Archive for May 2019

Book Update

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 31, 2019

                                         

Some (I wish a multitude!) have been wondering about the status of my first novel, Red Hot: New Life In Fleming. Let me use my space to give an update for those who are interested.

First of all, I’m getting an education about the tangled world of publishing. I’ve learned about the inner workings of “vanity presses”, the self-publishing world, and the maze of even getting heard in the traditional publishing enterprises. 

There are a multitude of writing voices that hunger to be heard. A writer can self-publish for a price if he so desires. The costs can range from $1,000 to $6,000, and the adage “You get what you pay for!” is proved correct in this area.

Traditional publishers HAVE to be sure a writing project is going to be profitable for them. Too many bad decisions will result in their doors being permanently closed. Publishers are not risk takers these days!

That takes me to step two! Having the book edited. Two dear friends of mine have partnered with me in the writing to this point. They’ve checked for punctuation, made suggestions, read the story for clarity, and offered encouragement that has kept me going. They keep telling me that THIS BOOK NEEDS TO BE PUBLISHED! There have been several occasions where, after meeting with them, I’ve gone off excited and motivated to continue writing the story. (I’m actually about a quarter of the way through Book 3, and I give them the credit for cheering me on!) Now, with their encouragement, I’m contracting with someone to do a professional edit of the manuscript. It is a person I’ve met and talked with who has extensive experience editing and publishing. 

When the editing is concluded, with the guidance of my friends and editor, we’ll figure out the next step in the journey. One of the common mistakes that authors fall into is being impatient and rushing the process. Realizing I’m not getting any younger, that has been one scenario that my friends have cautioned me about.

Writing is a joy for me. I enjoy the creating of the storyline, the twists in the plot, and the development of characters. My perspective on life comes out in my storytelling. So much of fiction is dark and depressing. Fiction does not have to be fantasy or inhabited by zombies. It can be a story that causes laughter on one page and tears a few pages after that. The two main characters in my book are very real to me. I see the image of who I was back in my middle school years in one of the characters…and who I wanted to be in the other. 

There have been other learnings along the way. Terms like “building a platform” and “what’s your hook?” keep coming up. I’m a clueless writer who is gradually getting a clue.

You see, there’s the writing…and then there’s all the other stuff! It’s kind of like a basketball game being the main event, but then there’s all the preparation and practice that happens before the game is played.

HOW MIGHT YOU HELP? Go to my blog site (WordsfromWW.com) and become a follower if you aren’t already. Publishers look to who the writer’s audience is and how large it is. They want to know if anyone is listening? AND tell others about it and ask them to become followers. 

It may be another year or longer before Red Hot gets into print. I’ll let you know if and when that happens. In the mean time I keep substitute teaching and coaching at our middle school. It gives me a constant stream of new writing material!

Yearbook Signings

May 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       May 30, 2019

                              

Today was my last day of substitute teaching for this school year. Tomorrow I’m having a root canal. Some of the middle school teachers were willing to trade places with me if I took their classes.

I said no!

Today, however, I had several students come to me with their yearbooks and ask me to sign them. I can’t just sign my name like a doofus! I HAVE to write something, a few words of wisdom, or some inspirational jargon with a personal spin to it.

One 8th grade girl begged me to come and sub in high school next year. I let her have some hope that I would consider it, but I think I’d rather gargle with spoiled milk!

End-of-the-school year emotions run the whole spectrum. At one end are students who are crying their eyes out and at the other are students counting down the minutes like a NASA rocket launch just waiting for the final bell to ring.

“Mr. Wolfe, would you sign my yearbook?”

“Sure!” I take it in hand and glance at the words already written by others, hoping someone wrote this young lady’s name in their greeting. If not, I create a nickname on the spot, like “K-Factor”, “Brainiac”, and “Groovy Girl!” (No, just kidding on that last one!).

“K-Factor! What an awesome young lady you are! Every time I see a Snicker’s bar next year I’ll think of you!”

“Steady Freddy! You brought a smile to my face every time I had you in class this year. You are something else! Have a great summer!”

“Jill! Keep being as awesome as you are and the sky’s the limit!”

“Judy! Eat your veggies!”

The yearbook signings are diverse in message, some funny and some serious, some meaningless and others with words that will bring back a smile years from now. I didn’t have yearbooks from my middle school days. My first yearbook, still on my shelf, is from my freshman year at Maysville High School in Zanesville, Ohio. I was 4’10” with eyeglasses that kept sliding down my nose. In fact, I was runner-up in the school chess tournament that year. There is a picture in the yearbook where I am shaking the hand of the champion, a junior, and my glasses look like they’re about to fall off my face. I look at that picture now, 50 years later, and cringe but also chuckle. Some of these students will have the same reactions when they look at their pictures sometime in the future.

“Good Lord, what was I doing with my hair back then?”

“Look at my facial expression! Was I constipated that day?”

“Thank God, I stopped wearing that stupid headband by the time I got out of high school!”

And the signings. They will look at what Johnny wrote and laugh, or what Andrew wrote that makes no sense, or what Kyle wrote that a handwriting interpreter wouldn’t be able to figure out.

Students who have caused my underwear to get into a wad suddenly want me to sign their yearbook. I am honored that they value my signature so much. Some of the students who have caused me to run screaming to my car after school are the ones who want me to plant a few “Words from WW” in the center of their page. In 2039 when they pull their copies off their shelves many of them will get perplexed looks on their faces as they try to remember who Mr. Wolfe was…and that’s okay!

Remembering What Has Been Forgotten

May 27, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           May 27, 2019

                      

There is trivia and then there is truth. Trivia consists of those little morsels of interesting facts that may be known by a small percentage of the populace. Like yesterday’s “Trivia Hive” question: By what name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner better known? 

Give up?

Answer: Sting.

Interesting, right? But it does nothing to effect the rest of my day. It’s a trivia fact. Add an ‘L’ to trivia and you have trivial!

But then there is truth. Truth changes the way we live, the way we think, what grounds us. Truth is timeless. It is rooted in the past, lived in the present, and remembered for the future. Truth that is forgotten causes a drifting of our beliefs and life principles.

And yet, in our culture, truth seems to have been minimized. I think about this for three reasons: One, that it’s Memorial Day, a day rooted deep into our history, begun in 1866 following the Civil War and originally known as Decoration Day; two, because I see the disconnection between today’s younger generations and knowledge of the past; and three, because there is a tendency for truth to be distorted by those who either don’t know it or have agendas that seek to challenge it.

When we forget what has been we creep towards the edge of the dangerous cliff that leads to a slippage into old mistakes. When we forget where we have been we risk being careless about where we are going.

My wife and I were recently at the Luxembourg American Cemetery. 5,073 American soldiers, who lost their lives during World War II, mostly during the Ardennes Offensive, better known as the Battle of the Bulge, are buried there. As we gazed upon the rows of white crosses across 17 acres it was impossible to not think about what had happened and why they were here. The freedoms we so often take for granted today were solidified by their sacrifices. 

It is in that realization that I have my greatest appreciation, but it also in that realization that I cringe, for there is a forgetfulness in our midst that blurs the price of the past. The truth we forget gets bundled with the trivia that we tend to disregard. When we forget the principles of our democracy we become vulnerable to the corruption of the powers that be and the self-centeredness of personal privilege.

Never forget where we’ve been, because it is vital to the direction of where we need to be going.

Counting Stupidity

May 26, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 26, 2019

                           

A teacher friend of mine has been on a mission to create an app that would be able to measure the number of stupid decisions that occur in a typical school day at our middle school. He’s estimating that it’s around 200 acts of unintelligence AN HOUR! Fridays seem to be more, as if the students are gearing up for the weekend. Wednesdays are less, as if their energy level is lacking the ability to achieve the ridiculous!

Sometimes middle school kids clump stupidity together in such a rapid fire mass that it’s near impossible for the clicker to keep up with the number. For instance, any cafeteria lunch period is as populated with dumb decisions as Disney World is with Mickey Mouse ears. 

It’s kind of like this! Jimmy tries to squirt water from his water bottle into his mouth from three feet away (#1), but misses and hits Jenny in the back of the head with the spray (#2). Jenny’s friend, Molly, takes exception to the dousing and launches an apple slice back at Jimmy (#3), who dodges it and allows it to land smack dab in the middle of Dawson’s yogurt cup (#4). Strawberry yogurt ricochets from the container onto Dawson’s necktie (#5), which he is wearing in order to look impressive for a school interview activity. Sam, sitting next to Dawson, laughs at the sight of the yogurt on the neck tie so Dawson wipes it off with his hand and then rubs it into Sam’s hair (#6). The whole scene takes ten seconds, and yet is filled with 6 acts of stupidity. 

A few years ago a 7th grade football player was dared by two of his teammates (#1) to go into the girl’s locker room. He did (#2), and received a five day suspension, which caused him to miss two football games (#3). 

Then there’s the boy who tried to slide down the stairway railing on his stomach and fell a few feet to the bottom (#1), resulting in paramedics being called.

Or the 8th grade boy that I reprimanded last week for whipping a volleyball at top speed into a crowd of four students (#1), and then rolling his eyes at me (#2) when I called him on it! He offered excuses (#3) to explain his action, and then smiled at me (#4).

On second thought, two hundred acts of stupidity an hour might be low! 

Further analysis has revealed the effect of other factors on the count. Language Arts, for example, mostly experiences stupidity on the basis of boredom, like taking a marker and suddenly writing on the arm of the student sitting beside the bored classmate; or a student remembering that chewing gum is not allowed, so he slips it from his mouth to the underside of his desk to join with the other gobs attached there. 

Science stupid acts usually come during class periods where lab work is being done. The presence of test tubes, beakers, and microscopes are often seen as being tools for the accomplishment of mental dumbness.

And, of course, there’s the substitute teacher factor. Students tend to do stupid with greater frequency when a substitute is overseeing the class. Like the boy who was using his cell phone in class in non-academic ways (#1). I told him to put his cell phone on my desk. Two minutes later one of his classmates informed me that he had put his cell phone case on  my desk upside-down, but had kept his cell phone (#2). I told the offending student to take his cell phone to the office, where it would be held for the rest of the day. He took it in that direction, but when I checked a few minutes later the office secretary informed me that he hadn’t turned it into them (#3). The assistant principal for his grade and a long chat with him!

Next week it will be hard to keep up with the errors of the student’s ways. We’ll be cleaning out the locker room. They’ve been told, told, told, and retold to empty their lockers. Anything still in the locker room will be contributed to a local charity. I know that we’ll gather an unbelievable amount of expensive athletic wear, from $150 pairs of shoes to NBA player jerseys to baseball and wide receiver gloves. Numerous parents will have fallen for the whining excuse from their sons and daughters that the infamous criminal known as “Someone” stole their items!

And the parents will believe it!

And that’s just as stupid!

Playing Hoops Against the 8th Graders

May 25, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 25, 2019

                              

They hoot and holler as I emerge from the locker room wearing gym shorts, tee shirt, and lily white Air Jordan sneakers. Most of them haven’t seen me in anything but sweat pants or jeans. The paleness of the skin IS a bit alarming!

I’ve been their coach, but never competed against them. Today, however, is the Student-Staff basketball game, an event each year where players who were part of the school 8th grade basketball teams strut onto the court to teach their science, math, and social studies teachers a lesson. 

To them I’m just an old man who knows his “x’s’ and o’s”. They don’t realize that I have a jump shot and can see the court well, even though I take my glasses off when I play. The staff also has “Big Matt”, who measures at about 6’6”, a former college football player who can’t jump or shoot, but…hey! He’s 6’6” and beefy! He causes some of students to “reconsider” every time they have an opportunity to take the basketball into the lane.

Mr. Williams, seventh grade science teacher, has been playing at lunchtime with his students. He’s developed into a shooter, at least for this annual game! Mr. McKinney, despite a sore knee, is fundamentally sound and my coaching compadre!

But the students think that they are all that and a slice of Swiss Cheese! They only have five more days of middle school, and it’s time to leave their mark on the staff! To dominate and then leave like Clint Eastwood at the end of each of his westerns, riding off into the sunset.

One thing, however, that has remained consistent through the years about these basketball games is that the staff plays “team ball” and the students play as individuals. The bodies of the staff might be a bit achy and moving slower, but we know that the whole is better than the sum of the parts. 

Big Matt towers in the lane like Shaq and Mr. Reynolds, who teaches most of the players in social studies, is making them pay for not remembering the three branches of our government. He’s administering “justice” to them, “legislating” pain, and “executing” the game plan. By the middle of the third quarter the lead has hit double figures and keeps growing.

The crowd of students and staff watching from the bleachers cheer on their friends and foes and by the fourth quarter everyone is simply enjoying the event. I close out the game with a half court swish shot at the buzzer and smiles emerge from both sides. For the students, their teachers have become human. For the staff, the students have minimized their swag and enjoyed the moment. 

The next day the kids who I competed against greet me with high fives and looks of amazement. Instead of mentioning my pale-skinned legs they tell me that my sneakers are cool! Instead of my slow defense they talk about my half court shot! 

And what I don’t tell them is that I maxed out on Motrin the night before and soaked my aching body in the hot tub! They are the epilogue to the finished story!

The Illusion of Being In Control

May 21, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      May 21, 2019

                           

It’s May 21 In Colorado Springs and we woke up to a foot of snow on the ground. It started in the early evening, but surely it would spew for a while and then cease! 

It hasn’t! School closures on May 21 for snow storms aren’t the norm around here, but my back is mumbling something to me this morning that may be a mixture of pain and profanity.

Carol and I were out in the backyard at 6 AM shaking slumping tree branches that look weighed down by the misery of it all. 

The longer I live the more I realize how much of life I’m not in control of. Late May snow storms are beyond me, as are sudden sicknesses, achy knees, and 7th Grade algebra. I suppose I could take algebra off that list if I studied it long enough…maybe not! But all the hand sanitizer, Vitamin C, and hand washing does not make me immune to a virus that comes on like gangbusters.

My friend, Ron McKinney, was looking forward to his daughter returning home yesterday from her first year at a Boston area college, but at the last moment Frontier Airlines changed her flight from Monday to Wednesday. Isn’t it interesting how we can plan something like a trip, vacation, or major purchase and a business, an institution, or the unpredictability of nature scratches out all of our ideas and itineraries?

Being in control is an allusion that we live by. That’s not to say that it’s futile for people to plan and prepare, but rather to not be surprised by the wrinkle in the schedule.

Athletes train and prepare to compete with excellence, but a blown-out knee can happen to the best of the best. 

I’ve had friends who have lived a healthy lifestyle and suddenly been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer that seems to answer to no one.

I’ve had people in the congregations where I served as pastor- faithful people, people of prayer and spiritual disciplines, who have an intimate relationship with Jesus- suddenly encounter life tragedies that shake them to their cores.

I’ve seen investments in stocks that seemed sound suddenly go off the deep end because the main products of a company became obsolete. Think Eastman Kodak! Or the arrival of Amazon speeding the departure of Sears!

A foot of snow on May 21st! And the forecast of temperatures in the 70’s for the coming weekend! 

What I can trust in is the God I serve always being faithful, always loving, and always merciful. As I plowed through the snow this morning with hesitation and white knuckles, I was reminded of my Father God who navigates the way of life for me if I trust in him…if I allow him to be the one who is in control. 

Psalm 23 is probably the most familiar scripture selection in the Old Testament. It’s also a psalm of surrender and recognition. It tells of the Father who is like a shepherd, the one who leads, protects, and provides. The reoccurring theme, however, is that he is our Father God who is in control. 

What can a person do on May 21st when a foot of snow greets him as his garage door opens? Grab a shovel, get the Biofreeze ointment ready, and live with what is!

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!