Bob’s Life Mattered

I’d argue that there’s an important shade of difference between understanding and knowing. For example, there’s a difference between understanding that pushing a jagged, rock-like obstruction through one’s ureter and urethra might be painful and knowing the torture of actually passing a kidney stone.

I’ve been thinking of this distinction between understanding and knowing lately in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement that has left many white Americans confused, at the least, and downright apoplectic at the worst. A person may be able to understand the challenges faced by African-Americans, but can anyone who isn’t black truly know what it is like to be black in America? If not, how can so many white folks so knowingly denigrate the movement as radical, unnecessary, or un-American? I’d think that never having “walked in another’s shoes” renders one’s opinion on the people actually wearing them relatively meaningless.

Obviously, I have never walked, marched, or been tear gassed in a black person’s shoes, but I did once accompany my African-American friend Bob as a sweet-as-can-be real estate lady showed him properties around Louisville that we slowly came to realize were all located in so-called “black” neighborhoods. Bless her heart. Bob was single and making good money as an on-air television sportscaster for a local station and could have afforded to live in all but the most expensive of neighborhoods, yet he was clearly being steered away from them.

On another occasion after Bob had moved to work in Nashville, he and I were having dinner in some downtown hot spot. He was a good looking local celebrity with a six-figure salary. During the two hours we sat eating our meals, a steady procession of women stopped at our table. By the end of the evening, there was a literal stack of business cards with phone numbers waiting to be dialed. Years deep into marriage and raising children, I opined, “It must be great to be you.”

Without hesitation, he wisely replied, “Ty, I’d give anything to be you.”

I share that seemingly random anecdote because on two separate occasions, Bob telephoned me from whatever large city he was in living in at the time to inform me that he had met HER, the woman he planned to marry. He was finally going to have the life – my life – he so badly wanted. Sadly, however, on each occasion, he was forced to make a follow up call to tell me his relationship had been brought to an end after his white girlfriend’s parents learned he was African-American.

I also remember the many times I walked with Bob into any number of retail stores. Like me, he loved books and could easily while away an afternoon browsing in a bookstore. On those occasions, sales clerks seemed to greet us nearly at the door and all but follow us down the aisles in what I originally thought to be extraordinary customer service but that Bob quietly informed me actually to be surveillance. He was used to the “attention.”

Bob, a city kid from Rochester, New York, was no John Lewis or Louis Farrakhan, but like Mr. Lewis, he treated everyone with respect and expected it in return. He rarely complained about the systemic racism he experienced, and he graciously expressed appreciation for the occasional affirmative action from which he benefited. At times, he was accused by African-American acquaintances of not being “black enough,” but regardless of how hard he tried to live a colorblind existence himself, he was never white enough for full societal inclusion.

Bob passed away twelve years ago from colon cancer; however, over the nearly thirty years of our friendship, he became a member of both the family I was born into and the one I created with my wife. Occasionally, I hear folks complain about the Black Lives Matter movement. They typically make some kind of blanket declaration of the obvious, like “All Lives Matter,” as if to suggest they, as white people, are in similar need of societal validation. I find such glomming onto African-Americans’ justifiable claim to be petty and to miss the point entirely.

In no way am I suggesting that, by merely witnessing just a few of Bob’s day-to-day confrontations with profiling, prejudice, discrimination, and outright racism, I in any way know what it’s like to be a black person in America, but I do better understand its challenges, and I am supportive of the BLM movement. What I do know is that, if only in the way his presence in my families’ lives made all of us just a bit less prone to accept stereotypes and more open to forming relationships with people of all races, Bob’s Life Mattered.

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Thanks, Ty

Thank You, John B.

I have never understood the deeply personal reaction many folks have to the death of a famous person. In no way, however, do I question the sincerity of their grief. I’m just unable to empathize with it. The most obvious recent example is the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Although, I had mad respect for the man’s basketball talents, I felt no more sorrow for his passing than that of the approximately 150,000 (approximate number of worldwide deaths per day according to the World Health Organization) other people who died that day and whom I also did not know personally. Setting aside family and close friends, the deaths that have instigated the most visceral responses from me have been those of contemporaries from my youth – an occurrence that is becoming all too frequent – especially guys I competed with or against on athletic fields.

Not long ago I unexpectedly came across the obituary for John B. (Those who knew John will also know what the “B.” stands for.). I have not been able to get him or the effect he had on my life out of my head ever since. John was two classes ahead of me in school, so we were not friends, but we were teammates on the football team. I don’t think he ever gave much thought to my existence as I was a smallish sophomore, and he was a senior-captain and QB-1 on a very good team. In my insecure fifteen-year old’s mind, John was everything I wished I could be but wasn’t and, even then, somehow knew I never would be. But, I tried. Man, did I try. I tried to walk like John and to talk like John. I even listened to Springsteen mostly because John did.

In those delusional days, I had aspirations of being QB-1 myself one day, so I tried to throw a football like John as well. With little success, I might add. But glorious were the days when I was able to finagle my way in individual skill sessions to have him as a partner. Again, I’m sure he didn’t notice my finagling nor the expression behind my face mask that belied my awe at being his partner and my determination to impress him. I’m equally sure I never did. I certainly never impressed the coach, who rightly switched me to receiver the following season.

The life lesson John ultimately taught me was, once again, done without his intention or notice and didn’t occur until two years later when he was two years graduated and I was a senior myself. We had just defeated a rival football team that John’s class never seemed to be able to beat, and I had played a significant role in the victory, including scoring a touchdown. John and several other former players from his class had returned home for the game, and as I watched them storm the field after the victory, I thought for sure John was running to hug me and congratulate me and to thank me for finally helping to beat those Huron Tigers for him and his football classmates . . . he wasn’t . . . and he didn’t. Instead, he ran right past my half-outstretched arms for a few of my more talented, more popular teammates. I never felt so alone in a crowd before or since. (I’m No. 18 in the photo above in the actual game against Huron, apparently having missed a tackle.)

But, please, don’t misunderstand me here. John did nothing wrong. How could he have possibly known the extent to which I had idolized him or how much his validation would have meant to me in that moment? In the bigger picture, he inadvertently taught me two life lessons I have never forgotten and have tried to pass on to the young people who have been in my charge: 1) You never know who’s watching you nor the impact your actions have on those observers, and 2) To quote Emerson, “Envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide.” By trying so hard to be John B., I had stifled, if not killed, the unique me that was trying to form itself at that vital and malleable period of personality formation. It’s not like I had an epiphany at that moment of unintentional rejection, but the experience taught me to try my best to be my own person and not to live so much for the approval of others.

I never once spoke to or even ran into John B. in the many years since that night, but he’s never not been with me one day since. I would give much to be able to have one more anonymous catch with him and maybe to tell him what a hero he had been for me. In my mind’s eye, he will forever be the epitome of youth and charisma and cool inside his golden helmet, in the vanguard, leading his teammates on a conditioning run or into the fray on a Saturday night.

If you enjoy my blog posts, you might enjoy my novels. You can click on the “Home” link above to read excerpts from all of them and/or to order them from Amazon.

Rolling in American Dirt

It was with great reluctance that I undertook the reading of Jeanine Cummins’ bestselling and controversial novel American Dirt. Several, ultimately-thin reasons fueled my reluctance. Firstly, I possess an English major’s admittedly snobbish and petty aversion to reading “what everyone else is reading.” The more the general reading public likes a novel, the more I am prejudiced against it. Secondly, I am a fan of Don Winslow’s drug war trilogy of novels, and I just didn’t feel there was much, if anything, more to be written about the horrors associated with Central American drug cartels. Thirdly, I am marginally sympathetic to the charge of cultural appropriation levied at Cummins, a white woman-writer living in NYC, telling and profiting greatly from a story so outside of her life experience when similar migration stories have been written by Latinx authors but under-promoted by their publishers and the press. Finally, one of the best bits of reading/writing advice I have ever received comes from a Matt Nathanson song, “The Last Days of Summer in San Francisco,” in which he sings, “No one cares about the stories they’re not in,” and I just could not imagine any way I could generate empathy with the novel’s characters based on my experience living my entirely white bread life in Ohio. Eventually, however, I overcame my hesitance to read American Dirt, and I am glad I did.

The story Cummins tells is harrowing and much more horrific than any tale that has ever spilled from the pen of Stephen King. After miraculously escaping a drug lord’s ordered massacre, which resulted in the deaths of sixteen family members including her reporter-husband, Lydia, with her son Luca, undertakes a terrifying odyssey in the attempt to escape to el norte while in constant danger of being recognized, murdered, or returned to, Javier, the jefe, of the most powerful cartel in Mexico, who ordered the massacre in retaliation for an expose written about him by Lydia’s husband. Along the way, Lydia becomes a surrogate mother to three additional children who are also attempting to escape the horrors of their respective homelands. The plot unfolds at a fast pace only slowed by the weight of sadness that accumulates on the reader in response to the characters’ many misfortunes, the reader’s disgust over the senseless cruelties of men, and the reader’s fear of what atrocity awaits on the succeeding pages. The novel is not perfect. There is a plot device involving a cartel member shadowing the migrant “family” that makes less than perfect sense, and I found the ending a bit too uncomplicated and pandering. These minor complaints, however, take little from what is a compelling and thought-provoking plot.

As for my original objections, firstly, not reading a book simply because many others have read and enjoyed it is pompous and juvenile. Secondly, American Dirt, unlike the other cartel stories I mentioned, provides a unique focus on the innocent victims (women and children) of the drug trade rather than glorifying the macho narco-lifestyle or sensationalizing its violence as a sort of narco-porn; thereby, it rises above the typical narco-narrative. As for cultural appropriation, in this case, the accusation ultimately falls flat. Authors must be free to explore, write about, and expose readers to worlds beyond their own experiences, both the authors’ and the readers’. In Cummins’ case, the amount of research she conducted and effort she put into establishing verisimilitude has been well-documented, and regardless of who told this story or profits from it, many readers are now better educated regarding the god-awful plights of so many Latinx migrants. I can only hope that the novel inspires grassroots support for compassionate policies regarding the victims of drug cartel terror who seek refugee status in the U.S. Finally, as to Matt Nathanson’s notion of “nobody cares for stories they’re not in,” American Dirt became my story too when Lydia describes having been aware of the horrible deeds being perpetrated by the cartels but also having been blissfully oblivious to them as long as they didn’t directly affect her and her family. As long as she had been living a secure middle class life, she felt “anger at the injustice . . . worry, compassion, helplessness. But in truth, it was a small feeling, and when she realized she was out of garlic, the pang was subsumed by domestic irritation.” When I read those words, I felt enormous guilt for the times when I was aware that BLM and PRIDE marches were taking place in my own small town, but I ignored them, deciding it was more important to cut the grass or not to miss weekly coffee with friends. With that passage, Cummins achieved what I think all great literature aims for: self-examination. Reading that passage, I realized I am pre-massacre Lydia. I can empathize with her, for I am sympathetic to a multitude of innocent sufferers but have failed to take much real world action to remedy their suffering. Such sympathy, which fails to inspire action and bring about change, is fairly useless. Cummins has made me realize I can, I have to, do better. Any book that can do that is powerful and well worth the read.

Who are You Calling a Patriot?

John Dryden, one of my favorite English poets, once wrote that “Never was a patriot yet, but was a fool.” Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest thinkers of the eighteenth century wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” While I admit Dryden and Dr. Johnson’s notions may be a bit extreme, in observing recent events in America, I take their points.

It seems to me that patriotism does not possess a one size fits all definition. Rather, it comes in many forms and can be expressed in a variety of quite disparate ways that are all worthy of respect. There is room on the spectrum of American patriots for both Pat Tillman and Colin Kaepernick. I have never believed that being a patriot had much to do with flying a flag or dressing in red, white, and blue. And I have no regard for the blind nationalism and jingoism expressed in such simpleminded statements as “America, love it or leave it!” or “America First!” However, I do respect these folks’ pride in and love of country. On the other hand, I find absolutely nothing patriotic about purposeless rioting and destruction of property (Note the word “purposeless.”) But, as Michael McDermott, a frequent visitor to Port Clinton’s Listening Room, sings, we should not “mistake dissent for disloyalty.” We are a nation founded by subversive patriots who, at great risk to themselves, exercised their right to protest against their English overseers in order to give birth to these United States. In fact, we are a nation with a long history of social movements that have fought at great cost against institutionalized injustice on many fronts and moved us ever forward towards, not a perfect union, but a “more perfect” one.

In my most romantic of visions, I imagine a United States in which we shed our “We vs. They” mindset, both domestically and internationally, while proudly preserving our unique identities as free-thinking individuals and as fellow countrymen. In addition, there is no reason that we cannot simultaneously celebrate our American-ness while also recognizing that we are part of a worldwide citizenry with whom we face common challenges and to whom we have mutual bonds of amity and responsibility.

Be a Man. Be a Feminist.

I’d like to thank Rep. Ted Yoho (FL), whose recent display of boorishness reminded me of why every school year I proudly proclaim my feminist status to my students. As a male and former football coach, I typically receive many surprised and sidelong looks but also a few appreciative smirks. Regardless of your politics, Yoho’s cowardly name-calling of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) should be a wake up call that reminds us of how chauvinism remains rooted in America, most perniciously among too many male power brokers. Originally, I considered titling this post “Be a Man. Stand up for Women.” However, “Stand up for Women” sounds like a nod to an old fashioned, condescending form of chivalry. It implies some sort of male superiority, not female equality or empowerment. Women, especially AOC, are capable of standing up for themselves as she so gracefully illustrated on the floor of the House in response to Yoho’s non-apology.

I can trace the genesis of my own feminism to an incident when one of my sons suffered some minor scrape, and as he cried, I reflexively ordered him not to be “such a girl.” Thankfully, my wise wife overheard my wrongheaded admonition and correctly shamed me by reminding me that she, my son’s mother, is a girl. Prior to this incident, having grown up in a house with five brothers and spent the majority of my life in locker rooms as a player or coach, I regularly heard and used feminine identifiers as pejoratives without considering the implications of such usage. Since being corrected by my wife, I have not made that mistake again. Similarly, I know of several men who became feminists, even if only tacitly, upon the arrival of daughters and the sudden realization of the uneven playing fields faced by their girls. I think this is great; however, it should not require such an event for men to acknowledge the equal value of women or to acknowledge and fight for women’s rights. After all, without a woman, those fathers of daughters wouldn’t be here at all, and without another one, they wouldn’t have a daughter.

As verified by a witness, Yoho cravenly referred to Ocasio-Cortez as a “fucking bitch,” albeit beneath his breath and while he walked away from her. (I’ll let you judge what kind of person/leader/role model/man that makes him.) It makes me think of the notion that one’s true character is revealed when he/she thinks no one is looking or, in this case, listening. I like to ask my students to identify a term that is the male equivalent of the “b-word.” They search their vocabularies but invariably fail to conjure a term that possesses similarly noxious connotations. I do this thought experiment to make clear the manner in which inequality and misogyny remain inherent in our language and culture.

In all domains that traditional male hegemony has asserted its self-serving dominance, including literature and literary criticism, there exists a need to make up for centuries of denying women equal opportunities and agency. Therefore, in my syllabuses, I integrate numerous texts by feminist writers and many with feminist themes. Warning: Do not equate “feminist writers” with female. There are a large number of canonical male authors who laced their texts with forward-thinking feminist notions, including Chaucer and Shakespeare. Also, as novelist, I am vigilant in trying to create independent, powerful female characters and avoiding the damsel in distress trope.

Although I’m sure some will snicker over my feminist-rantings, call me hysterical (a word of Greek origin meaning “of the womb” and with misogynistic roots), and even question my manliness, I don’t care. I’m of an age when I’d rather be right than be cool. In the end, being a feminist simply means being respectful of others, applying the Golden Rule, insisting on fair play, and doing the right thing. That seems the least I can do.

Acceptable Loss?

As a high school teacher, I would wholeheartedly return to the classroom on the directive of my superintendent if the return is to be done in full compliance with CDC guidelines. Should, for example, the six-foot distancing be reduced or masks not be required of all, my enthusiasm for a return to normal wanes dramatically. I am sympathetic to the vehement desire of many to get students and teachers back in brick and mortar buildings. However, at this critical juncture, what I most desire from anyone advocating for students and teachers to return to a pre-Covid model of in-class instruction is blunt honesty as to the risks to which they are willing to expose students, teachers, and, by extension, their loved ones at home by returning to school-as-usual.

Statistics are brutal things, and they unequivocally tell us that under such a plan – especially if CDC guidelines are compromised – a number of students, teachers, and support personnel will inevitably contract Covid-19. Contrarily, a hybrid model greatly reduces the number of people in a school building at any one time and concurrently the risk of contagion, while a remote learning model guarantees that schools play no role in the virus’s perpetuation. Therefore, I would like those who insist on a full return, especially those in positions of authority to determine what plan schools will follow, to declare publicly what number of sick and dead they consider to be an acceptable loss in order to get the economy and our American lifestyle back to normal. For under a full return, no matter how many precautions are taken, a number of students, teachers, and support staff will contract and transmit the virus to one another and to those with whom they share living space. Admittedly, most of those who become infected will be asymptomatic; however, some small percentage will suffer a debilitating illness for a relatively short period of time, some will experience long term damage to their health as a result of their struggle with the disease, and some will die. If these “Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!” philosophers believe strongly in their position, they should have no problem going on the record with a declaration of how many lives they are willing to sacrifice. I would certainly have much more respect for their position should they possess the courage to admit the suffering that will occur as a result of their position and be willing to bear a share of the responsibility for that said suffering.

It is important for us to acknowledge that any contraction of Covid-19 and deaths that result from re-opening schools on the traditional model will NOT be the result of an accident. Those who advocate for and those who directly send students, teachers, and staff back into those school buildings will NOT be blameless regarding those who suffer as a result of their position. If they have a number in mind as to what they consider to be an acceptable loss, they are of a different mind frame than me, and I ask them to apply the faces and names of their loved ones who will be in those schools to that number before they put a single child on the bus.

“The Angel Gabriel (Gonti) was Sent.” To Ohio?

As a teacher, whenever I hear that there will be an exchange student in one of my courses, I greet the news with ambivalence. Most often, the student is a joy to have in class and eager to learn and to share their own culture with me and their classmates. Occasionally, however, the exchange student views their time in America as a sort of gap year and as a vacation from academia. This sort learns little and contributes less. In my thirty-five years in education, I have watched many exchange students pass through the halls. Nearly all of their names, I have forgotten, but one made an indelible impression on me: Gabriel (Gabe) Gonti. I did not have Gabe in class, but I was an assistant coach on the tennis team, where he was one of the star players on one of the best teams in PCHS boys’ tennis history.

Long before I met Gabe at the beginning of tennis season, I knew of him. As literally hundreds of students walked past me in the hall each day, Gabe stood out from the first day of school. He possessed a cool magnetism, a cosmopolitanism, and a level of maturity atypical to most teenagers and difficult not to notice, but he was also humble, self-deprecating, and affable. For example, although his tennis acumen became immediately obvious, I had no idea that he was also a talented musician. So talented, in fact, that when he returned home to Brazil, he began to pursue a career in music, which has resulted in a number of singles, videos, a large following on social media, and several albums. In addition, he recently made his acting debut in a feature film.

My interest in and promotion of Gabe may seem odd to some, but they exist for several reasons. First, as I mentioned at the beginning, he is one of the few exchange students I have encountered who has left a lasting mark on my psyche, and I think it is cool that such a successful artist has a connection to Port Clinton, Ohio. Secondly, as an artist of sorts myself, albeit in a different medium, I know how difficult it can be to get your art out into the world, and all artists appreciate anyone who is willing to vouch for and recommend their work to anyone who will read, watch, or listen to it. Thirdly, Brazil has a soft spot in my heart as one of two foreign countries in which my first novel, So Shelly, was published as Letras de amor y muerte or Letters of Love and Death. (If you ever read this Gabe, a little shout out to your many followers would be greatly appreciated. See “Secondly” above.). Fourthly, I like when good things happen for good people, and Gabe is good people. Finally, and most importantly, his songs are outstanding. Although, I need to have Google translate his lyrics from the Portuguese, I find them poetic, and his melodies sooth my soul in the universal language of music. Like his angelic namesake, Gabe is a messenger who soothes the souls of those who listen.

I highly encourage you to check out Gabe’s music, especially Gonti (Acustico) on your preferred medium. I can’t stop humming “A Gente Se Da Bem.” Also, like and follow him in social media. In my and Gabe’s personal exchange, I know I have been profoundly and profusely blessed much more than he.


One of the overlooked themes in my latest novel, Island No. 6, is the awful burden of leadership. As Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Those in positions of leadership, both in the novel and in real life, are regularly taxed with making unpopular decisions based on far-less-than-certain data and with wildly unpredictable results in the offing. Thankfully, there are still those men and women who bravely seek out the mantle of leadership despite this burden. In fact, I would argue that most of our current organizations do not suffer so much from a lack of leadership but from a lack of followership. Please, do not mistake my point, healthy debate is always positive, and we should never conflate dissent for disloyalty, but our current lack of trust in our leaders has been so eroded by tribalism and a general unwillingness to follow that consensus and progress have become almost impossible throughout a wide range of societal endeavors.

Books, seminars, courses, entire organizations devoted to teaching leadership skills are ubiquitous in modern America; however, I cannot think of one such forum dedicated to teaching and elevating the role of the follower. It has traditionally been, but increasingly wrongfully assumed, that the masses will naturally muster, fall in line, and willingly accept marching orders from their leaders without having received similar training in how to follow, but those were different days, and I wholly support everyone’s thinking for oneself and calling out authority whenever it acts in opposition to the best interests of the many. In our current milieu, however, too many people’s aversion to leadership appears to be their default position, and it has caused them to assume automatically that any initiative proposed by those in charge is not even worth one’s consideration. I’ve been known to speak out forcefully against authority myself, and I will continue to do so. At the same time, I am proud to consider myself a good soldier when final marching orders are given.

A significant contributor to this modern day problem is the devaluation we have placed on humility. To be a good follower requires one to humbly subordinate his/her own agenda, opinion, ideas, etc. to those in leadership positions. It means sacrificing individual goals and initiatives for the good of the many, and in this egocentric age in which we live, when it is so tempting and easy to broadcast personal thoughts far and wide through any number of social media platforms, selfless acquiescence to leadership is becoming increasingly rare. I cannot reiterate enough that I am NOT promoting blind obedience. I don’t give it, and I don’t expect it in my children or students. The trust necessary to be an effective leader must be earned, but it is also true that those who are to be governed must provide their elected, hired, or promoted leaders with the opportunity to earn that trust.

Just as a shark must continually swim to avoid sinking to the bottom, any organization needs to be constantly moving forward or it will lose its momentum and become stagnant and irrelevant. In order for such progress to occur, there has to come a point at which the debate ends, decisions for the good of the many are made, and the organization moves on to face new challenges. To that end, we must teach, encourage, and reward informed followership and celebrate those whose willingness ultimately to be led makes any group and all progress possible. A delicate balance it is between dissent and acquiescence, but all democratic institutions demand it be struck, for the far-less-attractive alternatives are a chaotic anarchy or a tyrannical autocracy.

The Daughters of Erietown: A Review

One of the most powerful functions of literature is to challenge readers to step outside of their own demographics and to view the world through the eyes of some other category of person. For example, reading Richard Wright’s Black Boy as a young man provided me a modicum of insight into the African-American experience with racism. Similarly, reading Monica Ali’s post-9/11 novel Brick Lane allowed me to imagine the world as seen through a burka. Likewise, Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt has inspired many readers to reconsider their understanding of the plight of Central American immigrants seeking safety and opportunity in el norte. It was in this spirit of vicarious experience that I read Connie Schultz’s The Daughters of Erietown.

As a proud male-feminist, which is not an oxymoron, I read TDoE with the conscious purpose of gaining as much understanding of the cross-generational experience of females – at least as lived in working class Northeast Ohio – as possible. Admittedly, it is an amount of understanding that might fill a thimble. Without going into plot detail, TDoE is a story of women of all ages confronted at nearly every turn with men behaving badly. The range of these men’s sins range from the mere tacit condoning of social institutions designed to “keep women in their place” to the horrors of physical abuse.

It would be a mistake, however, to view the novel as man bashing. It is not that. In fact, there are several examples of male characters who rise heroically in opposition to sexist standards and in support of the novel’s females. It is also made clear that men themselves are also victims of an inherited patriarchal system that at least allows for, if not promotes, chauvinistic boorishness or that locks them into prescribed men’s roles and definitions of manliness. Nor does TDoE seek to play the so-called victim card as is made clear by its final protagonist, Sam (Samantha), managing to overcome the many male-made traps set and barriers built to preclude her free agency and to forge a career and a life of her own defining outside of the conventional wife/mother role.

One of the more intriguing attributes of TDoE is the fictional setting of Erietown. It is the home to mostly blue collar, multi-ethnic, and multi-racial families. Anyone raised in any of the many once-industrial cities along the shores of Lake Erie in northern Ohio will recognize Erietown as their own. The setting is so prominent that it rises to the level of character. It is not merely a backdrop against which the story takes place, it is a shaper of the lives of its inhabitants for better or worse, like another parent, coach, or teacher. It may as well have been the place envisioned by LeBron James when he wrote, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” For some, Erietown serves as a place of escape and refuge; for others, that same town is a prison with invisible but unscalable walls surrounding the town.

If forced to criticize for the sake of counter-argument and not to come off as a biased cheerleader for all things Connie Schultz (Which I am.), I would only point out what I thought to be one relatively-weak sub-plot in which Schultz seems to cast her inclusivity net a bit too far by having Sam fall in love with an African-American man. Although the message is a good one, it feels wedged into the plot. Also, at times, the dialogue feels a bit stilted, but the occasional awkwardness of expression is most likely due to much of the story taking place in the past. The diction and syntax of the characters have gone the way of the many Northern Ohio icons Schultz sprinkles lovingly into the text, including Higbee’s Department Store, Lawson’s Convenient Stores, and Stroh’s and Schlitz beers.

The Daughters of Erietown is a novel that will stick with me. It has inspired me to be even more cognizant and appreciative of the extra efforts required of the women in my life, both past and present, just to compete and be appreciated in what is sadly still very much a “man’s” world. More importantly, it is a fictional record and reminder of the many unseen and unheard of acts of courage and will performed every day by women since . . . well . . . forever.

The Monsters We Deserve

The epigraph for my new novel, Island No. 6, is a line from an Our Lady Peace song that states, “We are all innocent.” The truth of that line applies to the situation in the story and in our world today where Nature has unloosed a novel virus “monster” on the population. Governments’ and individuals’ innocence in relation to the spread of the virus may be a different matter, but that is a debate for another arena. The majority of life’s monsters are, however, of our own creation and often of our own deserving, and that has long been my favorite lesson from the English epic Beowulf.

The epic is one of the most anthologized texts in English Literature textbooks. At its most basic, literal level, it is little more than an archetypal story of good conquering evil. The plot is simple: a heretofore underachieving youth suddenly finds his moral center and begins to live up to his promise and lineage. He achieves a heroic, larger-than-life status through deeds requiring extraordinary bravery and strength that become the stuff of legend. In Beowulf, when the monster Grendel begins terrorizing the Danes, Beowulf, according to the heroes’ code, enthusiastically accepts the challenge of ridding the Danish people of their monster, which he does with relative ease and no injury to himself. Thereby, the champion of the Good battles one of its many foes, achieves victory, and establishes Virtue as the proper model for imitation.

My preferred take on the narrative diverges from the commonly-emphasized theme of Good conquering Evil. In my instruction, I choose to focus on the lesson that “We only get the monster(s) we deserve.” According to the epic, the monster, Grendel, is just one in a long list of forms of punishment that God has unloosed on mankind as a punishment for his sins. It is explained that Cain’s murder of his brother, Abel, was the catalyst for the race of monsters that haunt the Earth with Grendel being just one of many. The point being that it was man’s own doing that caused the death and destruction wreaked by Grendel. Mankind and the Danes merely get the monster they deserve.

I like to apply this notion to any number of situations in which I observe people complaining about the figurative monsters in their lives. A tendency of which I am no less guilty. We often do so without the slightest sense of responsibility or, sometimes, even awareness of our own role in those monsters’ creations or continuance: parents of their children, spouses of one another, teachers of their students, students of their bully, addicts of their addiction of choice, and citizens of their political leaders. The monsters are many. In most cases, however, there was a time when these monsters were not monsters at all; rather, they were actually cherished by those who they now terrorize. The point being that many of the monsters we fear and that wreak havoc in our lives were transformed into such by either our own actions or by our passive allowance.

The good news is that anything we create, we can also destroy. Even in the telling of horror stories, we never create a monster without also concocting its antidote, a means by which it can be defeated or even cherished once more. The vampire is destroyed by a stake through the heart or exposure to the sun. A werewolf is slain by silver-tipped weapons. The Wicked Witch of the West melts when doused with water. Unlike Beowulf, however, we are real and not larger-than-life. The overcoming of the monsters we have created and that terrorize us is difficult, and we rarely escape unscathed by our efforts. The first step is to stop playing the victim or blaming others for our monsters’ existence and recognize, like Dr. Frankenstein ultimately does with his creation, that because we created it we are the only ones who can slay it.