Welp, it’s been a while again, huh.
Back to it, I guess.
Here’s a piece I wrote about a year ago.
I finished it at a Panera in a grayer part of the state of Illinois, slugging weird hazelnut coffee before speaking to a group of middle school writers.
Have you ever tried to make a group of several hundred 13-year-olds laugh? It’s terrifying.
But nevertheless, I got to share a few jokes and hopefully a tiny bit of what one might call ‘wisdom’. Afterwards an older fella talked to me about his stories from being in the Los Angeles rock and/or roll scene of the late ’80’s…so it all worked out in the end I guess?
So, here’s something I simply titled ‘The Author Story.’
I’m a tall guy from Kent, Ohio, I’m a big fan of LeBron James, and – it turns out, I’m an author.
An author is someone who is a lot of things.
They are, usually, a very lucky person.
They are a listener and a reader.
They are a hard worker.
They are most likely pretty bad at wearing fancy clothes. Like, right now, the fact that I have to tuck in my shirt is a real struggle for me.
But pretty much, an author is a writer that just hasn’t stopped writing.
It’s easier said than done, believe me.
But as I look around today, I can tell I’m among fellow authors, so I’d like to share the story of my start as an author.
It begins lifetimes ago….all the way back in…2008.
I was doing something called Americorps.
It is a volunteer program, where members do service work for an entire year.
This type of work includes things like volunteering at food pantries, or at animal rescue shelters, or even helping to clean up state parks.
Service work is work that actually makes you feel good.
Weird idea, I know.
I mean, work is work, and work is sometimes awful, right?
But my year of service made me think differently.
During this year, I was placed on a team with eleven other people. We were all from different parts of the U.S.-
Iowa, Minnesota, California, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin…
Randomly assembled, we became sort of a weird family.
We traveled around in a huge, silver 12-passenger van that I want to say was named Vinny.
For a year, we did everything together.
We went to the movies together.
We built houses together.
We went grocery shopping together.
We made our meals together.
We did the dishes together.
You get the idea.
So, with this new family, I was able to see lots of the eastern side of the country, stopping in every state from Connecticut to Louisiana.
In May of 2008, in Maryland, we helped prepare a few Girl Scout Camp campgrounds before the start of summer.
We did repair work on old, wooden cabins, put new siding on a dining hall, and helped clear a few miles of trail.
As a wonderful thank-you gift, we were given boxes upon boxes of what I believe to the best cookies ever. Girl Scout Cookies.
For the next few weeks, our van was packed with boxes of Thin Mints and wide assortment of other goodies.
It was, quite simply, amazing.
I ate them for breakfast…like, a lot.
And so in June, in our van, we travelled to New Orleans, Louisiana.
We were headed to help rebuild houses that were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
It had been three years since the storm, and flood damage was still everywhere.
Despite the damaged houses, though, we met undamaged spirits.
Thousands of people offered their school spring break, or just took a week off from their regular lives to help build homes for complete strangers.
Working alongside people from across the country was inspiring.
As a bonus, we all got really, really good at hammering nails…and not our fingers. Although the first week required a lot of thumb bandages.
I think for me personally, though, during this time in New Orleans I also started to lead more often.
Leading, to me, is taking on responsibility of a situation, good or bad.
I’ve learned leading can be scary sometimes, but I feel like it’s worth it.
On most of our construction worksites, there were lots of nails, boards, saws and other dangers, so someone always needed to be in charge.
The person in charge managed the construction worksite, and made sure volunteers didn’t return home after sawing off any arms or legs.
It was usually preferred that people return with all of their limbs.
Some days, though, this person in charge was absent from the worksite, so someone was needed to fill in for the day.
And even though I knew absolutely nothing about building a house, I began to happily offer my help.
I went from just a guy to The Person In Charge with the raise of a hand.
I even learned how to shingle a roof because of my time there.
This was mainly because I gave the wrong instructions, and we had to undo an entire day’s worth of work…but nobody really needs to know about that.
My main takeaway was that while this was frustrating, I learned valuable lessons in owning my mistakes.
Now is probably the time some of you might be thinking…’This guy is supposed to be talking about how he became an author. I think? Is he just going to talk about construction the whole time? Is he at the right conference?’
Stay with me!
Let’s jump ahead to the final month in my year of service.
I’m in New York City.
The leaves on the trees are bursting with color.
It’s the kind of crisp weather that requires you to finally start wearing a jacket.
Me, a van possibly named Vinny, and my weird second family were in New York City to help with a huge day of service.
It was called New York Cares Day, and it helped clean and re-vitalize public schools all over the city. Walls were re-painted, gardens were planted, and basements were cleaned out.
I had been working in a warehouse for about a month, helping teachers as they picked-up paint buckets and tulip bulbs for the big day.
Some of the people on my team had been working at different schools for weeks, but I was only going to be there for a day.
For this huge day of service I was basically going to be a helping hand. I was headed to an elementary school somewhere in Brooklyn to help paint a mural, I think.
But, the day before it was all to happen, a site leader dropped out. For a high school in the Bronx.
For whatever reason, they were unable to be there to lead hundreds of volunteers.
And so, they needed someone to be The Person In Charge.
Guess who raised their hand?
And so, on an early Saturday morning, I hopped on a subway train with 4 huge painting canvases, and a gallon of lime green paint.
I showed up to the high school in the Bronx, and greeted hundreds of volunteers as they showed up to help out their community, assuring them I absolutely knew what I was doing. I didn’t.
But together we painted things, we did some light gardening – it was great.
And, when it came time for lunch, most everyone ventured off towards the McDonald’s nearby.
Except for one group.
They were editors, all discussing their new favorite books.
We talked about our shared love of storytelling, I made a few bad jokes I’m sure, and at the end of it I left with a business card.
And eight years later I have three novels, and I get to be here with all of you.
All because I raised my hand.
Now, I’m not sure what to call that.
Did I know leading a group of people painting a school would help me become an author? Not even a little bit.
I imagine there are some big, fancy, probably German words that can be used to describe something such as this…but I like to think that the opportunity to become an author presented itself because I was available to it.
I was OK leading.
I was OK with the responsibility of a good job or a bad job.
And so, my fellow authors, I want to encourage you all to do the same.
Think with positivity.
Don’t be afraid.
And…maybe don’t eat too many cookies for breakfast. Trust me.