The Value of Companionship

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men remains one of my favorite texts to teach, for in less than 110 pages it offers hundreds of pages of depth. Whether it be examining the historical context – Great Depression/Dust Bowl – or the plight of people of color – see Crooks – or even the ranch as its own independent society, the text offers months of interesting discussions and learning opportunities – months unfortunately no one has.

Alas, there’s never enough time to discuss good literature.

‘Of Mice and Men’ by John Steinbeck via Amazon.com

Through Chapter 3, now, we have arrived at the venerable Slim and his inability to understand Lennie and George’s relationship. In Chapter 2, meanwhile, we witnessed the callous Carlson’s pushing to shoot Candy’s dog.

What’s the connection?

Companionship – it’s importance and the inability of many of the ranch workers to understand it. So, it got me thinking about companionship in my own life…

My wife, obviously my ultimate companion and partner in crime – my everything, my always, my forever – has made an honest man out of me in our almost a decade together (that’s a scary thought, in itself). Without her, I’d likely be an even bigger scumbag than I already am.

With her, though, I’ve overcome personal tragedies, written books, learned how to detach myself from work, and discovered that I do not always have to have a solution to a problem – I just have to listen (take notes, guys).

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ICYMI: The Excuse of All Excuses

ICYMI: The Excuse of All Excuses laments those parents who do not allow their kids to fail and learn from their mistakes.

I’ve been railing against this epidemic for a number of years, tempering my criticism under the auspices that I myself am not a parent.

However, I am a teacher and I am a human. I’ve been around long enough to understand that kids are extensions of their parents and families. What’s permitted or excused in the house permeates in the classroom in the way a child comports himself with peers and adults. Moreover, when parents do not hold their children to a high civic and academic standards, the kids become reliant; worse, they do not develop the means to confront and overcome adversity.

So parents, keep making those excuses for your kids and be prepared to wipe them from front to back and back to front for the rest of their lives.

Throwback Thursday: Just Do It

One of my buddies just asked me what’s going on KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO GROW UP.

My response: “Haven’t been able to get anything out. Among the impediments/excuses – excessive drinking + weddings + bday, the busiest two months of work I’ve ever had, meetings every morning for the past month and a half, and just general malaise about the above-mentioned.”

Then, I thought, besides that I sounded like a pretty big douche, that I just needed to do it.

Just Do It,” originally posted on March 6, 2017, recalls the last time I became so bogged down with work that I couldn’t breathe. Then, I got on my horse, did a final full-book edit, and read 20+ books by my competition.

It will be done…

I always feel so inadequate when it comes to literature. Sure, I’m an avid reader, particularly of the canonical or classic texts, but I’ve never been drawn to a particular genre besides Young Adult. And I feel like the net that YA literature casts can bleed over into other genres.

Which is why I’ve struggled for so long with how to identify KNOWING WHEN YOU’RE TOO YOUNG TO GROW UP. Is it Young Adult because the protagonist is a teenager struggling with social changes and growing up and coming of age? Or is it adult fiction because the subject matter is too explicit for young adults – drug abuse, sexual abuse, rape, suicide.

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ICYMI: Somebody’s Getting Married

This day, November 12, 2017 – the third leg of the A&A wedding tour – brings us to Roslyn, Long Island, for the wedding of my best friend.

Congratulations in advance.

ICYMI: Somebody’s Getting Married celebrates all of the weddings we’ve been to this year while also lamenting how we are heading right around the baby bend – our friends are starting to have kids or at least considering having kids.

And that scares me.

A lot.

This is the End

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from the Epilogue. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

I saw Becky yesterday in the hospital, went to visit her for lunch – really, was given permission to visit her. She was admitted shortly after me, I think.

“Hey, Beck, what do you think?” I asked, holding up my bandaged arms from my wheelchair. “I figure I’ve got a head start on Halloween with this homemade mummy costume.”

Zab, my personal slave/aide from Somalia, got a kick out of that one, standing right behind me – always nearby.

“You’re such a dope,” Becky squeaked out in what might’ve been amusement, lifting her head from her hospital bed, “but at least you can laugh about all this.”

“It’s either laugh or cry, you know, and I think we’ve all done enough crying. But I could’ve helped him. And I did the exact opposite. I fucked him.”

I felt her dry, spindly fingers on the top of my head. I was bowed in front of her like confession.

“Andrew,” she said, her whispering voice almost a secret, “look at me.”

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Somebody’s Getting Married

I feel as if my wife and I should walk around with an 80s-style, tower boombox blasting, “Somebody’s getting married!”

Makes sense since that’s pretty much been the theme of the past five years with the countless weddings we’ve attended. Many we couldn’t wait for; some we probably should’ve puff, puff, passed on; and, on a select few, obligation overruled reason. I’m almost at my Jim Carey Me Myself Irene point with obligation.

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Like an Ordinary School Day

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 16. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

From the outset, it looks like an ordinary school day at dismissal. Except school’s out.

The buses and Beamers usually stuck in an idling stalemate have now been replaced by conversion vans and camera crews from the three primetime television networks jamming the winding drive leading up to the Balaam campus. Even the local Channel 11 that no one knows covers news is covering the story.

I’m sure the entrance to the private road of Pete’s mother’s Dix Hills estate is as filled with storytellers. It is, after all, the biggest scandal to hit Long Island since the Mepham High School football team stuck pinecones and broomsticks up freshmen asses a few years back.

Newsday’s “Booked!” front page first broke the story. The New York Post followed a similar line of thinking with its “Throw the Book at Her!” cover. The more empyrean New York Times went with “Teacher at Esteemed Long Island Academy Accused of Statutory Rape.”

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The Excuse of All Excuses

I remember the days when a student misbehaved and you reprimanded him or her. Maybe you made a phone call home. You might’ve even made an example out of the student and kicked him or her out of class. Lessons were learned. Respect was commanded through action. Insubordination and disruption were quelled. And that was that.

Not anymore.

Teachers pretty much can’t talk in a stern voice or give detention to a wayward kid. They’re not allowed to demand a student stay on task when working on a laptop or stop disrespecting a classmate they’re trying to talk over because I guess their point is that much more profound and important – trust me, it’s likely not.

That’s obviously a bit played up, but I recently heard an obtuse account of a parent’s complaint pretty much about me because nothing is ever direct from the source where I work. Anyway, what I gathered from it was that this woman felt her son was being bullied by his insensitive teachers.

So now we call being kicked out of class bullied.

Why was he excused exactly?

Oh, because he disrespected a classmate in the midst of an explanation by interrupting him and proceeding to talk until the other student stopped. When called out on this overtly rude behavior, the boy laughed.

That’s when another student looked at him and said, “You’re dead,” as I told him to get out in no uncertain terms. Forget about disrespecting me, which I neither accept nor take lightly, but there’s no place for that lack of concern for peers in a positive learning community.

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Teal Pajama Bottoms

My unpublished manuscript ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up’ chronicles Andrew Brown’s struggle to reconnect with his best friend Pete Goodman as a lurid secret Andrew has never told threatens to break them apart for good.
As I mentioned in “A Reintroduction: The Prologue,” I intend to post edited chapters every few weeks. Here’s a sample from Chapter 15. As always, feedback is STRONGLY encouraged via the contact tab or comments section.

She raped me!

Do you know what that feels like?

Do you?

Do you!

The words still ring in my head like the last bell of the day, dismissing me to a new life without my best friend. Our last chance to get back to where we were, I think, probably gone just like him, just like the next UNO kid Ms. Benevo was on to.

Except that was a fantasy. And it always was. Because we couldn’t go back to sophomore year any more than we could go back and play in the sandbox. After all, Pete sort of did tell me that:

That’s your problem, Brown. You think you can change the past, but you can’t. Because what’s happened can’t be changed.

It’s just too bad it took me so long to see it.

I don’t know how late it was when Ant woke up to Pete screaming out into the night. She was scared. She wanted to go back to her room. We left him there by himself on that couch and walked down the hallway and up the stairs, one floor up, past the ice machine, all the way to the end.

Click.

The door opened.

She pulled me into her, kissing my neck, then my lips, roughly. “Come to bed,” she said dreamily.

“Not tonight; you’re drunk. Another–”

“Now!” She pushed me in.

“What about Charley?” I said, so meekly I could’ve been the virgin she took in her basement. I was running out of excuses. I wanted her more than my first time, our first time.

“She’ll be out till tomorrow. She took a sleeping pill.”

Ant’s face was glowing like a candle in church. Instinctually, my hand gravitated to it, guiding it to mine, uniting our lips. It was the stuff movies were made of – the drawn-out, emotionally cathartic embrace of the star-crossed lovers – missing only the climactic crescendo right as their lips finally touched.

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Throwback Thursday: The Road Not Taken

Originally posted on May 21, 2017, ‘The Road Not Taken’ recalls all of the trials of the past year that have prepared me to begin submitting queries for ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up‘.

And besides last year’s being the most professionally successful year I’ve had to date, I finally learned how to swallow my pride and ask for help. Now, I’m starting to see the benefits.

I remember having to memorize Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in ninth grade English. Although terrified at first as an awkward freshman in a school I did not want to attend, the experience forced me to confront and overcome my fear of speaking in front of others. This experience has proven invaluable in adulthood as I make presentations every period I teach and regularly am asked to address parents and graduates.

That “Road Not Taken” is what I believe I am on right now as I’m finally finding my way out of a hole of middle school and ninth grade poetry that has consumed my life for the past two-and-a-half weeks. Rising earlier and leaving later has dominated the 2016-2017 school year.

That commitment has yielded some of my greatest professional successes:

  • Some of the best student-generated poetry I’ve ever read
  • Quantifiable progress from a handful of struggling learners
  • The return of The Overlook Journal
  • The maturation in perspective of my seventh and ninth grade classes
  • The building of my reputation as an academic mentor and tutor and an executive function coach
  • My own acknowledgment of my weaknesses inside and outside of the classroom

Yet, this year has also seen the stagnation of my writing, whether it be blogging, drafting my next manuscript The Heroin Times, or finding the right agent to ensure the success of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up.

I tell myself I have a primary job that at times takes me away from my writing. Yet, I also have a passion that gnaws at my conscience when I do not indulge it. In the past, I’ve robbed Peter to pay Paul by not doing my best in my planning, assessing, and teaching the kids. And the kids who are always the ones left holding the bag deserve better.

In other instances, I’ve driven myself up the wall to rush to put together substandard content – whether it be a blog post or a query or a proposal. I, too, deserve better than the mania I feel in every quiet moment where I’m reminded that I cannot find the time or am too mentally and physically spent to do what truly satisfies me.

So, as my father always tells me, nice and easy. A great struggle for me, for sure, but that’s the mantra I have adopted. With that in mind, I plan on taking off major portions of the summer to focus exclusively on my writing. That means no summer school for the first time in seven years and limiting the number of private clients with whom I will work.

If anything, this past year has reminded me that my haste will be my undoing. The more I rush to finish this, to get this out, to be here, or to see this person or that person, the worse the result will be. That much I can now admit. And I’m not trying to get another form rejection (if that).

Sometimes, I think maybe I’m afraid of rejection after seeing it early on. And maybe I am. But I believe in myself and what I have done and still can do.

And that’s what keeps me rising every day as I look forward to the work that lies ahead in the midst of my “Road Not Taken” moment. As Frost writes,

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I truly do believe all of the trials of this year have prepared me for what I will do moving forward. And that will make “all the difference.”