Roth’s Class, Volume 1

One of the main reasons I began writing novels and, more recently, publishing a blog is that I wanted to expand my classroom, where, in any given year, I might reach 100 to 150 students. Through my fiction and essay writing, I’ve been able to share whatever small measure of wisdom I’ve gleaned over my years of living and teaching with a much wider and sophisticated audience, and I have found it quite rewarding.

In addition, I somewhat regularly have folks tell me that they wish they could sit in on my lectures. Others who regularly pass my classroom as they go about their duties tell me they like to stop and listen when they hear me teaching. Therefore, I’ve decided to introduce a new feature to my blog titled “Roth’s Class.” I’m calling it that because that is how the majority of my students refer to whatever course it is they are enrolled in with me. It’s rarely British Literature, American Literature, or Composition; rather, it’s “I got Roth’s class.”

This first installment is from my opening day lecture in College Composition I. As it is a course that requires a significant amount of reading of position essays, the respectful discussion of those essays, and the composing of personal argumentative essays by the students, I spend some time at the start of the semester reminding them of what is required in the practice of respectful discussion/argumentation in an academic environment and that I fervently wish was adhered to by adults in their own discourse rather in the media, in face-to-face conversation, or online.

  • Learn to be a discerning reader. Just because something appears in print or online doesn’t make it true or accurate. Challenge what you read.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Examine all sides of an issue.
  • Suspend judgment: Discussion is not debate; it is about communication, not competition.
  • Avoid abusive or insulting language. We don’t have to agree with one another’s ideas, but we should respect one another as people.

We then discuss the difference between opinion and fact. This may upset some people, but despite the attempt by a former president’s spokesperson to insist otherwise, there is no such thing as an “alternative fact.” In academia, facts are not up for debate. For example, in addition to what our own eyes should be telling us (It was Dylan who sang, “I don’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind blows.) and no matter how much the occasional publication of junk science or politically-motivated disagreement with legitimate research pollutes our national intelligence, the overwhelming majority of peer-reviewed research indicates that climate change is real, and anyone who paid attention in science class for over the past two hundred years knows that vaccines work. Similarly, in the teaching of American history and current events, racism has been and remains endemic. To insist otherwise is demagoguery, which is anathema in any serious academic environment and a grave disservice to our youth.

We then discuss from where our opinions emanate, and I encourage my students, who are juniors and seniors, to begin to question whether or not the opinions they entered the classroom holding are truly their own and if those opinions should be made the object of further examination. According to our America Now textbook, the most common sources of opinion are the following:

  • Inherited = Those opinions, for better or worse, impressed upon us by our parents usually with good intentions but sometimes wrongheaded.
  • Indoctrinated = Those opinions foisted upon us by various sources of authority (churches, government, teachers, coaches, etc.). Like inherited opinions, these are mostly good intentioned but also sometimes off the mark.
  • Involuntary = Those suggested to us subliminally. For example, advertising has a long history of portraying females as existing in subordinate roles or serving primarily as objects of male sexual desire. Such portrayals have resulted in young women settling for less powerful roles in every social institution and in young men inappropriately objectifying women.
  • Adaptive = Those opinions we alter or “adapt” to the environment in which we find ourselves (“When in Rome . . .) rather than boldly asserting our actual positions.
  • Concealed = Those opinions we hold that others might view as slightly or completely wacky; therefore, we keep them to ourselves for fear of judgment. For example, I believe our country could stand to press the reset button on the place of athletics in our academic institutions. I’d like to see all sports removed from them and converted into community-sponsored clubs. I generally keep this opinion to myself because most folks think I’m crazy for even suggesting it.
  • Linked = those opinions we hold merely because of the various groups with which we align ourselves rather than thinking for ourselves. Examples of such groups to whom we subsume our opinions include affiliations with particular religions, political parties, unions, sexual orientations, etc.
  • Considered = these are our most valuable opinions. They are the ones we arrive at and express only after careful reading, research, discussion, and discernment. Unlike politically-themed television shows and far too many online bloviations by uninformed blowhards, these are the opinions that carry weight in academia.

Granted, this is probably not the sexiest lecture/discussion I lead throughout the year in composition class, but I do think it is one of the most important in the process of helping students to become free-thinking adults in a democracy that demands thoughtful and informed citizens.

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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These Things I’ve Learned

Robert Redford’s The Natural is one of my favorite movies of all-time and one I often find myself quoting. Of the many great lines spoken in the film, the one that has come to resonate with me the most of late is spoken by the character Iris Gaines, Roy Hobbs’ long lost love, who near the end of the movie tells him, “You know, I believe we have two lives. The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.”

Glenn Close as Iris Gaines in The Natural.

It wasn’t too long ago that I finally entered that second stage of life, the one in which we find ourselves scarred, maybe a little bit scared, and a tad worse for wear but also a bit wiser. I’m grateful for reaching this point despite the many years lost trying to get here, for I know that there are many who, despite however age they may reach, never learn; therefore, they never get a chance to adjust their ways and to have a chance at what John Mayer calls “livin it right.”

Many essays from the pens of far better writers than me have been written based on this premise, including by such distinguished authors as Robert Fulghum and Maya Angelou. Still, if only to identify and clarify these things I’ve learned for my own purposes, I feel this essay is worth writing and sharing. A thought or feeling left unspoken is like that tree that falls in the forest with no one around: its very existence is open to debate.

So what follows is an incomplete but ever-growing list of some of the things I’ve learned in my first life that I’m trying hard to apply in my second:

  • Regardless the source, often a religious one, guilty, afraid, and intolerant is no way to raise or educate a child, nor is it a way to live.
  • Emotional vulnerability does not make me weak but being overly-sensitive to the opinion and judgment of others does. I need not overreact to others’ criticism of me or their reluctance to accept me.
  • To say with regularity, “I love you,” to those I love even my male friends and to say, I’m proud of you,” to whomever it applies. It’s surprising how infrequently some people hear those words and how good they feel when they do. Sadly, some no longer do or never did.
  • To figure out those few principles really worth fighting for and doing so but also, whenever possible, to choose to deescalate conflicts with those who believe differently. Avoiding or walking away from a confrontation does not mean I’m afraid or lacking in conviction. In fact, it is by far the most difficult and courageous choice. Even better, I need to make an attempt at least to sympathize with others’ points-of-view when empathy just isn’t possible.
  • To not pre-judge others based on the simpleminded stereotypes I’ve picked up along the way or that fit the narrow definition of them that makes me comfortable when interacting with them. Individuals are complicated beings, and no two are exactly alike. If I lump them together, I risk never actually knowing anyone.
  • Speaking of “not knowing anyone,” I’ll never completely figure out anybody, especially myself, but the attempt to do is well worth the time and effort.
  • I don’t have to win for the effort to win to be worth its expense. In fact, I’m finally realizing that not everything is even a competition.
  • Talk less, listen more.
  • I don’t have to please all of the people all of the time. Actually, I mostly need to please myself. In so doing, I am in a better state of mind to serve those others to whom I am responsible and whom I should rightfully and responsibly be trying to please.
  • Everyone, including me, deserves a second, third, fourth, etc. chance. We are all works-in-progress who never reach completion, at least not in this world. When we give up on someone, we are actually giving up on our own ability and willingness for compassion, love, and forgiveness, which only diminishes our own humanity.
  • As an addendum to the previous lesson learned: Good people sometimes believe and do bad and/or stupid things. This definitely includes me. That’s what makes us human. If we didn’t sometimes believe and do such things, we’d be too good for this imperfect world. Therefore, it’s unfair to judge a person entirely based on what they do or say in their worst moments or phases of life. Be willing to give them a pass or a do-over when appropriate and only I/We are the ones to know when our limit has been reached.
  • As obvious as it should have long been, I’m not going to live forever. I’ve watched friends and family members pass away, some young, most in advanced age. My time as a vital human being is so incredibly precious and short, but time is not the constant that the clock on the wall wants us to believe and adhere to. I need to find or invent ways to slow it down in order to better appreciate, if not savor, the moments as I’m living them.
  • To “act my age” does not mean to act old or to stop doing the things that make me feel alive. It’s important to continue to set goals and to dream big dreams. It does mean, however, not to deny the years I’ve lived and not to make a fool of myself by pretending to be anything other than my actual age. As my gray hairs and wrinkles increase, I hope to embrace, not deny, their existence.
  • The list is very short of acceptable reasons to risk destroying a relationship with a family member or friend. Neither group is in adequate supply and both are typically diminishing in number.

I apologize if any of this has come off as preachy or pretentious. As the character Doc says in West Side Story, “What do I know? I’m the village idiot.”

P.S.: Due to the fair number of visits I receive to my blog, I’ve been approached with offers to monetize it through advertisements. I, however, have no interest in profiting from it — at least not monetarily. If you are interested in supporting me and my blog, the things you could do include liking and sharing my posts, purchasing my novels and leaving a rating/review on Amazon, recommending my blog and books to friends, and/or following my blog by clicking on the “Follow” button on my web page at tyroth.com and sharing your email address. With that said, you really don’t need to do a darn thing.

Always with gratitude and love – Ty

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Ty(rannosaurus) Roth

Every year the flip of the calendar from July to August turns my thoughts to the upcoming school year, which, in turn, inspires me to ponder the year ahead and to consider what I might do differently and, hopefully better, this year than I’ve done in the past. For the last thirty-seven years, that ponderance has led to small but never wholesale changes in my style of teaching, which explains the title of this blog post. I’m increasingly feeling a bit like a dinosaur among my peers; many of whom are much, much younger than me.

Other reasons for my feeling myself to be a fossilized remnant include 1) half of the time, I don’t understand what the young bucks on staff are talking about, especially when they start throwing around education-related acronyms; 2) there are very few grandparents, like myself, on staff; 3) data, data, data; and 4) I wish I had my chalkboard back. Perhaps my most dinosaur-like attribute, however, is — GOD FORBID AND FORGIVE ME — I am a lecturer. I still possess the audacity to expect my students to sit for forty-five minutes while I offer instruction and, on the best days, entertainment and enlightenment.

No reason for this photo other than it was taken in the Main Branch of the NYC Public Library and looks kind of scholarly.

I’ll be the first to admit that my devotion to lecture is at least partly the result of my egomania and need to be seen and heard, and where can you find a more captive (Think about that adjective for a minute.) audience than in a classroom. I also half-joke that I’m prone to lecture because it’s much cheaper than paying a psychoanalyst.

Some of my readers of advanced age may be surprised by the desire of many in education to rid schools of teachers like me. In fact, we may very well be on the verge of extinction. For them, allow me to list five ways in which lectures are ineffective, according to the article “Advantages and Disadvantages of Lecturing” at Thought.com: 1) Lectures are very taxing for students, 2) Lectures are not engaging, 3) Lectures are teacher-centered, 4) Lectures do not accommodate individual needs, 5) Lectures cause students to rely on their teachers. I would not strongly refute anything on this list.

During professional development workshops, teachers are regularly warned to steer away from lecturing for anything more than brief intervals. Lecturing is referred to pejoratively as the “stand and deliver” method, which is an allusion to the movie of that name from the eighties with the implication that they are both outdated. I’ve even heard lecture called the “say and spray” method of teaching, meaning the lecturer addresses the class as a whole and hopes some of what he/she says falls upon each of the students; however, like when using a lawn sprinkler to water new grass, that is rarely the case.

I might also add that perhaps the “proof is in the pudding,” but I’m too ignorant, too stubborn, or both to see it. Since the inception of the most recent method of teacher evaluation in Ohio’s public schools, I’m consistently diagnosed as being a “Skilled” teacher. On first consideration, that looks pretty good when, in fact, it means I’m average. The most highly-rated teachers are identified as “Accomplished,” a designation I have never earned. Part of which is my own fault, for I have openly-shared my refusal to “play the game.” Even so, when I’m evaluated, I do what I do every day in class without putting on a “dog-and-pony” show, which means my teaching is basically viewed as average according to the system currently in use. The lowest category of evaluation is the dreaded “Developing” (Notice the euphemistic nature of that term.).

Yikes! Me in my early teaching days.

My thoughts are that effective teaching cannot be boiled down to checklist of items that need to be clicked off or data points that need to be reached. Much of what is done in classrooms today is teaching to the test. I totally understand why teachers do it; the pressure to put up good numbers is immense. I just refuse to do it. I figure if I do my job well and the test is truly a measure of the learning of necessary skills and the accumulation of vital content-based knowledge, my students will be fine.

I also feel that teaching is an art form akin to drama. I imagine my school day as a series of one-act plays. The tardy bell rings like the curtain rising, and I perform with the full range of verbal acrobatics, range of movement, body language, and emotive intensity as any stage actor. My best plays are the ones that inspire enthusiastic audience participation, but they’re still pretty good when they do no more than goad students to think quietly in ways they may have never thought before.

In my experience, when the teacher stops actively teaching, many students think the time for learning is over no matter how many independent or group projects the teacher assigns, and they’re very good at pretending to be working when the teacher approaches them or their group, and they’re even better at convincing one student to do most of the work while they all take the credit. I’ll admit that my perception may simply be the result of my own inability to invent and to structure independent and group activities, and there are many teachers who are very good at that sort of instruction.

One thing I do know is that more-than-a-few of my students have complained to me about the number of projects they’re assigned and of teachers’ excitement about and overreliance on technology, which the students themselves are quite blasé about. My students also regularly share how much they actually enjoy teacher-led lectures/discussions and simply talking to their teachers, especially the ones who are thoroughly knowledgeable in their subject area and passionate about sharing their own love of the material. In my mind, any teacher who is isn’t passionate and excited to share their love of their material doesn’t belong in a classroom.

So call me a dinosaur and label me “Skilled,” but the curtain is about to rise on another season, and I’m ready to “break a leg.”

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Some of the People in My Life, Vol. 13: Jim Lamb

The last person I thought I ever needed in my life was another little brother following me around. I already had four of them. Over the years, however, that once-thought unnecessity has become fundamental to my very existence and impossible to imagine being without. I’m referring to my childhood neighbor, former student, English department colleague, carpool partner, fellow book club member, like me lover of all things JAWS and Gatsby, and very good friend: Jim Lamb.

As Jim is the oldest of three siblings, it may be that I have filled in for his own lack of an older brother, which, by the way, in addition to the four younger brothers I have, I also have one older. If that is the case, it’s one of the great honors of my lifetime.

Jim with his wife, Karen, and son, Luke in downtown Sandusky.

The Lambs lived across 5th Street and down a block from me and my family on the east side of Sandusky. Although ten years younger, like me, Jim attended Catholic elementary school and Sandusky Central Catholic High School, where I was his American Literature teacher. After I accepted a teaching job in the Port Clinton school district, he took my position at Sandusky Central Catholic. Five years later when a position opened in the English department in PC, with my encouragement, Jim applied for and ultimately was offered and accepted the job, where he was installed in the classroom right next door to me. I wonder: if I should pass away before my wife does . . . just kidding.

There is a well-known quotation attributed to John G. Kemeny that “it is the greatest achievement of a teacher to enable his students to surpass him.” If Kemeny is correct in his assertion, I have little left to achieve as a classroom teacher, for Jim Lamb is one of the finest educators I have ever worked with or known.

Jim is first row on the far left. This is from when Jim coached football with me at PCHS and before we both became avid runners.

I have long been the kind of demanding teacher that students one day appreciate. Jim, on the other hand, is not only equally demanding and “one day appreciated,” he is loved in the present by the vast majority of his students, who enter his classroom enthusiastically at the tardy bell and exit reluctantly at the bell to change classes. It’s an ability of which I am admittedly envious and at which I marvel.

Standing in the hall with Mr. Lamb between classes, I may as well be invisible as one student after another, current or former, either stops to chat with him or calls out a “Hello, Mr. Lamb,” with obvious affection in their voices. In the infrequent moments when he isn’t the object of students’ greetings, he is the one actively seeking out passing students to greet with one of the silly but ingratiating nicknames with which he dubs many of his students. The coolest thing of all, however, is that he more-often-than not seeks out kids who are not necessarily the most popular or extroverted and makes them feel not only noticed but loved and appreciated. I begin most years with my incoming classes like the reluctantly-agreed-to blind date with Mr. Lamb serving as “the one who got away.” I have to spend a semester just weaning them off of Mr. Lamb.

I told you he was an avid runner.

Although his default setting is calm and inviting, when necessary, Mr. Lamb can transform quickly into Mr. Lion. Those who have been witness to or on the other end of his roar can attest to that. Amazingly, however, even the latter somehow still love the man and routinely seek him out later to apologize for having offended or disappointed him. The man is an absolute maestro of effective classroom management and behavior modification.

Mr. Lamb’s students know that there is not likely to be another teacher whom they will encounter during the remainder of their day who will meet them with passion for their material commensurate to that which Mr. Lamb brings every day, every class period. And, trust me, the man knows his material. I know because I taught it to him and literally gave him my notes, but like a great singer of cover songs, he has put his own spin on the material and made it better than that which he was given.

Jim likes to metaphorically compare the summer months for teachers to a school year weekend; whereby, June feels a bit like a Friday full of feelings of accomplishment for another week down and anticipation of the free time to oneself to come. July is similar to a Saturday, the actual day for fun and leisure, enough removed from Friday to relax and enjoy the day. And August feels like a school year Sunday with a work week staring you in the face, sapping much of Saturday’s joy.

As I write this at the tail end of Jim’s summer Saturday, my disappointment over summer Sunday’s arrival is greatly diminished by the knowledge that soon I will be in Jim’s regular company as a friend, colleague, hallway neighbor, and if I may be so bold to say, as a mentor. Of the many things we have shared, the most important is an absolute love for literature, composition, and PCHS, especially the students we have been and continue to be so blessed to teach and to learn from.

Teach on, Captain Lamb. Continue to sound your “barbaric yawp” through the hallways of PCHS to the betterment of us all.

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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To the Dreamers

I often see on Facebook postings by friends, typically former students, who are chasing various dreams and life goals that many would perceive as unrealistic rather than settling for something less. They inspire me and give me hope. Reading one such post recently reminded me of a speech I gave a few years back at a banquet at the University of Toledo for English majors who had won various department-sponsored creative writing awards.

Rereading my speech, I feel that there is still value in it and real world wisdom for those dreamers learned from my own Quixotic experiences “tilting at windmills.” What follows is the written version of that talk with the numerical order of talking points included. This is for the dreamers who refuse to give up their dreams or give in to the naysayers. In the words of Aerosmith, I say, “Dream On.”

  1. It’s an absolute joy to be among so many of my people, my kind of people: you English Majors, you purposeful idlers, you unapologetic romantics, you unconventional thinkers, you iconoclastic throwers of conceptual bricks, you rejecters of the status quo. Most pleasing for me tonight is the opportunity to address particularly those among you who will choose to become members of the 99% – not the 99% of economic have nots but the 99% of those who will seek mainstream publication for their writing but never see it on their local bookstore or library shelf. I cite this deflating statistic not to discourage you; rather, by standing in front of you tonight as a 1 percenter myself (in the published sense, not the financial), I hope to convince you that you too can make that giant leap. Early in Sophocles’ Antigone, Ismene, the title character’s timid sister, asserts that “things impossible, ‘tis wrong to attempt at all.” But if I had believed such nonsense, I’d have never bothered to defy the absurd odds against achieving mainstream publication, yet here I am. Know this, if I can do it, trust me, so can you. I have no preternatural gift for writing. Believe it or not, I don’t even enjoy writing that much. All things considered, I’d rather watch television. As a writer, I compare myself to the type of hockey player known as a “grinder” – not a particularly graceful skater or stick handler but one willing to muck it up in the corners, throw a few elbows, and, in general, do whatever needs to be done to put the puck in the net. When I started, I didn’t have a single contact in the publishing industry. I was a nobody from nowhere, but I possessed a stubborn determination to succeed, and I resolved that I would never stop trying until someone told me I was good enough.
  2. However, I must warn you that the world of mainstream publishing is not for the thin-skinned or the easily-discouraged. You will, most likely, fail repeatedly, and you will give up on the dream if you do not learn to make friends with the devil that is REJECTION.     
  3. Actually, you should be more than mere friends with REJECTION; you should be lovers – with all of the sublimity, ecstasies, frustrations, masochism, and neuroses that mark any halfway-decent love affair.
  4. As English majors, you should be fairly accustomed to rejection and already well on your way to forging this relationship because, if I can assume you’re anything like me, for many of you, REJECTION has been a lifelong companion:
  5. As children, we were rejected by potential playmates who grew weary of waiting for us to “put down that stupid book,” so that we would come out and play.
  6. We were rejected by potential romantic partners who were less-than-impressed by our pale skins and under-toned bodies, which resulted from so many hours spent indoors with books and writing journals.
  7. We were rejected by those who were mortified by our choices in fashion and hair styles, both irrelevant considerations as we spent most of our time reading and writing in our favored nooks and crannies.
  8. We’ve been rejected by potential hook-ups who immediately disconnected when the inevitable question arose: “What’s your major?”    
  9. Some of us were even rejected by those more widely-esteemed major programs themselves and only “settled” for the English department as a second choice because “I like to read,” or because “I did ‘good’ in English in high school.”
  10. I know of some rejected by their parents who refused to pay the tuition for such a “worthless degree.” I mean, “What are you going to do with an English major?”
  11. As undergrads and grad students, we’ve had draft after draft rejected for being either too original or too derivative; too under-sourced or too over-sourced; too obvious or too obscure; too conservative or too unconventional; too timid or too overreaching.
  12. We apply to numerous grad schools and MFA programs hoping that just one will take us and allow us to borrow even more money that will take a decade to pay back – if we can pay it back at all.
  13. In pursuit of academic publication, we’ve had papers and articles rejected by the most arcane, yet somehow significant, literary journals.
  14. Chasing mainstream publication, we’ve been rejected, in my case novel after novel and by agent after agent (somewhere north of  a hundred), and, once represented, by editor after editor at publishing house after publishing house.   
  15. Once published, the rejection doesn’t stop. We brace ourselves against not only the rejection of the trades (Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Book List, to name a few) and mass media publications but also against that of the myriad of amateur bloggers and the dreaded and spiteful “Allocators of the Stars” at Amazon and GoodReads.   
  16. We face the almost certain rejection of the general reading public who prefer their pot boiler stories of paranormal beings, soccer mom erotica, political thrillers by right wing talk show hosts – hell, anything by right wing talk show hosts, ghost-written celebrity novels and tell-alls, and the story of a five-year old, raised in a shack, who recounts his journey to heaven and the five people he met there (I may be guilty of conflation there.) to anything that is remotely literary or nuanced.
  17. Finally, we find our books rejected by the slew of e-readers who prefer the un-vetted crap they can download for free to the painstakingly-edited pieces that require an investment of nine dollars.

So, if any of you intend to advance further into the world of mainstream publication, I heartily encourage you to do so and, as I earlier noted, I’m living proof that anyone from anywhere can make it; however, proceed with full knowledge that the devil of rejection lurks. If he is unable to simply tempt you away from your goal with the Internet and television and fancy Smartphones, he will test your resolve with the constant reminder that the odds of publishing are too great and your talent too lacking. So, thicken your skin, steel your nerve, trust in your talents, think of my example, and stubbornly resolve to render the sinewy arms of Rejection impotent by embracing it.

To the Dreamerswhatever your dreams may be.

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Thanks for Nothing!

While out for a run today, the song “Celebrate,” by Grady Spencer and the Work played on my ear buds and reminded me that I need to be mindfully thankful for all of the nothing that happened to me and mine on this oh-so-ordinary day:

"People ain't got it this good,
So let's get down and give thanks.
Baby, don't worry let's celebrate . . .
Time is gettin' shorter don't make me wait."

Spencer’s lyrics certainly remind us to count our blessings while we have them and to be conscious of just how good we already got it rather than living for St. Nevercome’s Day when we claim we’ll finally be truly happy. But how often are we reminded to count and be thankful for all of the negative things that didn’t happen? I would think not very often. So I’m going to make a brief list of some of the crappy things that didn’t happen to me today for which I am endlessly thankful.

  • I didn’t not wake up this morning, and when I did, it was without a single spot of bother that might portend the onset of a serious illness. Today, at least, I didn’t suffer any painful accidents and I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. Ditto for my children and grandbabies.
  • I didn’t wake up hungover or a victim to an addiction of any kind unless you count those new Nerd candies that are crunchy and sweet on the outside but soft and sour on the inside. I can’t control myself.
  • I didn’t have a panic attack, stress headache, or nervous breakdown, and I remain free of the need for any meds for physical, mental, or emotional issues; although, I am in no way judgmental or critical of their place in anyone’s health management.
  • My wife of thirty-four years didn’t leave me, and I’m pretty sure at this point that the whole marriage thing is going to work out.
  • My mother, who is 86 years old, didn’t suffer a life threatening event of any sort. This is a woman who, prior to knee replacement surgery in her early eighties, was asked by the surgeon if she’d had any recent major medical issues. She answered, “None that I can think of.” The doctor, while reading her chart, reminded her of the obstructed bowel, aortic heart valve replacement surgery, and breast cancer she had endured in the near past. “Well, if you’re going to count those as ‘major,'” she responded.
  • Not a single major appliance broke down today, and my automobiles are not in need of any major repair.
  • Unlike many in our country and world, I was not made a victim of a catastrophic natural disaster; although, the “natural” part of that statement is in question and might be more accurately described as a “manmade disaster.”
  • I don’t have a single boss whom I don’t respect or who treats me unfairly; in fact, I have the upmost respect for all of my bosses.
  • I didn’t have to report to a job I hate this morning; in fact, because it’s July and I’m a school teacher, I didn’t have to report to a job at all. But when I do return to the classroom in late August, it will be with love and enthusiasm for a job, students, and co-workers whom I truly love.
  • My Facebook wasn’t hacked. I know there are a lot of FB haters, but for me, it has been an incredibly-effective and rewarding method of staying in touch with friends and family and even re-connecting with some from whom I’d drifted. Just last week, FB led to an email reunion with my best friend from high school, whom I hadn’t spoken to in forty years. It reminded me of what a special place he had in my heart and formation as a person. I hope we will soon be able to arrange an in-person reunion.
  • I didn’t accidentally delete the 50,000 words of my novel-in-progress.
  • No bill collectors called me because all of my bills are paid thanks to my wife’s skillful handling of all family accounting.
  • I wasn’t bored for one second. I tell my students, “Shame on you if you’re ever bored. The world in which we are fortunate to live and life, in general, is far too interesting to be bored by it.”

These are just a few of the many potentially-awful things that didn’t happen to me today, and I want to tell the universe, “Thanks for nothing!”

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Historical Fiction: A Conversation with Jim Bollenbacher, Author of “The Signers: The Adventures of the Cushman Family”

I recently partook in an email “conversation” with Jim Bollenbacher, the author of The Signers: The Adventures of the Cushman Family, an intriguing work of historical fiction. What follows is a slightly-edited version of that discussion. It’s a longer article than my typical posts, but I’m positive you will find it enjoyable and enlightening, especially if you are, like me, a fan of historical fiction and a fan of Jim Bollenbacher.

Jim Bollenbacher

The amount research required to write such a long, detailed, and historically accurate text as “The Signers” must have been overwhelming. Could you briefly discuss your process for completely such a daunting task?

I think it was Confucius that said “the most difficult part of a thousand mile journey is the first step.” I was a government and history teacher and football coach my whole adult life. I had never even written an article let alone a novel. When I retired and took the ‘first step’ into writing, I had a couple things going for me. I had taught American history for 11 years and American government for 20, so I had a pretty good background for the American Revolutionary period. I had read several biographies on Jefferson, (Fawn Brody, John Boles), John Adams, and George Washington. My motivation to write a book surrounding the Signing of the Declaration of Independence was first inspired from a lesson I taught in my government class. It was a three day lesson plan, where on day one, we read aloud and discussed the Declaration. On day two we read a 4 page article written by Rush Limbaugh’s father (a lawyer and school superintendent), detailing the huge sacrifices the Signer’s were forced to endure. Each student would then write an essay regarding the magazine article. On day three, we talked about the impact the Declaration had throughout history.

I then crafted an adventure tale around the signing, introducing Thomas Jefferson’s fictional best friend from childhood. From there it was more research, mostly by reading historical books around that era like, A.J. Langguth’s Patriot, David McCullough’s 1776, James Flexner’s Washington, and several others.

As the book started to come together, I realized I had to become an “expert” in 1800 century weapons, military strategy, 1800 century British sailing vessels and tactics, uniforms, clothing, all the way to common slang and vulgarity. Luckily the internet provided a wealth of websites dealing in such areas and I soon had a very large folder of sources.

I’m a huge fan of historical fiction as it combines two of my favorite academic disciplines. I find that the difficulty in authoring such a novel is the balancing of the two, and the danger is avoiding slipping too much into either discipline. In other words, if the author leans too heavily on the historical half, the text can very easily slip into sounding like a dry lecture in a high school history class. On the other hand, if the author slips too heavily into the freedom allowed by writing fiction, they risk coming completely unmoored from the debt they owe to remaining true to history. What are your thoughts on this conundrum, and how did you maintain a proper balance between history and fiction?

Attempting to balance history and fiction was probably the toughest part of weaving the tale of The Signers. I decided early on in creating the Cushman family, especially Jefferson’s best friend Ben, to try to keep their relationship believable. Jefferson’s early life is well, known, he was gifted with intense curiosity and was a student that thrived in every discipline, from science to foreign languages. What few people probably don’t realize about Jefferson is that he was also a skilled outdoorsman, a horseman with few peers, a gifted swimmer, and an excellent shot with both pistol and musket. He enjoyed cards and gambling, like many Virginians. The fictional Ben Cushman is a reluctant farmer, more skilled as a warrior, but also more intelligent than he would let on. I think the reader can relate to these two becoming best friends despite the totally different trajectory of their chosen professions.

My hope was to weave an adventure tale, (mostly fictional, but there were many rumors of assassination plots against the founders, large bounties on all the signers by the British government and of course the real life harassment’s that follow almost every signer and George Washington.) while exposing the reader to a thorough history lesson concerning colonial America during this time period.

I found that a fun way to keep from making the history to “dry” and fiction too “unbelievable” was to divide many chapters into multiple story lines. Bouncing back and forth from each story helps to move the book along and allows the reader to escape into each layer.

Without providing any spoilers, which of the fictionalized characters is your favorite, and what role do they play in the novel?

Wow, love this question, tough choice, but probably Ben Cushman. He is Jefferson’s best friend and would do anything for him. Ben is reluctant warrior who has been on a personal vendetta for the past 10 years (hinted at throughout the book, you’ll need to read the prequel and later the sequel to fill in all the dots). He, more than anyone, knows how vicious and deadly the British Army is and believes that Colonial school teachers, shopkeepers, artisans, and farmers will be no match for the professional and experienced British Army and Navy. He arrives in Philadelphia, two weeks before July 4, 1776, to surprise his best friend. He stumbles on a British and Tory plot to kill the leaders of the Continental Congress. Of course, it’s like the movie Titanic: you know the boat is going to sink and you know the leaders will survive, but it places Cushman in the center of one of the most important two weeks in human history, not just American history. The Declaration of Independence is more than just a notice of separation. It championed a political theory that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This political philosophy, that rights come from God, flew directly in the face of the current philosophy through most of the world known as the “divine right of kings.” Cushman knew the King of England, George III, would never let such a philosophy take hold and the Colonies would feel the full brunt of the mighty British Empire.

Two close seconds of fictional characters to Ben Cushman, would be his partner throughout the book, the mysterious spy, Major Jacob Hall and Cushman’s eventual love interest, the spoiled and confused, Deborah Johnson.

Major Jacob Hall is a spymaster, reporting only to Benjamin Franklin. His involvement with Ben Cushman goes back 15 years to the French-Indian War, the two shared many a close call with both the French and the Indians. I love his character, (for more of Major Hall, you’ll need to read the prequel America at the Abyss, The Adventures of the Cushman Family) and try to keep his role as mysterious as possible.

Deborah Johnson, spoiled daughter to the wealthy Tory David Johnson winds up on the wrong side but still falls for Cushman. Her vulnerability contradicting with her strength makes the attraction to Cushman an interesting sideline. She is a rare breed, working as a waitress-barmaid in the most popular new tavern in Philadelphia. A beautiful and fun loving young woman right in the middle of the approaching storm.

Let me ask the reverse. Which of the characters drawn from history is your favorite and why?

Thomas Jefferson. John Kennedy once commented at the White House honoring Noble Prize winners, that “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” The “Da Vinci” of the 1700’s, Jefferson deserves to be one of the four figures on Mount Rushmore. Most importantly he chose to serve his fellow citizens throughout most of his adult life. Jefferson served on the 2nd Continental Congress, wrote the Declaration of Independence, wrote the Virginia Statutes of Religious freedom (serving as a model for the 1st amendment in the Bill of Rights), was our 1st Secretary of State, our 2nd Vice President, and our 3rd President. In addition, he founded the University of Virginia. Any single one of those accomplishments would have been of major significance, but all of these makes Jefferson an American Icon. Despite these amazing achievements, Jefferson was very shy and at times unsure of himself. He dreaded speaking in public, (probably because a slight lisp) and preferred to let his writings spread his unique ideas.

Another challenge faced by the writer of historical fiction, especially if the writer is a fan of the historical figures of whom they write, is to provide an honest, 360 degree portrait of the those who play a major role in the novel and not to “whitewash” them in a way that ignores their human frailties. For example, the Founding Fathers are often given a pass for some of their questionable behaviors so that they come off as borderline superheroes rather than as real, imperfect men. The opposite is true as well. It’s just as tempting for some writers to villainize historical figures far more than they deserve. I’m thinking particularly of a man like Thomas Jefferson. What are your thoughts on this dilemma faced by writers of HF, and how did you attempt to navigate through it?

Another great question. My very first rule was not to put myself into the 18th century with 21st century morals. For instance, slavery has existed on planet Earth probably longer than civilizations themselves. It has existed in every human society, in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Ancient philosophers often claimed it was a natural order of things. Christians were probably the first group who questioned the practice of slavery. But, It wasn’t until the 1600’s that some philosophers began to lament the condition of slavery. Still, by the 1770’s very few were speaking out against slavery with some exception in the American colonies. Puritans in the northern colonies were quite outspoken against the practice of bringing African slaves to the Americas. John Adams spoke out against slavery quite often as did Benjamin Franklin. In Pennsylvania, the Quakers were adamant in their campaign against slavery. John Dickinson, a key member of the Pennsylvania delegation was constantly scolding his Southern brethren concerning the issue. Even Jefferson, a slave owner, was conflicted. One of his grievances against George III in the Declaration was the importation of African Slaves. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Dickinson fought hard to keep the passage in the Declaration, but the Northern states eventually gave in to the Southern slave states in the spirit of compromise and deleted the key passage. In my research about Jefferson, he was clearly conflicted and wrote about this conflict when he and Adams were near the end of their lives. (Of course, in one of the great ironies in history, both men died on July 4th, 1826).

I know it is popular to attack the founding fathers in today’s hyper sensitive media, but I refused to do that. In fact, I believe that the Declaration of Independence was the beginning of the end of slavery in the world. Jefferson’s words were electric and sparked conversation around the world. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”! These words not only sparked an American Revolution, but revolutions continuing to this day, (demonstrations in Cuba this weekend is the latest example). All men are created equal in the eyes of God, rights that come from God and not man. These ideals appealed to the American colonists and have continued to appeal to generations of people ever since. Jefferson’s words sparked a movement. Within 11 years, the American Congress voted to end the slave trade. Within 80 years a civil war and amendments to the Constitution ended slavery in the United States, and within 100 years of the Declaration of Independence, slavery had disappeared from most of the planet.

In The Signers, I tried to humanize all of the founders. Most were young men, literally fighting for their lives. They were filled with doubts, imperfect men who made incredible decisions under extraordinary circumstances. Jefferson’s fear that his fellow delegates would reject his Declaration, Washington’s multiple doubts regarding his army and the strategies he was about to employ. John Dickinson’s fear in sending young men off to fight an unwinnable war. John Hancock’s commercial fleet, which made him one of the richest colonists, was about to be hunted down by the world’s greatest navy. Despite their many imperfection’s, these men came together and orchestrated the greatest upset in human history. History should absolutely look at these men, imperfections and all, but history should never disregard their tremendous achievements, bravery, and foresight in the incredible difficult times they faced.

One of the things that most interested me was the way many of the issues your novel addresses are echoing in the present. Do you agree? If so, which issues were conscious of doing so at the time of your writing or today?

Absolutely. As a government teacher, I always taught my students that the freedoms we have today are not guaranteed tomorrow. Our founder’s words have been tested through time and there are millions of examples of people fighting for their freedoms. If you read The Signers, you’ll notice a quote at the beginning of each chapter. Some are humorous or clever, but most of them serve as a warning to future Americans and other freedom loving people. One of my favorites is a John Adams quote about all government whether democratic or dictatorial. “The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.” Think of what is currently happening on college campuses, where free speech is constantly squelched. Wokeness, political correctness, speech codes, are all examples of limiting free speech right here in America. These are just some examples of powerful institutions (government, media, big business, and even churches) abusing their powers and eroding our “unalienable rights.” So, like our forefathers, modern Americans have to have to be constantly aware of this overreach. As Thomas Paine wrote so eloquently, “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil: in its worst state, an intolerable one.”

I can’t say I agree with Paine’s assessment of the role of government, but that’s for a different conversation. It is a truism that the majority of novels are purchased by women; whereas, men, much more so than women, gravitate towards historical texts. Did that influence the writing of the novel? I don’t mean to come off as stereotyping female readers in any way, but I’m wondering if the romance elements of the novel were a conscious strategy on your part intended to entice and satisfy female readers?

Not necessarily, I wanted to write an interesting adventure story that would hold everyone’s attention, while reminding the reader what an amazing set of circumstances occurred to allow our founders to accomplish what they did. These people were not Marvel Superheroes; they were real men and women who did extraordinary things at an extraordinary time. Life did not stop at this time: people got sick, children died of childhood disease, they fell in love, they got spurned, they made friends, they made enemies…

So no, it wasn’t a strategy to include the love stories, but I must admit I enjoyed including them. I thought it made the characters more realistic.

You’ve already hinted at this, but what’s next for Jim Bollenbacher, the author?

I am currently editing the prequel to The Signers: The Adventures of the Cushman Family. This second novel is complete and will answer some of the things brought up in the first. The Signers, America at the Abyss: The Adventures of the Cushman Family will follow the Cushman family into the French Indian War in the colonies. Ben Cushman’s father, Ben Sr., will follow George Washington and the Virginia Militia into the Ohio Country to confront the aggressive fort building by the French. When Washington’s militia fire the “shot heard round the world,” the story will race through the war, with Ben Jr. and his brother James, (14 and 13 years old at the time) coming face to face with the horrors of war. New characters, love interests, and some old favorites will follow a young George Washington into what most historians refer to as the real first World War.

What’s the best way for readers to get their hands on “The Signers?”

The best way is to go to http://www.pagepublishing.com/books/?book=the-signers. This personal website will allow anyone interested to order the book in hard copy, soft copy, or download. This website will direct you to Amazon (hard copy, soft copy or download to Kindle), Barnes and Noble (hard copy or soft copy), Apple I-Tunes (download to Apple Music), Google Play (download to Google Play) or Reader House (soft copy). Or you can always go to Amazon or the others and search Jim Bollenbacher.

Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to share about yourself or “The Signers?”

I’d just like to thank you for all your help and advice. As a kid growing up and living my whole life in northern Ohio, I never really thought I would ever write a book. I thought maybe I’d play professional baseball or football or basketball (ha-ha). It has been a great adventure, and I want to thank my wife, Patty, and the rest of my family for putting up with me all these years. Interestingly, people who have been the most help through this process all had a huge connection to sports and especially football. Marc Munafo wrote a self-help back and has been extremely helpful through this whole process. Of course, Marc played football at Huron and at the Air Force Academy, and his father, Tony, was my high school coach, friend and mentor. Dave Brown wrote a book about Huron Football and gave me sage advice. Tony Legando, Huron football coach, high school teammate, and childhood friend, recently wrote a motivational book and has been a great help. Both Dave and Tony played and worked with Tony Munafo. Lastly, Ty Roth, a St. Mary’s rival, ex-football coach, and coaching colleague, you have been a great help, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you’ve done and the time you have given me.

I can’t thank Jim enough for his thoughtful responses, and more importantly, for undertaking the daunting task of penning The Signers. If you’ve read this far and you’re like me, you must wish you would have had the opportunity to sit in on Jim’s history classes. The next best thing, however, is to read The Signers. It just so happened that I read my copy over the Fourth of July holidays, which lent a special significance to my experience.

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Greenlights by Mathew McConaughey: A Book Review

Just when you think you know a guy, he goes and writes a memoir that completely blows your preconceptions out of the water.

I don’t do many book reviews on my blog. When I do, it’s because I was super impressed by the author’s storytelling ability or because I found the themes of the book so impactful. In Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey checks both boxes. Like many others, I’ve enjoyed the majority of his movies and bought into the version of McConaughey, the man, as a pot-smoking; naked, bongo-playing; airheaded; beach-loving intellectual-lightweight just breezing his way through one rom-com after another with the occasional “artsy film” thrown in to maintain his self-respect as an actor. It’s an image McConaughey admits he helped to create and perpetuate, and one he, rightly, does not apologize for. The fact of the matter, however, is that the guy is a modern-day Renaissance Man.

I’m aware that any first-person storytelling, fictional or nonfictional, needs to be read with a tad bit of skepticism regarding the veracity of the story the narrator tells. All people, when telling their own stories, tend to embellish their positive traits and achievements and understate their negative ones. In John Mayer’s song, “Why Georgia,” he asks himself, “Am I livin’ it right?” After reading Greenlights, I’m confident that if there ever was a person who could answer that question in the affirmative, it’s Matthew McConaughey. I absolutely love my life, but if I was ever given the magical opportunity to trade my life for anyone of my choosing, I wouldn’t do it, but I would be tempted to do so with McConaughey.

I and anyone else who bought into that simpleminded characterization of the man as an airheaded doofus could not have been further from knowing the truth of the man. Which is that Matthew McConaughey is a highly-educated, well-read, deep-thinking, soulful philosopher for the everyman. This much more accurate portrait of the man is made abundantly clear in Greenlights.

A traffic light is the extended metaphor that McConaughey uses throughout the book. It suggests that, at various junctures in each of our lives, we arrive at red, yellow, and green lights. At such intersections, it is vital that we understand the significance of the color of the traffic light we face and that we proceed accordingly in order to navigate our lives in a manner that allows us to experience our best life and to be our best selves. In order to do so, McConaughey reminds us that “Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill but first, answer the question, ‘What is my hill?'”

Red lights come in many forms: rejections, job loss, divorce, the death of a loved one, etc. According to McConaughey, “We all step in shit from time to time. We hit roadblocks, we fuck up, we get fucked, we get sick, we don’t get what we want, we cross thousands of ‘could have done better’s and ‘wish that wouldn’t have happened’s’ in life. Stepping in shit is inevitable, so let’s either see it as good luck, or figure out how to do it less often.” When stopped cold by one of life’s red lights we must “[p]ersist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.”

Photo by Davis Sanchez on Pexels.com

Yellow lights are life’s “caution[s], a detour, a thoughtful pause, an interruption, a disagreement, indigestion, sickness, and pain.” They don’t stop us cold but remind us to slow down and proceed with more caution. The good news is that “Red and yellow lights eventually turn green in the rearview mirror.” 

Greenlights, as you would assume, are those moments in life that affirm that we are on the right path and that urge us to continue full steam ahead. They are about “skill: intent, context, consideration, endurance, anticipation, resilience, speed, and discipline. We can catch more greenlights by simply identifying where the red lights are in our life, and then change course to hit fewer of them.” McConaughey implies that there are most likely many more greenlights on the road of life we travel than red or yellow, but many of us are hesitant to accept that Fortune is — more often than not –actually smiling upon us. Perhaps my favorite quotation from the book reflects this idea. McConaughey writes, “I have a lot of proof that the world is conspiring to make me happy.” The same is true for the majority of us, but for some reason, too many of us doubt our good fortune or simply choose to focus harder on our bad.

Photo by Davis Sanchez on Pexels.com

I often surprise people when I tell them I don’t believe in happiness — at least not as a constant state of being. Like an emotion, happiness cannot be sustained; it can only be experienced in fleeting moments. Instead, I believe in joy. I try to identify as many of the the people, things, and experiences that bring me joy and then purposefully pursue them. So, I was thrilled when I read, “If happiness is what you’re after, then you are going to be let down frequently and be unhappy much of your time. Joy, though, is something else.” If I can string enough moments of joy together along the way of the road of life I travel, I figure it’ll come pretty close to a sustained state of happiness.

Technically, Matthew McConaughey’s book is a memoir, but it’s the best self-help book I’ve ever read. I’m going to finish my review with a final bit of advice from this book of Matthew: “So to any of us . . . whatever it is we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to, and whoever it is we’re chasin’. To that I say: Amen. To that I say: Alright, alright, alright. To that I say: Just keep livin’. “

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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Some of the People in My Life: Vol. 12, Brian Marshall

When I began this feature on my blog, my goal was to spotlight two sets of people: 1) family and friends who have had a profound influence on me personally, professionally, or both, and 2) those I’ve encountered along my life’s journey who have devoted their lives to at least one of what I call the “Three A’s”: Adventure, the Arts, or Altruism. One of the first individuals I thought to spotlight was Brian Marshall, a former student of mine at Sandusky Central Catholic from the class of 1996.

Despite my own jock, “There’s no “I” in team!” background, as a classroom teacher, I’ve always been drawn to the nonconformists, independent thinkers, and artistically inclined. Undoubtedly, it takes a significant amount of courage to run downfield on the kickoff team or to take to the wrestling mat, but I marvel at the even greater courage shown by those who are willing to lay themselves bare on a stage and perform as actors and musicians. I think it was in Brian that I first recognized the challenge and beauty of producing and performing in youth theater. I knew he was special then, and he has only further validated my faith in him and hopes for him in his adult life and theatrical career.

By the way. I’m sure I never told him any of that. I should have.

This is Brian in the role of Harry Bright from Mamma Mia! Kera O’Bryon is playing the role of Donna.

My problem in featuring Brian has been twofold: firstly, I have only personally run into him a handful of times over the past twenty-five years, and secondly, he is one of the busiest men in show business. However, to my great joy, Brian recently found a few moments to share some tidbits of his life and career with me through Facebook. He also suggested a title to the post, which wouldn’t be too far off for my own autobiography: “Brian Marshall: Diet Coke and Musical Theater Addict.”

Among the parishioners of Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Sandusky, Brian and his brother Dan, a brilliant playwright, the Education Manager at The Metropolitan Opera in NYC, and one who I hope to feature in the future, are top tier celebrities and parish treasures. For a number of years, they have sung at Christmas Eve masses in angelic harmony. I’ve witnessed mass attendees cry during “Mary, Did You Know,” and with apologies to Andy Williams, I’ve never heard the much-performed “O, Holy Night” ever sung so beautifully as the Marshall brothers’ version. Their rendition is always met with thunderous applause.

Like most people of genuine accomplishment that I know, Brian says he is “TERRIBLE at talking about myself.” He was especially reluctant to discuss his battle with leukemia in his twenties, so I’ll leave that there. The “most exciting thing” — which is far from the truth — that he could think of was that he currently lives in an “1893 train station in downtown Cleveland. Let me help Brian boast.

After SMCC, Brian continued his education at the prestigious and highly thought of among theater professionals Conservatory of Music at Baldwin-Wallace University. He eventually added to his curriculum vitae by earning a Masters degree in Non-Profit Management.

In his 21 years on the stage, Brian has performed in 7 national tours and appeared in over 150 shows. He has also directed 100 shows, most notably with the award-winning Caryl Crane Youth Theatre for whom Brian has served as Artistic Director since 2010. During his tenure with CCYT, he has won first place director’s awards at the Musical Theatre Competitions of America (2021) and first place at the National Performing Arts Festival in Orlando, Florida.

Brian is also the Co-founder, Managing Director, and a frequent actor for the Mercury Theatre Company based in Cleveland, whose vision is to “strive to lead in the creation of wildly innovative works of musical theatre, in theatre training and generating unique programs for using theatre as an inspiration for creative development.” Brian won the Best Actor Award in a Musical for playing the title role in Chaplin, the Musical. According to one review, “Brian Marshall was born for the role and there was nothing humbling about his spot-on and highly entertaining portrayal.”

Here’s a link to The Mercury Theatre Company’s next production, the musical Amelie, in which Brian will be performing:

http://mercurytheatrecompany.org/am%c3%a9lie.html

Break a leg, Brian!

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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There are Islands in Lake Erie.?!

Cover photo is of Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island looking west from Kelleys Island.

As my use of multiple forms of end punctuation in the title suggests, the sentence they conclude can be voiced in a declarative (.), interrogative (?), and exclamatory fashion (!).

In the past month, I’ve had two different close acquaintances, not from the immediate area, half-question/half-exclaim, “There are Islands in Lake Erie?!” (Clearly, they hadn’t read my books.) To which, I calmly replied declaratively, “There are islands in Lake Erie.”

I admit that my initial response was surprise at their surprise. On reflection, however, for the first twenty-five years of my own life — although I had lived the entirety of it less than a mile from Sandusky Bay — I had been on the water myself only a couple of times and to any of the islands just once as a child and once as an adult. The islands of the Bass Archipelago may just as well have been the Cyclades of Greece in terms of the likelihood of my visiting them. Sadly, like so many of life’s experiences, one has to be able to afford the time and money required to make the trip in person.

With the recent termination of service by the Goodtime I, the opportunity for many in the area to spend a few hours on the lake and on the islands has been severely diminished. You can read the article below to learn more about how you can help save this Sandusky and Lake Erie treasure.

https://sanduskyregister.com/news/321632/all-hands-on-deck-to-save-the-goodtime/

There are, in fact, many locals who have never been on the lake or to any of its islands. Therefore, why was I so surprised by my acquaintances’ ignorance of their existence? I’m sure some of it is a sensitivity common to those of us who live in the so-called “fly-over states.” Many natives of New York City, for example, are completely dismissive of any island other than Manhattan and believe that all that lies between themselves and Hollywood are endless stretches of wheat and corn fields. The same attitude is not uncommon among West Coasters. We who live in those states are rightfully proud of the unique offerings of our regions, and on one hand, want to share them with the world while, on the other hand, we want to keep them to ourselves. It’s a paradox.

I think another explanation for the lack of awareness of those who didn’t grow up in or ever visit the Great Lakes region is those folks’ perception of what constitutes a lake. Erie, like all of the Great Lakes, could just as easily be identified as an inland sea. For many, however, lakes have only been experienced as relatively-small bodies of water, like many of those found in Minnesota, Michigan, and in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Personally, having spent my entire life living near Lake Erie, for a body of water to be classified as a lake, the other side cannot be visible when standing on its opposite shore. I’d call that a pond. But now who’s displaying a bit of geographic arrogance?

I have visited all of the major and publicly-accessible Lake Erie islands in American waters: Johnson’s; North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass, and Kelleys. Like Goldilocks, I’ve tried the various islands on for size. Like her, I’ve found the mean (as in average or central) to fit best. Other than the Confederate Prisoner Cemetery, which is well-worth the visit, Johnson’s Island now consists of mostly private residential lots. South Bass/Put-in-Bay is an extrovert’s playground. Middle and North Bass are perfect getaways from . . . well . . . pretty much everything. For me, Kelleys Island provides just enough of what each of the others offer in spades.

On Kelleys with two of my best friends, the Tavolaccis. They LIVE near Lake Michigan, but they LOVE Lake Erie.

Another reason for my appreciation of the nearby Erie Islands is that I find them to provide excellent settings for a novelist. For one, islands are sexy. They possess an aura of “anything could happen” and “the rules don’t apply.” As Fitzgerald described the parties at Gatsby’s West Egg mansion on Long Island, on islands, adults “conduct[ed] themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks.” Such relaxation of norms makes for plentiful fodder for plot-making. In my most recent novel, Island No. 6, Kelleys Island’s location along one of the Western Hemisphere’s major migratory bird routes, allowed me to explore the potential outcomes of a viral bird flu outbreak and to muse over man’s natural state when all of the conveniences of modern society are stripped away.

This is my Kelleys Island novel.

My final affinity for Kelleys Island is that it has been an ideal location for a writer’s retreat. Whether seated at a bar on a sunny afternoon draining their wi-fi, or as I am as I write this, sitting in a condo while the rain pitter-patters against the skylights, I never fail to find the inspiration and solitude so vital to my creation process.

In closing, if at all possible, I recommend, as the saying goes, you “put an island in your life.” Whether for relaxation, socialization, or inspiration, I promise there is an island to suit your wants. And, just in case you still don’t understand, “There are islands in Lake Erie.”

If you enjoy my blog posts, you may like to receive an email notification whenever a new article is posted. If so, click on the Menu link above and select “Home,” scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order my most recent novel, Island No. 6, below. – Always with gratitude and love, Ty

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