Repost: Lessons from Two Masters

I just finished helping a student finish his 10 page term paper on how Edith Wharton’s and Tennessee Williams’ lives inspired Ethan Frome and The Glass Menagerie. The truth is that both of their lives are right there on those pages, disguised as other people dealing with problems of guilt, abandonment, thwarted dreams and societal pressures.

Edith Wharton wrote of a loveless marriage just as she was experiencing her own loveless marriage. Tennessee Williams wrote of the abandonment of an emotionally fragile sister after he felt as if he had abandoned his own.

I am aware that much of the fiction I write has common themes from my life. I am intrigued by addiction, family dysfunction, feelings of abandonment and the importance of naming the truth at least from one perspective. What does that tell you about my life? Probably all you need to know. I have spent most of my adult life dealing with my childhood experiences with all the above. I suspect most of us have a variation of that list, depending on how healthy versus unhealthy our people were. In my case, they were good people with a tendency to drown their sorrows, which lead to a propensity to be more comfortable with surface appearances and not tackle underlying feelings that might cause a fuss. I have had to learn to get comfortable with the messiness of honesty and the accompanying discomfort that often comes from looking squarely at a problem and not pretending it doesn’t exist. Alas…I am still working on all of that.

The gist is that I learn a lot from helping my high school AP English students with their papers. I learn that very famous writers often don’t stray too far from their own backyards when chronicling the pain and uncertainty of life. That is a great lesson to learn for anyone who aspires to write anything from a good email to a novel.

On that note, I believe I’ll bid you all adieu. All that analysis has made me a little tired. Time to head upstairs, get ready for bed and spend some quality time doing nothing but staring at television.

I hope your day went well and your evening is going even better.

See you tomorrow, my friends. Rest well.


Seeing an “Old” Student After 5 Years

I saw one of my students today who I haven’t laid eyes on since he was twelve-years-old.  He is now 17.  The last time I saw him he was a lanky little boy with big feet and a shy smile; today I opened the door to a full grown young man with a beard.  Wow.

This same boy texted me a few days back and said, “I’ve just decided to apply early decision to a school in the east.  I need to write my Common App essay and have it ready by Sunday.” That was two days ago, Wednesday.  I told him that I was booked solid, but that I would squeeze him in for one hour this afternoon since he was my former student.  “Thank you,” he wrote. “I’ll take whatever you can give me.”

I wasn’t particularly hopeful that we could produce anything worth reading in the 1 hour I had available, but I figured I could get him headed in the right direction.  When he arrived, he told me he already had an essay, but that it wasn’t very good. I asked to see it and it was true, it wasn’t very good.  A quick first draft written for a class.  However, the subject of the essay – his passion for buying and selling sneakers – was unique and definitely worth developing.  I told him that we could get at least some of the paragraphs in place if he was willing.  “Absolutely,” he said.

The gist is that within one hour we had almost the complete essay written and, lucky for him, my next student rescheduled, so we ended up with more time.  We actually finished his 650 word essay in a record 1 1/2 hours and I can confidently say that it’s a strong one.  How did that happen, you might ask? Don’t you sometimes spend several sessions on one essay?  The answer is simple: the topic is this boy’s passion and he was able to provide details and asides that allowed the essay to almost write itself.

As my student was leaving he turned and said, “Thank you for making time for me, Len. It’s so great to see you again.”  He gave me a big hug.

Aw.  It was so great to see him too.  These babies growing up and turning into men and women. Amazing.

Moral of the story for college essay writing: write about something you truly love. It might just turn out to be an exceptional essay.



Back to Work

My first student arrived at 2:30 today, my last one left 30 minutes ago at 10 pm.  It is college essay time and that means back-to-back students. Plus, I have a few “regular” writing students tossed in, who need help with college term papers.  I even have two plain ole kids who are coming just to write fiction.  Yippee. That is a nice shift in focus after all of these nonfiction essays and papers.

The good news is that all the essays and term papers are going well.  The fiction is too.

The bad news is that I am a bit tired, particularly since I’m still acclimated to Central Time Zone so my body thinks it’s two hours later – 12:30 instead of 19:38.  That made me feel a little less snappy tonight as the hours drew on.

Tomorrow I have a 6 am student and another at 8.  Then I get a break until 4, when I have a 4, 6, and 8.  Yep, it is college essay deadline time for sure.

I will bid you adieu now and head upstairs.  There’s a bed up there with my name on it.

I hope you are having a bit more restful time than I am.  Mine will pass as soon as the deadlines pass.  Life will regain its routine.

But like I said, I am headed to bed now…





Thanks, Chicago!

We are heading home early tomorrow morning so this will be very short, particularly since I have written this blog post twice and have lost it through technical difficulties both times.  Ugh!

Alas, all I need to say is that I have had a wonderful time for an entire week in Chicago and I can’t wait to return.  What a fabulous city.  The architecture has been beautiful, the art impressive and the weather spot-on perfect.  I am feeling exceedingly happy with this stimulating yet restful vacation.

On that note, I’ll say good night.

Next communication will hopefully be from LA if, as we say in Texas, the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.





Chicago River Tour and the Art Institute

We spent an hour and a half this morning on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise, and I must say that our docent was amazing and the view from the river of all the buildings was well worth the money spent. (Ray determined before we arrived in Chicago that joining the CAF would be very helpful since it allowed for priority “line-jumping” for every site on the architectural tour over the weekend – which proved to be a godsend since some of the lines were half a block long – plus it included a ticket for the river tour.). Alas, the river tour was fabulous. 

This afternoon, we returned to the Art Institute, where we continued to be wowed by the enormous amount of unbelievable art housed under one roof. We plan to return again tomorrow for our last day here since we didn’t finish today. (Again, Ray determined before we came that buying a membership to the Art Institute would be well worth the money since we were definitely going for more than one day plus you get the benefits of the members’ lounge where you can go for free coffee and tea, plus have a comfortable place to rest during the day.)

The result of our day’s art experience: my head is aswirl with thoughts and images that may take a bit of time to process. However, if I had to pick a word to describe this experience it would have to be “inspired.” I feel better about our world looking at the time and energy artists and architects have devoted to creating beauty as well as commenting on our social condition. We all benefit from their focused efforts. 

I took very few pictures at the Art Institute today because I was so busy absorbing information. But here are a few highlights from there and the river tour. 

Chicago Architecture Tour

Ray and and I are in Chicago and we were very happy to discover that the annual Open House Chicago tour happen to coincide with our visit. This tour opens to the public many of Chicago’s most fabulous places for free. 

Yesterday we went to about fifteen buildings in downtown Chicago, and today we saw homes in Oak Park (including Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and workshop and Hemingway’s birthplace), toured several on Prairie Avenue, once the most exclusive street in Chicago, and also saw the Robie House, which is near the University of Chicago campus. Needless to say, we are two pooped pups. Today alone my step counter indicates we have walked eight miles. 

Here are a few photos, but many places didn’t allow indoor photos so this is not a great representation. Suffice it to say, we both love Chicago and will be returning again next year to hit more of the endless open houses. This has been a wonderful art vacation!

Entry Hall at the Pleasant Home Farson House

Hemingway’ Birthplace

Robie House

Rockefeller Chapel

Flash Fiction, Memoir and Essay

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