Mocking a cliche

Like many things, they started out interesting. They were fun and fresh and seemed to offer some bold insights. And then they were everywhere and quickly tiresome and boring.

What? Finger spinners, Snapchat filters, or the Vineyard Vines whale? No, I’m talking about the internet feature “Letter to My Younger Self,” of course.

I’ve counted at least five of them, or various versions of the theme, in magazines and online on social media over the past week. Celebrities and self-help gurus seem to love them. They talk of key accomplishments, trials overcome, steps not taken, and a million other things in between.

They tend to be favorites this time of year because of graduation and the passing of the torch from one generation to another. They remind me a lot of graduation speeches and, while sometimes interesting, many have lost their touch or power.

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Like other fads that have come and gone, “the letter to myself” now come across as clichéd and trite. As a writer, I still love them, but I wish the person writing them would just once be honest. I mean, really honest, brutally honest.

The truth shall set you free

What do I mean? I’d love for the writer to say “that [fill in the blank] tattoo you want on your shoulder, save your money” or “the trip to the beach with 20 of your closest high school friends, skip it to go backpacking with your brother across the Appalachian Trail.”

You know what I mean, right? I want the writers to give the unvarnished truth. I want them to spill the beans so-to-speak. I want to know about the crazy party they would’ve skipped or the embarrassing act that got them into trouble. I want to know where they went wrong and what they would change so that I and others can learn for ourselves and avoid the same mistakes.

Dreams with a splash of realism

Instead, writers often talk about wishing they had taken more chances and followed their dreams. My radar goes off. Dreams, really? I’m a big believer in the power of goals and dreams. However, I dream of a life of leisure. Does that mean I should quit my job, run away to New York, and demand that I be penciled in as the starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees? Or run away to Caribbean to spend my days relaxing in sun and surf and partaking in fruity drinks on a soft white sand filled island?

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No, I may wish it, but that’s not going to work.

I want the truth, because we all make mistakes, they’re a fact of life. You can’t change reality. You can’t go back in time. You can’t always get the proverbial cat back into the bag. Instead, we often have to face the music. We have be present in the moment and to move-on and overcome. We have one life and we need to make the best of it.

At least that’s what I would write if I were to sit down and write a letter to my younger self.

 

Tugging at your heart-strings

Prolific Chicago children’s author and TED conference speaker Amy Krouse Rosenthal wrote in The New York Times online Style section in early March of her quest for more time. If she couldn’t beat the dreaded cancer that had stricken her body, then she wanted to make sure that her husband found someone new once she passed away.

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If the headline “You May Want to Marry My Husband” and accompanying essay didn’t wake you up when you saw the column pop-up on your screen, then not much else will. Like many readers, I read Rosenthal’s 1,200-word “mock online dating profile for her husband” and came away emotionally pulled into her life and story.

On one hand, I completely got her sarcasm and wit. She complained about facing a deadline to get husband a new spouse while she still had readers’ attention and, most importantly, a pulse.

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A sucker for a good story, even This Is Us

I’m a sucker for a good story.

When I was a kid, my parents had a family friend. He had a folksy manner and a slow drawl that drew you into any story he was telling. My parents would occasionally make the long Sunday drive to visit with him and his wife. The adults would sit around in rocking chairs in the living room or porch and talk about big people stuff — you know what I mean, the weather, the increasing cost of bread and milk, whatever was on the front page of the Sunday newspaper, run of the mill stuff. My mom would ask if I wanted to go outside to play, but I found his memories about playing minor league baseball or working in a lumber yard entertaining and would stay inside to listen, fearful of missing any of the story.  

I’m older now, much older in fact, but I still love a good story. I love how a story with a great beginning, middle and end can pull you in wherever you are, no matter what you’re doing, and make you feel something you weren’t expecting. It could be anything: surprise, anger, happiness, or even tears of sadness.

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An unlikely mentor

I keep trying to write something about the current state of politics. I’ll start commenting on one side of the aisle and then the other does something that I find completely ridiculous. In the end, I find myself right back where I started. So, instead of a political blog, I write today about a mentor who saw something in me that no one else had ever seen.


I lifted the ax and took a huge whack out of the log. With each swing, I could feel the anger seep out of my pores. I worked the summer helping a family friend on his small farm. I mowed his fields; helped build a fencepost and clear out a small barn, hauled hay; cut wood and a million other odd jobs.

Every day seemed to wrap into the other.

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A year of writing from the heart

penWhen I sit down to work on a blog or any piece of writing, I start out with a plan to get me from Point A to Point B. Like any map, it helps get to me to where I’m going and provides a sense of where I’m headed and even rest areas along the way to stop and stretch my legs.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work.

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Blog Anniversary: ‘Why do you write like you’re running out of time?’

Let me set the scene. The thirteen colonies have fought a long hard battle. But now their tenuous new government, strung together by a weak Articles of Confederation, is in danger of breaking apart.  

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Fiction: The push that killed my best friend

The challenge with any writing is to tell a good story. I wrote this piece of short fiction a few years ago for a writing class to see if I could write — not as an adult male — but as someone else, in this instance, as a rural country girl from the south. You be the judge.

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Two versions of the same man

I’ve written and rewritten this piece countless times over the years. The piece will either strike a chord with readers or like the cliche says: go over like a lead balloon. But, it’s  important for me to get it off my chest, to be open and honest in my writing and my faith. Here you go. For what it’s worth.


As I wrote recently, after watching my father hone his carving hobby, I became a writer. I saw the passion and craftsmanship that he put into his carving and I put the same effort into my writing.

At the same time, however, I also remember being a young kid and crossing paths with my father’s temper.

When it was at its peak, you wanted nothing to do with it. I usually stumbled across it for silly things: failing to find quick enough whatever tool he asked me to hand him when we worked on the car or on some carpentry project or coming home with the “Check Engine” flashing and our car on its last legs.

My father came from a different time, a different generation. He wanted more for his sons, but he couldn’t always provide it and when bad things happened — a car wouldn’t start, a bill came in the mail that he wasn’t expecting — he let loose with a flurry of verbal assaults in a chaotic and haphazard fashion. He didn’t mean to harm anyone per se, but the rat-a-tat verbal spray could still cause damage, making you feel two feet tall.

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Fiction: The silver lining

I had a friend in college who suffered through an experience like this in high school. I guess it didn’t work out too bad for him: He ended up marrying the girl. My short story ideas come from a lot of different thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This story has its share of sentimental fluff, but my goal was to put down on paper the anxiety, frustration and challenges that we all experience in adolescence. I’d love to hear what you think. Continue reading “Fiction: The silver lining”

Fiction: Making things right

I love writing my blog. I love it so much that I probably post too frequently, but it keeps me writing and gives me a chance to write about what’s going on in my life. I haven’t posted a lot of my short stories, but it’s also an opportunity to publish some of my other work. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago for a writing contest that you may like. What do you think?


John pulled the taxi in front of his parents’ home and turned off the engine. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had had spent the previous three days rehearsing what he was going to say. While he would have liked to delay the discussion, he knew the extra time wouldn’t help. He sighed once more and got out of the cab.

John had flunked out of his freshman year of college and over the past four years had gone through a series of jobs: car salesman, waiter, stadium usher, and bouncer. For the past six months, he had been working nights and weekends as a taxi-cab driver. The job was certainly respectable enough, but John’s parents had higher hopes for their only son.

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John’s parents never had the chance to go to college. His dad graduated high school and went straight to the mill and a part-time job to help support his brothers and sisters. John’s father used to say that he was faced with a simple decision: pitch-in or starve.

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