Some of the People in My Life, Vol. 3, Gary Kelley

What follows is an updated draft of a speech I gave a few years back as part of Gary Kelley’s induction into the Sandusky Central Catholic Hall of Fame. It was one of the greatest privileges of my lifetime. For those of you who, like me, had the good fortune of being one of his students, nothing that follows will be revelatory. In fact, I’m sure it will be old news that falls far short of capturing the full measure of the impact he had on our lives. For all other readers, I’d encourage you to recall that teacher or mentor who first made you truly believe you were special and far more capable than you ever imagined yourself to be. For Port Clinton grads, think Mrs. Quayle.

I want to thank Mr. Kelley for conferring upon me the honor of speaking at his induction. As his, not former, but forever student, I’m humbled by his faith in me. Although I long ago graduated to calling Mr. Kelley by his first name, to the several thousand students whose hearts and minds he touched, he will always be Mr. Kelley. Therefore, as I stand here as their proxy and attempt to give voice to the gratitude and love we wish to share with him today, I will use that title, which was and still is spoken with reverence and affection.

I knew OF Mr. Kelley long before I actually knew Mr. Kelley. When he was only in his twenties and I was still in elementary school, Gary and Linda used to play cards with my Grandma Benkey and my Great Aunts Else and Tec, who were at least in their seventies at the time. I thought it odd, but you had to know my Grandma and her sisters, and once I came to know the Kelleys, it made perfect sense. They were all east siders, they were all Saints Peter and Paul parishioners, and they all loved people, especially young people, or at least people who were young at heart. I also knew of Mr. Kelley because when I was still in elementary school, I would often hear my high school-aged siblings, cousins, and their friends talk of him as that most confusing of breeds: the cool teacher. Remember, this was the early to mid-1970s, when many of the teachers at St. Mary were still nuns and priests. It was also at a time when the generation gap between teens and adults was wide. Roger Daltry of the Who had not too much earlier defiantly sung, “I hope I die before I get old,” and Jack Weinberg, an activist in San Francisco, said those in the movement “didn’t trust anyone over 30.”

I’m guessing the seventies or eighties.

When I entered high school myself, I was surprised to learn that this Mr. Kelley was a longish-haired, mustachioed, bell bottom-wearing, borderline hippie who was also the make-up man for school plays. On the surface, he appeared to be nothing like the male role models I’d known up to that point, all of whom were short on words, long on toughness, and often downright scary. Over time, however, I learned that this make-up man was as tough as and, when necessary, could be just as no nonsense-allowing and even intimidating as the most macho of those others. But those instances were rare. In fact, Mr. Kelley would become the first person I knew to actually model the word “gentle” in gentleman.

When I finally stepped inside his classroom for senior English, I sensed immediately that his room was different than any I’d ever been in: somehow warmer, somehow safer. It was clear that it didn’t matter who your parents were or if you were a star football player or a cheerleader or the class valedictorian or the class stoner or clown, you were going to be treated like everyone else. For those forty-two minutes, in Mr. Kelley’s room, every one of us were one of the cool kids.

Mr. Kelley commanded my respect and attention not by instilling fear but by engaging me intellectually. He fascinated, not frightened me. He taught with a passion that was genuine and incendiary and made me take seriously every word he read or spoke. He made me feel that my thoughts and opinions actually mattered. Whether it was in regards to my behavior or my academic performance, he made me want to please him and never to disappoint him. I began that year in his class as the “too-cool-for-school” kid slouching in the back row, but I ended it on the edge of my seat with this absurd notion of becoming an English major, a teacher, and a writer. Who ever said dreams don’t come true?

Mr. Kelley and Mr. Kohler could actually sing. I just had a cool “Cosby” sweater.

Other than my parents and my wife, Mr. Kelley has had more impact on my life than anyone else – not only as I pursued a career in education and a writing avocation, but also as I became a husband, a father, and, a mentor myself to others. When I have been at my best as an adult, I have been the most like Mr. Kelley. It is when I’m channeling the examples he set for me and the wisdom he shared with me that I most like myself and I know I’m getting it right.

After thirty years in Catholic education, Mr. Kelley began a second career as a sales rep., a job from which he only recently retired. Over the past decade, Gary has also immersed himself in his other artistic love: watercolor painting of local landmarks. I point this out because it is another lesson that, I believe, Mr. Kelley is modeling for us all but especially for me. Because, probably like all of his students, I always thought he was talking especially to me. Gary Kelley is no Gary Cooper, you will never watch him ride off into the sunset.

This is one of my favorites of Gary’s water colors.

So, if you will humor me, I’d like to close with the final stanza of a poem that Mr. Kelley and I have long shared as one of our favorites. It speaks to his larger-than-life persona and his indomitable spirit. The poem is “Ulysses” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In the earlier stanzas, Ulysses complains that after living a life of adventure amongst gods and heroes, he has returned to his home in Ithaca and become “an idle king” with little to do but to wait for “that eternal silence.” But here in the final stanza, he determines to set out once more with his men, to “drink life to the lees,” and to live until he dies:

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Gary Kelley – my teacher, my mentor, my friend – is one of the most special of people in my life.

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 any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

Playing the WWJD Card

The letters WWJD form a popular acronym among many Christians. It is often found on bracelets and wristbands and signifies the question, “What Would Jesus Do?” and reminds the wearer to imitate Christ in all things. It’s a pretty high bar.

I was reminded of this motivational technique as I was driving to Rochester, N.Y., this past weekend and decided to take a detour into Buffalo to sample a chili dog at Ted’s Hot Dogs, an iconic restaurant in Western New York. I can report that the chili dog was amazing. I mean, what’s not to like about a footlong of hot dog, chili, cheese, and onion. This post, however, has nothing to do with Ted’s.

As I drove, I passed a church with a sign out front proclaiming, “Jesus Does not Social Distance,” which clearly implies that one should follow whatever can be reasonably assumed would be what Jesus would do were he walking the Earth in the time of Covid-19. Now, I’m typically as impressed by church signage wit as I am with greeting card poetry, but I couldn’t get that proclamation out of my mind the entire weekend.

What I’ve concluded is that if you’re going to play the WWJD card, you can’t think of it as a wild card that can change its face value from one hand to the next. It is, arguably, the highest card in the deck, and it should only be laid with the greatest of respect for what it represents.

I’d like to believe that the pastor and congregation, represented by the declaration on the sign, apply their aversion to social distancing in all situations, not just the ones that may fit a political view or a need to fill pews and collection baskets. I hope the example from the Gospel to which they allude is that of Christ going among and serving lepers, the poor, Samaritans, and sinners.

I’d also like to assume that said pastor and congregation also find the following forms of social distancing equally abominable and in opposition to Christ-like behavior: 1) Closing borders to refugees, fleeing oppression and poverty in their home countries and seeking succor in America; 2) establishing policies and practices, both informal and institutionalized, that prevent minorities and low-income families from moving into their preferred neighborhoods; 3) constructing and reinforcing glass ceilings that hinder or prevent women from entering board rooms, the halls of power, and every other venue men walk freely in and out of; 4) refusing service to and respect for our LGBT-Q brothers and sisters; 5) pursuing xenophobic agendas that encourage isolationism and ignore our responsibilities to the people of less fortunate nations; 6) passing laws that disenfranchise former felons and following hiring practices that make employment for those who have paid their debt nearly impossible; 7) criminalizing and senselessly harassing the homeless and indigent.

I could go on, but I think, if you’ve read this far, you’ve got the point. The WWJD card is an admirable card to possess but risky to play. It cannot rightly only be played when it fits nicely into one’s political philosophy or worldview. At least it can’t be played in a manner that engenders respect and promotes a Christlike model for human behavior.

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 any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

Pastiche Makes Perfect

I’m often asked where the ideas for my novels come from. Typically, they are inspired by existing stories: those I teach and those I’ve enjoyed. My most recent effort, Island No. 6, can best be described as a Patchwork Pastiche of some of those stories. In literature, a pastiche is a text that celebrates another work through imitation. If you’ve read Island No. 6, you may recognize how each of the following stories intertwine to help form my own.

The original work being riffed on in Island No. 6 is the 17th century quasi-novel A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which provided me with the name of my main character (Danny Foe) and the notion of telling the story in a journalistic style. Defoe’s narrative is set in the time of England’s King Charles II (island mayor, Charles King II, in my story), who reigned during the devastating plague outbreak of 1666.

The second major source is Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. This 1969 techno-thriller sparked my longtime and ongoing love affair with plague stories. In Crichton’s novel, a comet crashes into the earth and unleashes a literal alien virus that spawns a devastating pandemic. A similar but true-to-life story is told in the grippingly terrifying, Richard Preston medical-thriller The Hot Zone, which tells the story of an Ebola outbreak in Africa in the early nineties that came frightfully close to being loosed on the American public.

Since I was a child, when some un-remembered babysitter unadvisedly allowed me to watch Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie, The Birds, based on the short story of the same name by Daphne de Maurier (Americanized as Daphne Moyer in my story), I’ve kept a wary eye on the sky, phone lines, and trees, while half-expecting a crow to divebomb me and to peck away at my eyes. This association led me to choose the bird flu as my source of viral contagion.

My all-time favorite movie, which might surprise some folks, is the Spielberg classic, Jaws, based on the Peter Benchley novel of the same name. Like the movie, my novel is set on an island that is a tourist hotspot. In both cases, those on the island are under siege while being led by a triad of heroes, including an island chief of police (Brody/Sarter) and an off-island scientist (Hooper/Bentham), who fight desperately to save them. The islanders’ terroristic enemy in one is a giant, man-eating shark. In the other, a microscopic virus, along with the federal government, serves as their home invader.

The majority of us were made to read William Golding’s Lord of the Flies at some point in high school. If not, I’d be so bold as to say you were shortchanged in your literary education. Another story set on an island, LofF imagines a group of teenagers forced to return to a “state-of-nature,” a hypothetical condition imagined by many philosophers, in which people exist in a pre-social contract state and are driven by their most primal motives and modes of operation. Two of the most famous of these philosophers are Thomas Hobbes and Jean Jacques Rousseau, both of whom appear in my novel as Tom Hobbs, the owner of the island’s general store, and Captain Russo, who operates a ferry line. I’ll return to this allegorical level of the novel in a forthcoming blog post.

Finally, one of my favorite recent novels is Max Brooks’s World War Z as I am a total sucker for a good zombie narrative. When a victim of the bird flu virus that strikes Island No. 6 reaches the final stages of their affliction, they fall under a compulsion to walk, perhaps as a last ditch, futile attempt to escape Death. As a result, in their zombiefied condition, they become a horrific danger to any still-healthy person they approach.

If Benjamin Franklin was correct and “Originality is the art of concealing your sources,” I have just grievously betrayed my lack of it. However, Shakespeare is said to have only written a single completely original play. Although, I claim no company with Shakespeare, like him, I never met a character, setting, plot, or theme that I was unwilling to borrow, and I’m pretty sure I’ve missed a few.

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 any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

Some of the People in My Life,Volume 2: Julie Roth

Whenever I tell my wife, Julie, that I’ve sent a another Letter to the Editor, posted a blog article, or published a new novel, a slight, involuntary gasp escapes from between her lips. It is a nearly imperceptible gasp, yet it teems with meaning. “Oh, God, who do I need to warn or avoid this time?” it asks. Yet, not once, has she ever asked me not to share whatever it was I felt compelled to write and share.

Despite the innumerable hours I spend holed up alone in my writing space and inside of my own head, which often leaves me distant in both space and in attentiveness to her needs and to my domestic responsibilities, Julie has never done anything but encourage me to write. Perhaps, she has intuited correctly that my teaching and writing have saved us thousands of what otherwise would have been spent on counseling and anti-depressants in order to keep me out of my dark place.

Julie couldn’t care less about the Red Wings except for the fact that I do. I think that’s love.

Why Julie ever chose to spend her life with me will forever be a mystery. When we met, I was a first-year teacher and coach in a private high school with an income not too far north of the federally-defined poverty line nor were my prospects for future affluence especially impressive. In fact, at the time, I was so low on funds, my roommate and I couldn’t afford a phone line in our apartment. In order to ask her out, I had to leave a handwritten note jammed between the wiper blade and windshield of her car. These should have been her first signs that a life with me would never be featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. To potentially make matters worse, I loved my job and had no intention of ever leaving education for greener pastures. She occasionally still reminds me that all I brought to our marriage was college loan debt and an alarm clock with an 8-track player.

Quinn is the only woman who rivals Julie for my affection.

Trust me that none of this speaks to my charm or irresistibility. Rather, it illustrates Julie’s fundamental goodness as a person. I love that she is never impressed or intimidated by anyone’s popularity or personal wealth. Instead, I have always found her to be healthily suspicious of such surface-level attributes and searching for characteristics of more substance before letting those people inside of her walls. Fittingly, I have never known anyone who could so accurately size up someone’s character on a first meeting, and I have learned to trust her judgement implicitly in nearly all matters.

A longtime teacher herself, there is no one’s opinion of my own classroom efforts and performance that matters more to me. I teach my students that there can be no love where there is not respect, and I can say unequivocally that there is no one for whom I have greater respect than Julie. She modelled diligence in the pursuit of excellence in the classroom to a degree I have rarely seen matched in any profession and that I still strive to equal myself.

Our favorite splurge: Broadway!

If anyone who didn’t know Julie were to be shown two photographs of her – one from when we first met and one from today – and they were asked in which one is she more beautiful, I have no doubt that the majority would quickly point to the twenty-three year old version. I, however, would choose the latter without hesitation. If there is magic in the world, I believe its clearest manifestation is in this phenomenon. As a young man, I remember wondering how any two long-married people could stay in love and attracted to one another for so many years and through the ravages of aging, but this magic that renders my wife more beautiful to me every day and will continue to do so for as long as we’re on this Earth has answered my shallow musings of youth.

It would require volumes for me to express my appreciation and love for Julie. As brief as it is, I’m pretty sure that she is going to hate this post; she is the most attention-averse person I have ever known. However, she is not just “one of the people in my life,” she is the most important person in my life. There is nothing in this world within my capabilities that I wouldn’t do for her, and there is nothing I wouldn’t stop doing should she ask.

There’s no one I’d rather walk through this world with (And she has great legs!).

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 any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

The Sandusky Sixteen (or So)

Two massive LEFT thumbs up to the sixteen or so Sandusky-area residents, who, in line with America’s storied history of civil protest, marched into a local Kroger store this past week to protest face mask mandates. In so doing, they heroically braved potential confrontations with teenage bag boys and price gun-wielding shelf-stockers, while storming past the yellow floor barricades warning, “Wet Floor.” Because, you know . . . “Don’t tread on me.”

Armed Shop assistant using price gun.

The intentions of this heroic display of noncompliance was to demand their rights 1) to ignore sound science and medical advice and 2) to flaunt the onerous request by public health officials and by the store itself (In April, one of its employees tested positive for the Corona virus) to politely wear a mask while strolling the aisles of their preferred grocery store. The unintended outcome of their action is the possible spread of a virus already responsible for killing nearly 200,000 of their fellow citizens and predicted to cause over 200,000 more by January 1 in a study recently released by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The study also warns that the number of dead could be as high as 620,000 should current restrictions (including mask wearing) be eased. Because, you know . . . Science.

For some, the bold display of civil disobedience by the Sandusky 16 (or So) may call to mind the Civil Rights protesters of the sixties, who faced down water cannons in an effort to exercise their equal rights under the law, or the “Bloody Sunday” marchers in Selma, Alabama, or the current protesters in Hong Kong demanding freedom from Chinese governmental oppression. Because, you know . . . which of these pictures below doesn’t belong with the others?

For others, this act of defiance may be reminiscent of a four-year old who refuses to eat his broccoli because, although it’s good for him, he doesn’t like it, and besides, “You’re not the boss of me!” But what do rule followers know? There’s not a word about common courtesy, much less common sense, in the U.S. Constitution. It says nothing about decency, compassion, or the temporary sacrifice of one’s personal level of comfort for the well-being of others during a global pandemic. But you know . . . Not everything is about you and your rights.

Masks are hot, uncomfortable, hard to breathe through, and difficult to match with one’s outfits. You know . . . like Ventilators . . . and Graves.

Sometimes, this shit just writes itself.

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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

Signs, Signs, Everywhere’s There Signs

The next line to the 5-Man Electrical Band song, alluded to in the title, goes, “Fucking up the scenery, breaking my mind.” I’m starting to feel their pain.

‘Tis the season that yard signs in support of various candidates for political office begin popping up in folks’ yards like dandelions. It may be the contentious times in American politics in which we find ourselves, or it may just be me, but the act of planting one this election season seems much more aggressive, even risky, than it once did. What was once a relatively meek show of support for one’s preferred candidate has morphed into what feels like a full-blown act of belligerent, in-your-face aggression. I have even found myself ridiculously altering my running and/or driving routes just to avoid certain homes and their garish signs.

I mean, “Get a grip, Ty! they’re just signs.”

Although, I’m fairly open regarding my politics, steadfast in my support for policies consistent with them, and more-than-willing to discuss them in the proper forum, I’m just not a yard sign kind of guy. I prefer not to wear my politics on my sleeve, (or on my head, in my car, on my bumper, etc.) especially when remembering that the origin of the quote is the poisonous tongue of one of Shakespeare’s most villainous characters: Iago from Othello. I do, however, recognize and respect everyone else’s prerogative to do so.

I don’t think this is necessarily true. I just think it’s funny.

A yard sign allows for no dialogue. It has more in common with a “Keep off the Grass!” sign than it does a “Welcome” mat. I can’t discuss the merits of the candidate or his/her policies with the sign’s namesake or its owner as I zoom past. It feels like the sign’s owner is merely shouting a name in my face, which, based on how many modern voters view political support as a devotion to a cult of party-line-towing zombies or to a venom-spitting demagogue, that may be exactly what it’s doing, as if the values, policies, and goals of the promoted candidate are either irrelevant to the sign planter’s support or just too much work to bother parsing for oneself. It’s easier to just shout a name or to flip a finger as one passes.

I, like most people, tend to believe nostalgically that there was a simpler, more wholesome time in America, when a candidate’s yard sign on the lawn was more of a proud display of support, not a less-than-subtle “F-you” to those who oppose the said candidate. Again, maybe I’m just being super-sensitive and misinterpreting the intent. I can only speak to how it feels to me.

Even funnier, yet somehow sadder.

It has been a fairly common experience in recent years for folks to become alienated from neighbors, friends (both on and offline), and even family members over who one or both of them support politically. Although I’m pretty sure a yard sign would never cost me any close friends or family, the ties that unite neighbor to neighbor are not typically so ironclad as those of friends and family. And I really like my neighbors, and there are a few I’d still like to know better. I do not agree with all of their politics or the politicians they promote, but I want to keep living harmoniously with them and attending the occasional, impromptu “blocktail” party with them.

So, you go ahead and drive those signs into the ground. As for me, I’m going to keep looking for the ground that is common.

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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

Some of the People in My Life: Del Culver

This is the first post in what I plan to have as a regular feature on my blog. The idea was inspired while running, searching for an idea for a blog post, and listening to the Genesis album Duke. The song “Turn it on Again,” poured through my ear buds, and Phil Collins declared, “I can show you some of the people in my life,” and I thought, “I have so many interesting, talented, and cool people in my life, I should share them,” and a feature was born. In addition to introducing you to these special individuals in my life, I hope you will realize that your life is similarly peopled and that they and you too are fascinating and worthy of celebration.

As a point of clarification, I do not interview the subjects of the post, but I do ask for their permission to be featured, and, if they don’t trust me, I do share the post with them before publishing, giving them full power to edit the content of the post. So, with no further delay, allow me to introduce you to one of the people in my life: Del Culver, whom many of you already know.

I often joke that at Del’s wake, at least fifty people will speak and identify Del as having been their best friend – and each one of them will be correct. He will be the first one to tell you he’s far from perfect, but he possesses one of the most capacious hearts I’ve ever encountered, meaning there’s room and love in there for just about everyone and especially for living life to the fullest. Metaphorically, in any of his many friend groups, he’s the hub of the wheel through which all of the spokes run, or he’s the glue that holds everything and everyone together

I met Del when he took a job as a phys. ed. teacher and coach in Port Clinton. He and I soon became neighbors and friends during what was a very low point in my career: the tail end of an extraordinarily unsuccessful attempt at coaching football at Port Clinton High School.

Del is in the top row, all the way to the left.

I had taken up psycho-emotional residence in what I refer to as my “Dark Place,” but Del helped me to find new meaning and purpose by introducing me to fitness challenges and by convincing me to say, “Yes,” to just about anything. I frequently kid that I want ‘WWDD” tattooed on my wrist (“What Would Del Do”). For a few years, we were Port Clinton’s Hall and Oates: a tall, good-looking, multi-talented blond guy and his short, dark-haired, nappy-headed, less-talented but super-determined partner. By the photos, I’m pretty sure you can tell who is Hall and who is Oates.

Me (Oates), Pat, and Del (Hall) in the Adirondacks.

Over the years, we ran a number of races, culminating in a marathon. At mile 16, a bad case of tendinitis flared up in my knee. Although he was running strong, Del all-but-carried me another 7 miles until I just couldn’t take another step. He then waited with me until a first aid vehicle picked me up before finishing his race. The coolest (pun intended) run we ever did together, however, was a January run across the ice from Catawba to Put-in-Bay with eight other runner-friends/borderline crazies. It was a fairly stupid thing to do, but it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life.

Del is the tall one in black. You can see Perry’s Monument in the background.

He also talked me into a Tough Mudder endurance race with another collection of adrenaline junkies, but the best evidence of Del’s inordinate sway over my decision making was his convincing me that I could be triathlete, when I didn’t even own a bike and couldn’t even swim. We shared several near-death incidents on our bikes, and I nearly drowned in five feet of water during a sprint triathlon, but our ultimate shared fitness challenge was a Half Ironman, which just about killed us both.

Me, wearing Del’s helmet, in the first triathlon I let him talk me into.

Del and I have also completed several outdoors adventures; although, in general, I hate the outdoors. Whenever we’ve whitewater rafted, kayaked, got a bit reckless on his Jet-Skis, hiked up mountains, run across open ice – again with various other friends – I’ve always participated with one non-negotiable rule: Del had to be in my raft or right behind me because I knew if I fell in, out, or over, Del would never let me go in, out, or over alone. I’m pretty sure everyone in the raft, on the mountain or ice, felt the exact same way about Del. The only adventure Del has been unable to convince me to share with him – yet – is jumping out of a plane. There are limits to friendship and to peer pressure.

Del on his Jet-Ski. The boy could ride!

Thirteen years ago, I vacationed in Hawaii. It was incredible on many levels, but one of my takeaways was that I hoped Del would never take a trip there himself because, if he did, I knew he might never come home. To my great misfortune, however, he did make that trip, he did fall in love with Hawaii, and last year he decided to leave his teaching job, countless friends, and his family behind, and with his lovely life partner, Melinda, he moved to Oahu. I mean, WHO DOES THAT?! Many of us say such things. But nobody actually follows through. My dad threatened to move to Canada nearly every hot summer’s day of my childhood, but I knew he was never moving to Canada. The first time Del shared that he was thinking of re-locating to Hawaii, I knew it was all but a fete accompli. I hated him for it. I loved him for it.

Before Del left for Hawaii, a group of us got together to toast Del and Mel, to say our goodbyes, and to present him with a gift certificate to a surf shop on Oahu, where he could purchase a surf board. The dude was born to be a beach god/surfer. He was scheduled to begin a drive across country with his dog, Boris, the next day before catching a flight out of L.A. I was brokenhearted, but I knew it was something he had to do for himself, and my responsibility to him as a friend was to support him in his move. Unashamedly, I told Del I loved him, and I thanked him for being my friend and for, in some way, saving my life all those years ago when I most needed saving.

I miss Del every stinking day, but I’m happy for him and Mel and especially happy for not having to resist the pressure to jump out of a perfectly-good airplane.

That’s just a glimpse into Del Culver: One of the People in My Life.”

Surf on, Brother! And aloha!

This is Del in Hawaii. Aloha, Bruddha!

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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

High Hopes

As I was making the final edits to the syllabuses for my College Composition and my College British Literature courses today, I was drawn to the sad appropriateness and intertextuality of the classes’ primary texts. For Composition, the text of readings for discussion and student essays for modeling is titled America Now. For British Literature, I use Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Other.

If one studies the arc of American history from the long view, it is certainly fair to say and encouraging to believe that we have made giant strides in regard to inclusiveness and Jefferson’s assertion that “all men are created equal.” We should not lose sight of that truth. However, In America Now, many of us seem to want to define ourselves not so much by who we are but by who we are not, not by that which we have in common but by that which sends us off to our opposite corners. Many of us seem to have a desperate need to point out The Other as the cause of our difficulties and shortcomings as individuals and as a nation.

We have allowed ourselves to be divided into blue and red states. Some of us hide inside of our homogeneous circles of friends and neighbors. Some of us insist on their supremacy of race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. Some argue over whose lives matter. Some of us have risen to positions of great power and influence by doing little more than stoking fear and distrust of The Other. It’s fair to argue that Hector St. Michael Crevecoeur’s once-vaunted metaphor that compared America to a melting pot is obsolete in America Now.

What lifts my spirits and bolsters my optimism for the future is the students with whom I will be engaging in civil dialogue regarding these two texts this semester. I will look out (from behind my plexiglass shield) upon white, African-American, and mixed-race students. I will see young adults from several categories of LGBTQ(IA+); although, some of them won’t even completely know it yet themselves. I will engage with highly-“churched” individuals, the religiously-indifferent, the agnostic, and the atheistic. I will have students who live in gated communities and those who have spent their entire lives in public housing sitting side by side (but six feet apart), and it will not be difficult to tell which is which. I will treat them each as legitimate and worthwhile in whatever category Nature or their own choices have placed them. All of which makes me believe that, perhaps, if the melting pot metaphor still has relevance, its greatest applicability may be in our public schools and that the seeds of division – being spread in America now by too many adults all across the political spectrum – will be left to wither by the young people of today when they set forth to harvest the fruits of the previous generation’s planting.

In my white bread existence, I will admit I’m far from a multicultural warrior, but I will continue to encourage my students to overcome their fear and distrust of “the other” by actively seeking out that which makes them uncomfortable. In my own experiences, my greatest growth spurts of empathy and tolerance have occurred when I actively did so myself by, in college, going to dances sponsored by the African-American fraternity, by attending services at a Baptist church, by un-ironically patronizing a gay bar, by living in urban public housing (Admittedly, this was inspired more by poverty than outreach.), even by open-mindedly watching or reading right-leaning news and opinion outlets that run counter to my own leftist views.

My College “Others”: Bob from inner-city Rochester, NY; Frank from Dublin, Ireland; Chris from Skokie, IL; and Me.

I want to believe that, in our American Future, we will be less focused on what divides us into “We” and “They” and more willing to embrace our diversity and to celebrate what makes us unique. I hope to teach my students that it is possible to be proud of one’s own group affiliations without being suspicious, intolerant, or hateful of “the other.”

Call me a Pollyanna, a romantic, a liberal. The antonyms for these are defeatist, unromantic, and narrow-minded respectively. I’ll gladly align myself with the former terms whether they be of derision or endearment.

One of my all-time favorite songs was written by Nick Lowe and sung by Elvis Costello. The title and refrain of which asks, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” I think it an appropriate question for America Now.

If we ever hope to bridge the divides between ourselves and The Other, the answer is 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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well. – Thanks, Ty

A Bad Romance: The Story Behind the Story of Island No. 6

Over the course of writing three novels, I have found it surprising how many readers are as interested in how the story came to be written as they are with the story itself. Due to the timeliness of its plot, this has been especially true with my latest novel, Island No. 6.

Because the central conflict of the plot is a battle to prevent the spread of a highly-contagious virus, many readers assume I had “ripped the story from the headlines” and rushed it to publication. This notion could not be further from the truth, as I actually typed the first sentence of the novel in 2011 – nearly nine years before the current Covid-19 pandemic – and finished it in 2018. So, why the two-year delay?

Island No. 6 was an designation for Kelleys Island used by early cartographers.

Humor me as I begin at the beginning. After the publication of my first novel, So Shelly, I was struggling to deliver to Random House a second novel. Somewhere, I picked up the advice to write the kind of story I like to read. Therefore, having long been a sucker for a good pandemic story (Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain is one of my all-time favorites.), I decided to take a stab at writing one of my own. However, after several fits, starts, and tens of thousands of words, I was not happy with my efforts and abandoned the project. Several years passed, I published a second novel, Goodness Falls, returned to my pandemic novel, and completed a massive rewrite with which I was very happy – honestly believing it to be the best writing I had ever done.

In the meantime, my original literary agent left the business. Like a recent widower, I was forced to get back out there and start the wooing/pitching process all over. I found what I thought to be the perfect rebound match, a veritable Prince Charming, the agent-of-my-dreams. I loved everything about him. It was as if the gods of publishing had fashioned him just for me. He flattered my writing and seemed to show sincere interest in me and Island No. 6. Desperate for representation, I concluded he was the only agent for me, and I devoted myself to winning his affection. I had fallen in love.

Sadly, he had not.

In his defense, I should say that this agent had continually warned me that we were not exclusive. He even encouraged me to continue to seek alternative representation. He had not “put a ring on it.” But I was deaf to his admonitions and determined to make our relationship work.

After exchanging a year of flirtatious emails, turning away serious interest from another agent, and committing entirely to this man, the agent jilted me at the metaphorical altar.

I was devastated. I swore I’d never write again.

Then Covid-19 hit, and I had this super-relevant novel gathering dust on my laptop. Against my better judgement, my heart light began to glow once more. But the traditional route to publication is a one-to-two year process. I was afraid that by the time Island No. 6 was made available to the public, interest in pandemic stories would have waned. I decided I didn’t need a man (er . . . agent) and to make an end run around traditional publishers.

Therefore, I submitted the novel to what is known as a hybrid publisher. In doing so, I surrendered 1) any possibility of an advance, 2) an exhaustive content and copy edit (which I still feel it needed), 3) the aid of a publicist, 4) shelving in the few brick-and-mortar bookstore chains remaining, and 5) the national reach and prestige of a Big-5 publisher.

Conversely, what I gained was 1) total rights to my novel, 2) official registration of the book, 3) an expeditious journey to market, 4) titling control and nearly complete artistic freedom, and 5) a higher share of royalties on sales.

One of the greatest rewards for any novelist is to see their book on display on a bookstore shelf.

In the final analysis, I believe it was a worthwhile trade-off. There is little-to-no-chance of Island No. 6 being a national bestseller (Recommendations to fellow readers and Amazon reviews wouldn’t hurt.), but there was not much chance of that happening with a traditional publisher anyway. Barely two percent of books sell more than 5,000 copies, which is the number that must be sold in a week to earn “bestseller” status. Locally, sales have far exceeded my expectations, and I regularly receive positive reviews from readers. I can more than live with that.

Most importantly, I picked up the pieces of my writer’s broken heart and put myself and my work out there once more. Who knows? Maybe Mr. or Mrs. Right Agent is still out there. If so, I’m willing to put the bad romance behind me and to learn to love again.

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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well.

Thanks, Ty

36th Year – To Teach or Not to Teach

Next week, I will begin my thirty-sixth year as a classroom teacher. It will certainly be the most bizarre of school years and likely the most challenging. For the majority of teachers who began their career the same year I did, this marks their first year of retirement. And I must admit that, over these summer months, there have been moments when the thought of retiring myself flickered across my mind.

1985 my first year as a teacher at SMCC.

I wondered, “Would it be worth the risk of returning? Am I capable of mastering all of the technology required to teach simultaneously in the classroom and remotely? Can I teach a 90-minute block without having to use the restroom?” These were a few of the questions I pondered, but the most important one was “With what is now a forty year age separation between my students and myself, can I still be relevant and able to empathize with teenagers whose world hardly resembles mine at the same age?” I will have been teaching for twice as many years as they’ve been alive!

Truth be told, my moments of doubt were short-lived, and I determined to, in the words of Jim Harbaugh, “Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” It’s a bit hyperbolic, but you get the point. These past six months have left me discombobulated. Without a classroom and a roster full of students, I’m not totally sure who I am. I certainly need them as much, if not more, than they need me. Therefore, Monday, August 31, will find me introducing myself to a classroom full of teenagers not exactly breathlessly waiting to dive into English Literature or to learn the finer points of academic writing.

My first year teaching at PCMS in 1995.

At the end of the day, it’s not the content I teach that I hope my students take with them. Rather, it’s the life lessons, which I try so desperately to connect with the content, such as:

  1. Life is not fair. Only children and fools expect it to be.
  2. There are few mindsets more debilitating, worthless, or unattractive than self-pity. Get over it.
  3. Fear is the biggest obstacle to achievement and growth you will have to overcome. Take solace in knowing that everyone is just as afraid as you are. Tuck your chin, broaden your shoulders, gird your loins (That is so weird.) and be bold – even if you have to fake it – for the world loves a confident woman/man.
  4. Question everything that you’ve been told is right, true, or good. If after careful discernment you still feel that way, great! If not, it’s time to figure out what is.
  5. You can dislike another’s ideas without disliking them.
  6. Feelings are more delicate than thoughts. Never tell someone how they should feel, especially because it makes you uncomfortable.
  7. At some point, you have to stop blaming others for whatever shortcomings you possess or predicaments you face. However, you also need to realize that some people are born on third base and act like they hit a triple, while others have to scratch and claw just to get an opportunity to have an at-bat. Be sympathetic and lend a hand to the latter.
  8. The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.
  9. The things most worth having rarely come easily.
  10. Always, always, always forgive and always choose love.

So with hands sanitized, masked, and from behind a Plexiglass screen, I’ll be returning for year thirty-six.

I can’t wait!

Teaching from my virtual classroom Spring of 2020.

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 “Home” link above, scroll down to the bottom, and click the “Follow” button. You may preview or order any of my novels from the “Home” page as well.

Thanks, Ty