No More Fear

Of the stranger,
Of the friend,

Of the burning sun,
Of the moonless night,

Of the broken down minivan,
Of the billing department,

Of the pain in my back,
Of the ending of a beautiful day,

Of the end of joy,
Of the suffering to come,

Of the walk alone,
Of the crowded room,

Of the loss of life,
Of the future of what remains

I will not be afraid.

I will not live my life closed off from the other.
I will not close my hand into a fist.
I will not wrap that fist around the grip of a gun.

I will not hate.
I will not fear.

I will be open.
I will be vulnerable.

I will be trusting.
I will be hopeful.
I will be unguarded.

A life of fear is not worth living.

I choose a life of love.

Why I Write

When I was a young kid, there were three channels on TV.

Think about that for a moment. No shows on your phone (which was hanging on the wall). No shows on your computer (which cost, if you were lucky $2,000, and displayed text in green on a black screen). No shows in your room (we had one TV in the living room, and you had to walk up to it to change the channel on the dial).

Three channels. And not one of them was showing Star Trek at a reasonable hour for a 9 year old to watch.

There were no Blurays, DVDs, or even VHS or Beta waiting on the shelf for you to embrace your hidden geekiness.

The only time that Star Trek came on was occasionally on Saturday nights, at 11:30pm, on a channel out of Augusta rather than Savannah.

Which was a problem.

Cause the antenna on the roof was always pointed toward Savannah, not Augusta. (We could kinda pick up one channel from Augusta rather than three from Savannah.)

To watch Star Trek, one had to go outside, take the pliers, and twist the pole to point to Augusta, all while waking the neighbors as you shouted in, “IS IT ON YET?”

So the only geek show came on once a week at 11:30pm (with church the following morning—and a mom who would beat you if you happened to drop off). It was a hard time to be a Trekker.

Whatever should a trekker do, but learn to write his own Star Trek adventures.

You see, if you really wanted to be Captain James T. Kirk, you had to write your own adventures.

And so, I learned to love words because they could take me to strange new worlds. Through it, I could seek out new life, and new civilizations. Through my pen, I too, could boldly go where no man had gone before.

That’s the miracle of words, sentences, paragraphs and stories.

That’s why I write: because I want to create new worlds to explore. I want to dream of new life, and build new civilizations.

Plus, as Stephen King likes to say, it’s still a good way to pass the time.

And that’s what writing can bring to you, too.

You see every one of us sees this world and this life and this civilization through different eyes. And the only way those worlds will ever come into existence is through the act of piecing words together into stories.

And that’s why we write: to bring life to the unique, individual ideas that are bouncing around in our heads.

To paraphrase, Uncle Walt, we are large, we contain multitudes. We simply need to let them out.

Life is Amazingly Good

When I take a step back
away from the mess of my desk with the precarious pile of bills
away from the house with the leaky tub
away from the bosses who seem determined to make education meaningless
away from the fears of what this country is becoming

When I take a step back
and watch them together
walking together, arm in arm—

I’m reminded of asking dad one day, when I was old enough to have learned of the complete nightmare that was the year of 1968,
“What were you thinking bringing me into that world?” and his reply,
“Well, your mom worried about it, but I thought you’d be okay.”

When I take a step back,
I remember, and
I believe he was right.

I am okay.

In fact, I’m far better than that.
So, thanks for your calm self-assurance, dad.
And your belief in the future.

They’re walking together in your steps.

On the Magic of Books

For the first time on Monday, I will get to fulfill one of my life long dreams: I get to teach 1984 by George Orwell to a class.

(Yes, I have simple dreams, what of it?)

This is a dream that began long ago, long before I ever even dreamed of being a teacher, long before I had even really had the language necessary to put into words the desire I had to share this book with someone else for the first time.

That’s how a great book is, isn’t it? As soon as we’ve finished one, we really want to share it with someone else. For me, that list of books is fairly long. With almost every book I read and finish, I find myself thinking, “I know who needs to read this one!”

My obsession with 1984 begin quite early. I believe I was 13 when the copy that I’m planning to teach from next week was given to me. Books are wonderful that way, aren’t they? (And yeah, I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to books.)

This copy was given to me by the wife of a young couple who attended for a short while the church that I grew up in. They left shortly afterwards to be missionaries.

In hindsight, this was a remarkably subversive act as my church didn’t really embrace critical thinking; this book had much to do with my learning to question authority later in life.

When she handed the book to me and suggested that I read it, she said, “Read this. It’s a great book, but beware that when you get to the ending, it’s going to make you mad. When I got to the end, it made me so mad that I threw it across the room.”

This was unheard of territory for me. I couldn’t imagine at the time getting so worked up by a book that I would want to throw it across the room. Honestly books had and still have a sacred quality for me that the idea of throwing one seems hard to imagine.

I was, at a minimum, intrigued.

So I read it as quickly as I’ve ever read any book. And while I didn’t throw it across the room, the ending did make me angry.

Thus, book that I’ve been reading regularly since I was about 13 years old, I get to teach to a class of students beginning on Monday night.

The edition I’ll be teaching from was published in 1975 in the UK, and wasn’t supposed to be sold in the US. It’s the same book I read in 1981. It was the same book that was thrown across a room by a young future missionary who surely had no idea what a whole new world she was opening up for a young boy from a little town in Southeast Georgia.

It’s the same book that has every passage I’ve ever underlined, still underlined and waiting for me to share it with a class starting this Monday. (And yeah, I can actually read my own handwriting.)

Some of those quotes include:

Why was it that they could never shout like that about anything that mattered? He wrote: Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

And on being a minority of one:

Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one. At one time it had been a sign of madness to believe that the earth goes round the sun: to-day to believe that the past is unalterable. He might be alone in holding that belief, and if alone, then a lunatic. But the thought of being a lunatic did not greatly trouble him: the horror was that he might also be wrong.

And the beginning of Thought Crime being putting pen to paper in a diary:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. This was not illegal (nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws), but if detected it was reasonably certain that it would deb punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced labour camp. . . . To mark the paper was the decisive act.

And the true nature of power:

‘We are the priests of power,’ he said. ‘God is power. But at present power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: “Freedom is Slavery”. Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone – free – the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body – but, about all, over the mind. Power over matter – external reality, as you would call it – is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.’

And finally:

I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY.

And so from 1975 when this book was purchased by a young future missionary, to 1981 when she passed it on to, of all people, a 13 year old boy growing up unconsciously in the deep south, to Monday when I use that same book to help my students to understand the power of marking the paper, to be comfortable with the idea that when they’re a lone voice calling out it isn’t the worst thing to be thought of as crazy, and to see the importance of understanding why and not just how, 1984 will continue, if I’m a decent teacher, to change lives and as a result our world.

Maybe, just maybe, the world will become a bit more conscious as a result.

“Books,” as Stephen King likes to say, “are a uniquely portable magic.”