes into the physical process of making a book, no matter how small.

At the end of the event, I still had a box full of my homemade chapbooks, but a few kind patrons actually ponied up their hard-earned money for inexperienced and unrefined verses of a twenty-something dabbler. I had an “author’s profile” in the local newspaper, and a few other perks came my way as a result of those terrible, dot matrix-printed chapbooks. These rewards were enough, however, to keep me going. In 2005, I would publish an entire collection of Florida poetry, and in 2012, I would enroll in the University of Tampa’s MFA in Creative Writing program to further hone my skills. That sorry, self-made chapbook served as a gateway to further pursuits, despite its questionable quality.

So today, when I received word from Kelsay Books that they’d like to publish my newest chapbook, a 30-page volume dedicated to the issues of fatherhood and mentorship, I felt a few rogue memories returning. Would these little texts be no better than Satin Grit? My poetry has come a long way since those folding-table days, but would people treat this new work seriously, or see it as simply another “ploy” by a struggling poet? A friend of mine who also published through Kelsay assured me that their products were professional and artful, and that I would be pleased with the end result, for certain. And of course, no plastic comb binding. Whew. I scribbled my signature and date onto the contract, sent it back off to the publisher, and now, the waiting game begins.

The Boys of Men will be available in September 2014, according to my publisher. It will be sold through Amazon and other venues, and I will receive five author’s copies as a starting point. And even though poetry chapbooks aren’t the hottest selling commodities, the royalties I will receive on sales aren’t bad, either. I intend to have a book launch and a few other events (more details will follow). The faith I have in my work is greater than when I began peddling my word-wares more than a decade ago. I now see the chapbook as an honorable literary endeavor rather than a cheap avenue to push my name under people’s noses. I also admire the history of the chapbook: its humble beginnings as reading material for the less-than-royal draw me to it just as much as its modern, wildly artistic iterations. My writing, many rejection letters and maturing experiences later, is finally worthy to be bound into a quality chapbook. I am honored by this new proposition, and equally honored to partner with Kelsay Books.

I’ve become many things since those Satin Grit days — a husband, a father, an educator, and yes, a REAL poet. As I finish out my final months of the MFA program and I await the publication of The Boys of Men, memories of badly bound manuscripts and the head-shaking pity of small-town strangers may continue to haunt me. But at least now I know that, when the time arrives to launch my latest work into the world, this time it will soar on its own wings.