ICYMI: The Last Boy Scout

“ICYMI: The Last Boy Scout,” originally posted on August 7, 2017, explains how my seeing my former student achieve the rank of Eagle led me to reflect on my time in Boy Scouts.

Addressing the crowd after receiving my Eagle award.

Sure, I now recognize the crucial role this experience played in my becoming the person I am today. However, at the time I was in middle school and early high school, I did not have this foresight, especially when all of my friends decided overnight that Boy Scouts was no longer cool.

A Reintroduction: The Prologue

I wrote the prologue of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up two summers ago on a prep in between summer school classes. I had just recently watched Dead Poet’s Society, and, as I wrote in the September 2, 2014 post “Rediscovering my Protagonist in ‘Dead Poet’s Society'” it inspired me:

Once I was done with the kids (or maybe a bit before), I roughed out a draft where I focused on establishing the narrator’s (and protagonist’s voice). My intention was to draw the audience in by revealing the death of the protagonist’s best friend. The circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery by design; the last thing I wanted was to paraphrase the story the audience is about to get into.

'Dead Poets Society' Poster via Amazon.com

‘Dead Poets Society’ Poster via Amazon.com

‘DPS’ is the quintessential substitute teacher go-to movie in high school, and it reminded me of the innate sense of rebellion in teenagers that originally inspired (and continues to inspire) ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young To Grow Up’.

The book is so much more than bitching and complaining and belly-aching about the plight of a high school kid whose life is devoid of responsibility and privileged in every way.

While that’s part of ‘Knowing When’, it’s not the whole story. It is the anatomy of teenage angst, from the protagonist’s upbringing to his history with his friends and the secrets they keep from each other to his choices and the consequences they yield. 

Prologue:

I killed my best friend, not with a gun or a knife or a car or a bomb or a poison, but he died and I lived and it was all the same in the end.

He didn’t know until it was too late. And I guess I didn’t either at first, failing to consider that my actions could so adversely affect him, could eventually destroy him. But they did. And that’s really the only thing that matters here.

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Throwback Thursday: You Should Go and Love Yourself

Throwback Thursday: You Should Go and Love Yourself, originally posted on October 25, 2016, bemoans the need to take time out of your busy schedule for yourself. If you find personal peace in your job, your passion, your relationship, your hobby, your fitness – whatever – then you will be in a better place to help others.

I always try to be selfless, putting others before myself and, by extension, enabling them to better themselves makes me feel good. It’s the same justification for why I am charitable to those less fortunate than I am and also why I refuse to donate ANY money to Fairfield University. This hyper focus on pleasing others, however, comes at my expense sometimes. I will forgo sleep, work unfathomable hours, run from here to there, even let my closest friends and family down.

And, at the end of it all, when I’m working this hard to make everyone else happy, where does that leave me? Satisfied, most of the time, yes. Happy all the time? Most definitely not. This sentiment was further affirmed after having a conversation with a potential Featured Artist about taking time for yourself so you can better give to others. I’m usually the one who parcels out advice, but I paused when I heard this simple, yet sage, wisdom.

Why?

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The Summer Read

In May my wife wondered aloud why I didn’t take the summer off to focus on my writing. According to her,  teaching full time and carrying a full consulting schedule left me thin to do the work necessary to find an agent.

As is usually the case, she was right.

And, boy, did I have a lot of work to do.

As thorough as I am in my professional life, for whatever reason I had been quite negligent in properly researching the market for my book, its competition, and the specific agents to whom I intended to pitch my book. Unprepared for the task at hand, the same offense for which I fault my students, I myself was.

We call that irony, kids.

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Throwback Thursday: They’re All Grown Up

A little doodle courtesy of Noah Vicencio

Originally posted on October 4, 2016, “They’re All Grown Up” offers my reflections on one of the first middle school classes I taught. In this particular class I formed a lifelong connection with a couple students who are no longer kids but adults in their second years of college. I actually recently had dinner with them and while they’re no longer the middle schoolers I tried to impress wisdom on, I can confirm that some of my insight stuck.

And I’m quite proud of them.

They’re all grown up, I thought to myself last June at Thornton-Donovan School’s commencement ceremony. Sitting among my colleagues, I watched some of my first students rise to accept their diplomas.

Ones who used to make out on the bench outside my classroom, smoke cigarettes on the street, try to pass Sparknotes off as homework. Ones who used to turn their nose up at others, who used to blame others for their problems.

Yet, I was not lamenting they just don’t make kids like that anymore. No, instead, I was reminiscing about when I was their teacher and a select few taught me as much as I had taught them.

Maybe more.

In my damp, chilly classroom with the radiator that sparked sometimes and always smelled like burning toast, I stood before a classroom of seventh graders. I had never taught middle school before. And I hated middle school probably as much as they did in that moment.

I introduced myself as Mr. Chapin although I said they can call me Andrew if they wanted to. Thankfully, they never took me up on that offer. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t even consider saying that now, for we’re not on the same level. They call their peers by their first names; however, teachers need to be given the title to show the distinction between master and pupil. It’s one of the few remaining shreds of institutionalized respect we have in our profession. However, in my naivety, I was trying to ingratiate myself to them as if that were how you garnered respect.

We talked about Jersey Shore, South Park, and the music we enjoyed. This all played into another callow conception I had at the time: I subconsciously wanted them to like me. And on that first day they did. However, once I tried teaching them the difference between action and linking verb the next day and why it was a crucial distinction if they ever wanted to write even decently, that was when the calling out, the side chatter, the doing work for other classes, or the doing nothing at all took place.

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The Last Boy Scout

In elementary school, I remember friends nudging me to join Cub Scouts. They had weekly meetings, they made fires and played with knives and went camping and did community service. It seemed like the cool thing to do. Kids even wore their uniforms in school sometimes.

Addressing the crowd after receiving my Eagle award.

Then, in fifth grade, we moved up and became Boy Scouts. I remember crossing over that bridge and thinking I had made it to the promised land where all seemed to grow – the kids, their facial hair, the hikes, the knives, the adventures. And, of course, they all brought the nudey magazines, otherwise known as “bass masters,” to summer camp, so that was a plus too.

I was really on a high, strutting my stuff around these older guys that were talking about moves and sensations I could not even fathom at 11 years old. What this one did with this girl by the lake, what the other one did in the wagon, how this feels and that feels. It was a baptism by fire, a coming of age, the corrupting of youth, a rites of passage, a loss of innocence – whatever you want to call it – as I absorbed more dirty jokes about females, the LGBTQ community that wasn’t called it back then, and every culture, ethnicity, and religion you can think of. I was just happy that they let me hang around them and didn’t bully me. Because when you’re younger and they’re older, the greater the likelihood of that happening. Not that it’s right.

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ICYMI: The Writing Process in Posts

“ICYMI: The Writing Process in Posts,” originally posted on July 10, 2017, extols the virtues of editing in producing worthwhile work by highlighting past blogs I’ve written on editing Knowing When you’re Too Young to Grow Up.

Robin Williams as John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ via Huffington Post

Why?

Because getting it all out on the paper is the easy part. Figuring out what belongs and doesn’t, that’s a skill I’m still working on mastering.

And it takes time, which I constantly remind my students each day.

Throwback Thursday: Running Away From Ringtown

“Throwback Thursday: Running Away from Ringtown,” originally posted on September 2, 2016, examines my coming to understand why my father runs away to his farm in Pennsylvania.

For three and a half years, I lived and worked in New Rochelle at the same school in the same place. Every day, it was just me and my work and my room. The same four walls, silence, and solitude and nothing else. Sure the rent was next to nothing and I was able to get my Masters and pay off any undergraduate debt I had. However, at what cost to my own mental health? Snow days were The Shining recreated, to say the least.

It was then that I understood why my father had always been so steadfast in his desire to get away from work and Long Island traffic and all its chaotic congestion. For as long as I can remember, he dreamed of buying a farm. After scouring the market for years, he finally found the antithesis of the cacophony of his over-saturated suburb: Ringtown, Pennsylvania.

Where?

Exactly.

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The Writing Process in Posts

Writing is as much – if not more – about editing than it is composing. Sure, you need a grand idea and a plan to provide scaffolding, and you also need to do the most important task – that is, write it – but then the real work starts.

And I constantly share this insight with every single one of my students who thinks the minute the write the last word of the first draft, that’s it! The process is over, finished, never to be looked at again.

Dream on.

Writing is moving, reading, axing, debating, reading, reinforcing, rewriting, rinse and repeat.

It’s that challenge to find the right blend that keeps me at it nearly each day in some form or another. I certainly went through it – and continue to – with Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up, with From Tragedy to Triumph too.

And, as I make my big push to find representation this summer, I’m sure I look forward to going through it again.

Here is some of my commentary on the process of writing and editing Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up: