As many of you know I am a writer. I say this with no pride. There is nothing that I did to merit the gift of being able to string words together. My parents and teachers throughout my life helped me hone the skill. More importantly, God gave me this gift. And it is a gift. He gave me the ability to grasp at a large vocabulary (thank you, English language) and rapidly pull together consequential turns-of-phrase with grammatical aplomb and all that jazz.
I first realized I had this gift when I was a boy of about 7. I was always interested in the news, in telling stories. Could explain why I’ve enjoyed some success as a teacher. My dad read a few different newspapers every day. Notable among these were the Newark Star Ledger (before it was a complete leftist rag not fit to line a bird cage) and the paper he called “the best written English language newspaper in the world” – the Wall Street Journal. Side note: I remember well the great satisfaction he got when the Journal published one of his letters once. I guess due to the influence of dear old Dad I decided one day that I would put together a broadsheet, a newspaper of my own.
I decided to copy what I had seen and so I began with a screaming headline. “Headless Man in Topless Bar”. Oh wait, that was an actual headline in the New York Post around the same time. Something to do with a mafia decapitation at a “gentleman’s club”. No, I think mine was more family-friendly. “Bridget A Jerk”. Bridget is my youngest sister. As I recall she had hidden my roller skates on me and I was none too pleased. The second column blared “Mom Burns Dinner – Distracted by Phone Call”. In italics underneath: “Family Safe from Near – Fatality, Pizza Ordered”.
This little gazette had everything right down to a sports section on the last page. The only problem is that I didn’t follow sports that well. I believe I had the New Jersey Devils defeating the New Jersey Nets 105-13. Not bad considering the Devils play hockey and the Nets are a basketball franchise. Weather? I drew a picture of the sun and slapped a number under it with the word “Fair”. Seemed like the thing to do even if that number was 25. I think my favorite part was the obituaries. Dad was a fan of the “Irish sporting pages” as he called them. I may have literally copied an actual obit or two from the Star Ledger into my paper since I didn’t know anyone who had recently died. Imagine the contrast between the “Kids Alright, Pizza for Everyone” coverage on page 1 and page 2 where we read about Diane Distefano of Nutley who died peacefully surrounded by her husband and stepchildren. She was to be laid out at Biondi’s Funeral Home in Bloomfield with a visitation from 2-4 and 7-9 and a mass of Christian Burial at Holy Family the following morning. Donations could be sent to “Reading is Fundamental” because, you know, she was a 1st grade teacher or something.
I was quite proud of my paper. I got great satisfaction writing it all down, formatting it, and illustrating the stories. The one copy I printed was a big hit; but not for the reason I had hoped. It seemed everyone got a big chuckle out of the absurdity of the thing.
And that’s when I realized I could make people laugh if I just placed the right words in the right order and sometimes played dumb a little. I think I got that from my mom. She’s much smarter than she ever lets on.
In high school I began writing more. I had to. I was homeschooled and as if to prove our academic worth to the outside world our assignments were heavy on writing. I guess just like the guy who hangs around the gym with his buddies will eventually start lifting weights and then probably get good at it (terrible analogy, I know); the guy who writes volumes by necessity will eventually take a liking to it and probably get really good at it too. In college, the fun continued as I would write humorous study guides for my friends where I’d drop inane commentary and references. “Greek philo’s… 1) Socrates who’s pupil was 2) Plato (wrote Trial and Death of Socrates) who’s pupil was 3) Ari. who’s pupil was Alexander the Gr. Many theorize th/Ari killed Alex because he had become too good lkng. Ari was insanely jealous.”
Sometimes. I know, my writing has caused people to cry and not always in a good way. Fortunately those times have been few and far between. But for those instances where I went too far and used the gift He gave me as a weapon I am sorry. As I said a month ago: it’s a new year and this is a new blog.
I do take satisfaction in it. It’s like the pride a man gets when he’s mowed his lawn. I go back and read and re-read my posts. I’m half expecting them to have grown and matured.
Speaking of maturing, tonight I got the shock of my life. I started writing this blog when he was an infant. My hope was to chronicle his life (and later my daughter’s) for them. I wanted to give them stories to read as they got older so they would know how loved they are and all the fun we had. He’s ten now and already a young man in every sense. I suspect his voice will drop and he’ll be shaving before I blink. I’m not ready for that (or the accompanying “talk” we’ll have to have). This world is a lot more dangerous than when I was his age. But he knows I write this blog and he’s caught on that I do it for him. He caught me going through the archives the other day and asked me to read him a post or two. Tonight as he was getting ready for bed he said “Daddy, will you read me some of your stories?” I replied “Why, son? You know the plot.” Then he said “I don’t know, Dad, I just love the way you tell a story. They’re funny and you write so well.”
There you have it. Mission accomplished, I’d say. Tonight I read to him a tale of the time his goldfish died and I had to replace it before he caught on. He was five and, oh, the TWO replacement fish were accidentally killed by my wife. He howled with laughter and then he said to me “Your a good dad.” Well son, it’s easy for me. You’re a very good young man.”
Now keep livin’ that crazy life so I can keep documenting it. He wants me to put the archive in a book. Smart boy.
Gifts from God – be they talents or sons… for these blessings I am most grateful and I pray you discover your gifts as well.
*I started writing this post on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers. If you ever run into a block, ask for his help.