Tag Archives: writing

Open Letter To My Younger Self

I have become a fan of The Players’ Tribune. A couple of my favorite essays are from Danny Woodhead and Ray Allen. (Not to mention the recent essay from Isaiah Thomas, but his doesn’t fit this blog theme). Danny and Ray write a letter to their younger selves. I wrote a blog similar to this idea, “Staying True To My Younger Self,” but it focused on my writing.

I’ll turn 46 in a few weeks. And this thought about what advice I would give my younger self keeps storming my heart. So, I thought I would get the idea out onto paper…

Dear Younger Me,

It is amazing to think that I am just over the halfway mark of this life. The first half seemed to take so long to happen, all the change and growth and heartache that has occurred in these 46 years is crazy to think about. But, the years seem to be gaining speed, and life is going by way too fast. The oldest son is a junior in high school and the youngest daughter just turned four. I have had five different professional positions. We have a minivan with almost 100,000 miles and still a few months to pay it off!

Be ready, you are going to need to work on a few things. This letter is going to be tough to write, I hope you understand it when you read it.

First, forgive them. Everyone. Do it now because if you don’t, each day adds weight to your heart and it becomes harder to forgive. In fact I still haven’t. I can’t seem to let go of the pain and disappointment and the what ifs. Ironically, part of the problem is the work you will do to create a better life for yourself and your family. I’m not father or husband of the year, but the dinner table is often filled with laughter. There are hugs and bedtime stories. Movie nights with too much candy and simple moments of joy that take my breath away. But I haven’t forgiven certain people. You know who I mean, so forgive them as soon as you can. You can still live your own life without them, but your heart won’t be burden with the weight of anger and pain.

Second, I hope you read this in time, but don’t quit football. Don’t make that mistake. It will be your greatest regret.  Also, write more, push to become the writer you have always dreamed of since elementary school.  I’ve learned that the door of opportunity only stays open for so long before it closes. And when you choose to close that door, it can get locked and you have to let a dream die. Football. Other dreams can still be achieved. Writing. But you have to find an unlocked window to climb through. And sometimes that window is on the forty third floor. You have to struggle more than if you would have truly pursue your goals when the door was open.

Third, tell people thank you and that you love them. Let them in. Not everyone. But the people who are helping you, sometimes believing in you when you are not. You might think you will have time, but you won’t. Mr. Holt will pass away before you can tell him thank you for believing in you. There are others, like the Hudsons, Scott, and Mrs. Lane, who you will take for granted while you grow up. Let them know you are grateful, today. “Thank you,” might be the hardest thing to say in life because it reveals how you were affected by someone else.  For that moment you allowed someone into your life with an open heart and you are letting them know that by saying thank you.

And finally, stay true to who you are. I know you will do this at times, you will make hard choices because deep down you listened to the quiet but strong voice. Other times you will feel lost and hurt and wonder why life is so dark. That happens when you lose your focus, when you let others decide your future. Your path will be clearer if you continue to make choices that align with who you are (and what your goals are).

You are going to make it. At the halfway mark of life you will be amazed at how far you’ve come (and that you have driven two minivans as a dad). It won’t be easy, but I hope you take my advice so that when you arrive here you would have experienced more joy than heartache. But even if you don’t take my advice, you will look ahead to the second half of your life and you will know, even though the years are speeding up, that they will be filled with love.

                                                                                             Sincerely

                                                                                              You at 45

P.S. Remember this song?

 

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Staying True To My Younger Self

I apologize ahead of time, this post is going to ramble, but come together at the end. If you have a busy day you may want to save this post to read later…

I recently shared a post on Facebook about an aspect of writing that all writers go through, rejection. In this digital age we get rejection emails instead of letters, and my mailbox was filled with them. I’ve been getting a lot of them this year. Even when you know this is a part of the process, it is still hard to deal with right at that moment, or in my case, so many at one time. And some of them hurt more than others for different reasons. The grand prize for one contest I entered was to speak about poetry to students at colleges. I thought that would be cool.

I was thankful for all the responses from family and friends on Facebook telling me to keep writing. To stay true… which brings me to a YouTube video.

Dream On” by Video Advice is one of those motivational videos that mash up  different speeches with video clips, mostly from movies. This video’s audio starts with a quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Commencement Address at the American University in Beirut:

Girl looking at mirror

As you think about that for a moment, let me share what my word of the year is:

Designed by second son.

The idea behind that word was for me to BE a good father, to BE a good husband, and to BE a writer (yes, I hear Yoda, too). Instead of trying to do these this year I am going to fulfill those roles, which highlights the Facebook post, rejection letters (emails) are part of the process of being a writer. Especially since it has been awhile since I have actively pursued getting my work published. I have to be ready for those setbacks.

But let’s connect the Facebook post to the quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the responses I received about staying true…

What I find most empowering about his idea is how Nassim Taleb flips the idea of looking back on our lives. The popular idea is to give advice to our younger selves. Heck, there’s even a web series where athletes write back to their younger self (The Players’ Tribune). Let alone the popular songs and such.

But Nassim Taleb flips the idea, asks us to consider if who we have become would make our 18-year-old self proud. Did you fulfill the potential you held at that time? Did you pursue your goals? Did you live up to your own standards?

That’s a powerful idea…

And as I worked to publish the 20 Year Anniversary of my first book of poetry And I Never Told You, I came to realize as a poet, as a writer, that I had let myself down. Not that I ever stopped writing, but I let that part of me fall to the bottom of my priority list. As Nassim Taleb states, life corrupted me.

Corrupt might be a harsh word, but still true. As I read through other poems to add to the book, I noticed how the poems had more passion. They were raw, even undefined at times, but the poems represented my troubles and joys authentically. My poetry now is stronger in form and still reveals depth of emotions, but maybe not so openly. The poems have a guarded feel, more layers to get through. I’m not saying it is a bad thing, some of my favorite poems are from the last couple of years. What I hope you understand is how life has changed me to be more guarded in my works, to be more guarded in my everyday life. The irony is that I still feel the same pain.

Nassim Taleb’s quote seems to hint that life corrupts us with money, status, and things like that. But life can corrupt us with fear, pain, confusion, and simple busyness. What bill is due this week? What time is the dentist appointment? These things can blanket our dreams and even our hearts.

So I am making my younger self proud by BEing the poet and writer that I wanted to be. I know there will be rejection letters and other hurdles.  How about you?  What could you do today that would make your younger self proud? It doesn’t matter how old you are now, what matters is that you can pursue your goals at any time. Let today be day one of your success story.

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Open Letter to Mr. Holt

Dear Mr. Holt,

I wish you were here to see me finally live up to the potential you saw in me way back in middle school (1984). I have self published my first novel. I image handing you a copy and you smiling, your eyes would get lost behind your glasses and full beard, as you hold it in both hands. You would sit at your desk, messy as always, and thumb through some pages, stopping to read a section. You would then say, “I knew you could do this.”

But you passed away in 2001.

I am sorry that it took me this long to believe. Maybe not believe, but to embrace the talent you saw in me as an awkward seventh grader who wrote poetry in his notebooks instead of notes. You let us break-dancers actually have a class to work on our moves during our eighth grade year. You always read my poetry and stories with a caring but honest insight. I still have the book of poetry you gave me from your library because I borrowed it so much. I also have the copy of Dune you let me keep from class. And yes, I still have the “book” you put together of my poetry for my senior year. Giving me my first taste of being published, even if it was put together by hand and was only 25 copies.

IMG_5662As I look at my classroom I can’t help but laugh. My bulletin boards look just like yours did. Even when I didn’t have your class you would allow me to put stuff up on your walls. I remember Scott and I visiting you at your home. You always had time for us. You always had time for me, and I wish I had told you this when you were alive.

I was the kid who was too loud at times. Even Scott’s mom mentioned that to him in junior high. I had to move away a number of times, but you were a stable factor in my life for those six school years. You made me feel that I mattered. You expanded my horizons by suggesting books; yes, Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book of all time. You let me sit by the window and understood that I heard you even while I wrote poetry instead of grammar notes.

It is teacher appreciation week. The best way I know how to say thank you is to share my talent with you and the world. A talent you helped develop. Writing. I miss you, Mr. Holt. Thank you for being my English teacher.

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What it Takes

The First Step

So, my first novel is done. And do you know what it took to get it done? I had to write it. Such a simple step, but so difficult to do. Under the Lights was a novel I completed for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)… three years ago. So what took so long?

First, fear. It is so easy to say you are doing something instead of actually doing it. I wasted years talking about being a writer, about working on a novel without really putting the time or effort into it. I was afraid to actually write it, to put my heart and soul into it, knowing that readers might not like the story. It was easy to hide behind excuses of time and family. And to simply give into the fear.

I am going to be honest; I am still feeling fear and doubt as each copy of the book is sold. I wonder if the themes are clear, if the characters come alive for the reader. Time will tell. I am excited to see where this book will lead me. So how did I actually get the book ready? Work.

Achieving Something Takes Work

For the last year I have scraped together time to produce my novel. I don’t know how many times I have read the story, checking for errors, adding a line, and deciding to remove parts. To achieve any goal, it takes work. But it is worth it. I am now a writer. I like the sound of it. But I have to give my family the credit in helping me overcome my fear. How can I expect my sons and daughters to work hard for their goals if I don’t set the example?

While working at ESU 10 I discovered the TED Talk below by Larry Smith, “Why you will fail to have a great career” (Yes, I was working at ESU 10 when I actually finished the novel for NaNoWriMo). Like many things in life, a seed takes time to grow. Larry Smith’s honest insight on why going after a great career is important inspired me. My family inspires me. Their talents and life journeys inspire me to go after this goal that I have shied away from for too long.

Achieving anything takes work. Takes a lot of work. You will have to conquer your fear. But it is worth it. Believe me, I’m a writer.

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Dreams Deferred…

Last week one of my English classes studied “Harlem” by Langston Hughes. Many people know this poem as “A Dream Deferred.” One of the reasons I love literature and especially poetry is the joy to connect our life to the theme of the work.

The historical message of the poem is rooted in the dream of civil rights and still reflects the struggle we have as a society to fulfill that dream. But I think why the poem has such universal appeal is that Langston Hughes touched on such a deep pain we all face in our lives; dreams deferred.

Here is a moment of honesty. At the moment I am struggling with this concept. I have always had a grand dream of becoming a writer. Ever since fifth grade I have filled notebooks with stories and poems. I won a young authors award in high school. I financed the publishing of a book of my own poems in college, but life just kept pushing the dream to the back burner. Now at the age of 43 it seems that time is running out to achieve that dream. And it hurts. It feels like I will never be able to achieve that goal and it is fading away.

Langston Hughes uses decaying metaphors in the middle of the poem, “ Or fester like a sore—/ And then run?,” to create a visual for the consequence to our lives if we keep pushing our dreams to another day. The dream will have become rotten.

Then mix in the discussion I had with the students about reaching for their dreams, and I think I understand the last line as it pertains to an individual.

A dream deferred destroys you.

I am not suggesting that everyone can accomplish their goals, success is never guaranteed. But we can handle failure as long as we have the opportunity to try. Being a football coach has also been a dream of mine, and I was granted the opportunity. And I failed. It hurts. It hurts bad, but I can deal with it because I was given a chance.

But what is life like when there is no chance? When it seems like nobody cares about your dream or willing to help you with it? Langston uses the line, “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.” A great simile here to describe the weight of that dream sitting in your heart but no opportunity to achieve it. Then everyday it gets just a little heavier. A day turns into a month, that turns into years, that turns into a life. A life that never reached its true potential.

Let’s get back to my students, your students. School. Are they striving to accomplish their dreams? Or are we asking them to push their dreams aside for better test scores, for grades, or worse for some other time in their life? Do we even know their goals?

I’m not naive enough to say that fostering our students’ dreams will solve all the world’s problems. But, what would our classroom, our schools, our world look like if we were given the opportunity and support to try?

Langston Hughes describes it this way in his poem, “I Dream a World.”

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