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A Popular Facebook Post
Years ago, whenever Facebook first came on the scene, Principals and Vice-Principals were warned against joining. It would be dangerous, we were told. I understood why then, and I understand now. At the very least, a Principal would be finding out way too much about some of their kids and their families. Parents could have way too much access to the Principal too, and maybe, get way too much information about them.
So I was careful and didn't join. I did join Twitter though, which seemed somehow more professional back then.
Anyway, in 2021, no longer a Principal, I did join Facebook. I thought I was joining to market my book. But soon I was helping to organize my High School alma mater's 100th anniversary reunion. I reconnected with old High School chums, old teachers, certain former students (those I thought not dangerous to 'friend,') and almost any classmate from my time as a student. When my 'kids' found out that I was on Facebook, I began to get 'Friend Requests,' and soon I fell into the Facebook trap. I woke up to find I had 997 Friends.
So close to 1,000... So I did what everyone on Facebook does, . Beg for just a few more. Well, now I have my 1,000, and another 564 who follow my Author page, and I've created a High School Reunion page with almost 2,500 members, and it's all just a little... unwieldy. I can't ever keep up with everything that happens, and I miss people's birthdays, and I seem to ignore friends' significant events. And almost always that's not the case. Facebook lets me know three or four days too late, because I've got over fifteen hundred friends! I'm writing this on the Tuesday after Mothers' Day, and I'm just being told, on Facebook, that it is, indeed, Mothers' Day.
At times this makes me despair of keeping the fifteen hundred friends I've got. "If Dave can't even bother to recognize that we've got a new dog, is he even a friend?" "I posted four days ago how upset I was when the Leafs lost. Dave didn't even send a sad faced emoji. What kind of a friend is that?" I hear them saying.
But. Every once in a while - Maybe once or twice a week - I realize as I'm scrolling, that I've got a huge smile on my face and my heart feels full. Sometimes there's a happy tear or two. I stop, and scroll backwards a bit and see that I've read a number of posts in a row from former students, not directed to me at all, but just to their friends - just to the world at large - and the posts basically just say that everything is okay with them. Their six month old baby has an incredibly cute smile and her face is covered in food. Their anniversary has just happened and they still adore their partner. They've just gotten the job or promotion they wanted. They're going to be grandparents. They're graduating from university or college.
I look at their faces and I'm transported back in time; usually to a very good place. I'm getting a hug from a student as they walk across the stage to get their diploma. I'm watching them take their bows at the end of a play. I'm laughing with them in the hallway. They're asking me a question in class.
Sometimes, I'm transported to a not good place. I'm suspending an angry, angry young man. A child is crying in my office because she's been bullied. And some of these kids are kids I worried about then, and I continued to worry about after they left me, or I left them. I worried about them for years.
And then I see them holding their third baby; or blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, surrounded by friends (real friends, not just Facebook friends) and family; or hiking in Croatia, or talking about their teaching assignment for next year.
My heart fills up, the tears begin to flow, as they are right now, my smile widens and I'm exceedingly grateful for everything. And I feel it's necessary to tell Facebook. Not any person in particular. Not a friend. Just the world at large.
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I Guess This is Good...
This morning, my wife and I went to a church 'Jumble Sale,' kind of an indoor yard sale, and then to a resale shop in Harrow. As you'd expect, whenever we go to ay of these places, I gravitate immediately to the books. There are certain books I always see at these things - books by James Patterson, Clive Cussler, Sidney Sheldon, for example, plus Harlequin Romances. Almost always though, there will be a book I want, that I didn't really expect to see. Today there were two. A book of short stories from the Vinyl Cafe - a collection from the story exchange part of the show, and a book by P.C. Doherty.
Like me, Doherty is a High School principal, almost certainly retired now. Unlike me, he's written dozens of books in a number of different series - all historical mysteries. My favourite series is the Hugh Corbrett series - wonderful medieval mysteries. They are the only books that, upon picking up, I read the last page before buying. Once, a number of years ago, I bought a Hugh Corbrett mystery, only to find out that he died at the end! Shot by a crossbow!
I was in a funk for weeks! I liked Hugh Corbrett a lot! And even though, if he were a real character, he would have been dead for eight hundred years or so by now, maybe more, I expected him to die a well deserved death in bed at eighty-something. Not being hit by an arrow from a crossbow! My guess was that Doherty was either tired of writing the Corbrett books and wanted to end them, or he wanted to receive a bunch of fan mail begging for Corbrett to return.
Anyway, a couple years later, a new book came out in the Hugh Corbrett series. He hadn't died, and had been nursed back to health so he could catch another ne-er do well. Because I usually pick up Corbrett mysteries at re-sale shops and yard sales and libraries, I don't always know if I've read them before. (I really don't mind. I enjoy reading them a second time.) I just don't want to read about Corbrett getting killed again.
I hadn't intended to tell you all that. I really wanted to tell you that, in addition to looking for a book I wasn't expecting to find, I've also started to look for my book when I go into one of those places. I look for my favourite writers, as always, but I also take a look in the 'G' section, and the humour section, for a copy of The Principal Chronicles.
I don't know yet if it will make me happy or sad to find it. I don't know yet if I'll buy it, or if, as I often do, suggest to a patron I don't know that this would be a good book to pick up. I do that for several books if I find them in a resale shop. "What sort of book are you looking for? Oh! Have you read this one yet? It's great!" I also don't know yet if I'll fess up and tell the person that I wrote it. Maybe I'll just look to see if it's signed and then ask the kid working at the till if I can sign it before putting it back on the shelf. "Gee Sir, I don't know. I mean, it's not your book anymore..."
In any case. I didn't find a copy of The Principal Chronicles. Maybe next time.
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Happy New Year!
It seems a bit strange to be wishing you a happy new year in April, but I was just looking over the events I've taken part in this year so far, and I realized that, in the main, for me as a writer, it has been a happy new year. The UniCom class I taught on my book was a hoot! I met some great people, was very well received, and I've already been invited back for next semester! My book reading at the John Muir Library was fantastic, attended by forty people of all ages! In fact, every book reading has been well received, and I've realized that this is one of the most rewarding parts of being a writer. Reading a story and having the attendees laugh at the appropriate spots, and tear up at the appropriate spots is a joy! I was featured in an article in The River Town Times on March 1st, and will actually 'grace the cover' (Note the quotes. I doubt any picture of me 'graces' anything.) of a magazine this month! The book continues to sell well, and I've had enough time to pretty much finish writing the second installment of The Principal Chronicles!
All good stuff! So. A Happy New Year, Everyone!
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Feeling Like a Real Writer
Writing and publishing a book doesn't make you feel like a real writer. Opening the box with your first copies is very nice, as are the emails and Facebook messages and tweets that tell you the book is good. Being asked to sign or inscribe the book is nice too. Stephen Hurley, at voicEd.ca has done his best to make me feel like an author, having me record the stories for his podcast and having me on his show, but still, there's this nagging little voice at the back of my head that calls me a bit of an impostor. "You're a retired principal, Mr. Garlick, and you may have written a book, but you're not really an author. You're just posing."
Well, last night I began, really, to feel like an author. I'm gearing up for a local authors' book show in less than two weeks (December 11th, if you're available), I was asked to record a piece from my book in advance of being interviewed for an upcoming podcast; my course description on my book and on writing was approved for a course I'll be teaching next month; I read a great review of my book by Rabid Reader's Reviews; I was asked how much I would charge for a book reading (nothing); and there may be the possibility of a local acting troupe turning one or more of my stories into plays! This was all in one day!
I guess I really am a writer now!
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A New Unpublished Story
Every once in a while - actually quite often - I get asked if I'm writing another book. The short answer is 'Yes.'
The longer answer is, well, a much longer answer. It's not easy, you know. The forty or so stories that make up The Principal Chronicles actually started out as more than sixty. Some of them were just okay and some of them were very good, I thought, but they didn't fit. The story below is a new one though, and one that would have made it into the first book if I'd written it a few months earlier. It's based on a true story. I did bring a homemade fan to school, I did have a crush on a girl with beautiful long black hair, and a boy did turn his desk into a crystal radio.
Please let me know what you think.
At the Intersection of Adolescence and Technology
This is a story about adolescence and technology and their first intersection in my life.
This is not a story about having to borrow the car from Dad, or having it break down on a first date. This is not a story about trying to find a payphone far enough from home so as not to be embarrassed at calling a girl in front of my parents or siblings.
It is, as I said, a story of the first intersection of technology and my own adolescence.
It’s important for me to tell you at the outset that although I hadn’t met him yet, Roland Markham became a hero of mine in the late spring of 1968 when my brother came home from school to tell me that Roland, a fellow student in his Grade 8 class, had turned his school desk into a crystal radio so he could listen to baseball games during class.
“Get out! You can’t do that!” I exclaimed. Then, after a second, I added, “What’s a crystal radio?”
“It’s a radio that needs no batteries and you don’t need to plug it in! Roland just needed a toilet paper roll, an eraser, some wire and a few odds and ends from home and - Voila! Roland’s desk became a radio! He’s a bit of a geek, but I’ve gotta admit, it’s pretty cool! Even Mr. Carruthers ended up thinking it was pretty neat. He was pretty angry at first though. He thought Roland had damaged the desk and was gonna send him to the office, until Roland convinced him to put the little earpiece into his ear. And just as he did it Al Kaline hit a double! Carruthers likes baseball I guess. So Roland didn’t get sent to the office. He just had to give us updates at the end of each inning.”
I was eight. I consulted my brother’s Boy Scout manual and saw that, yes, it was possible to turn a school desk into a radio. I didn’t, though, want to get into any trouble at school, and so looked into the possibility of making a crystal radio set at home. My parents were pleased at this foray into the realms of science and technology, and so bought me a crystal radio kit, which I put together with minimal adult help and supervision, and began listening to the one or two stations the radio picked up. Roland may have been a bit of a geek, as my brother said, but he’d turned an eight year old on to technology.
Adolescence has nothing to do with eight year olds, but it does have to do with twelve year olds. And by the time I was twelve, I’d moved on from crystal radios, but was still, or rather was now, fascinated with the simple technologies available to twelve year olds at Janisse’s Hobby and Toy Shop. Working model steam engines, which could operate a small drill or saw were too expensive for me, but the little motors that drove model automobiles were pretty inexpensive, and if you took the red plastic propeller from an even less expensive balsa wood and rubberband glider, and glued it to the motor, you could make yourself a personal fan!
Which I did, and like Roland a few years before, I brought it to school.
Like I said, I was twelve. Grade seven. At the beginning of adolescence. And as fascinated as I was with the technologies at Janisse’s Hobby and Toy Store, I was even more fascinated by girls. Now, I’d always liked girls, all the way back to Kindergarten and Carol Ann Smithers. But by grade seven it was different. In grade seven I was twelve and Bethany Langer was sitting in front of me.
I fell hard for Bethany almost from the moment I met her. She was new to our school that year, and when Mr. Cope read her name out for attendance, he said her last name, Langer, so it rhymed with ‘hangar.’
“Excuse me, Sir. It’s pronounced ‘Lahnjay’,” she said, correcting him. “It’s French.” I fell a little bit in love right then. I’d never met a French girl before.
She turned around in her desk to introduce herself to me. “My first name is Beth. Now usually, when someone’s named Beth, it’s short for Elizabeth. But in my case, it’s short for Bethany. I was named after my grandmother.”
“So, your grandmother’s name is Bethany?”
“No, silly. It’s Elizabeth.” And then she laughed at me. A laugh that reminded me of many small bells. And I was gone.
I don’t know that Bethany ever knew that I was in love with her. I certainly never told her. A twelve year old boy never tells a Bethany Langer that he’s in love with her. Throughout that year, though, I tried to convey to her that I was in love with her, by stumbling over my words when I spoke with her, by tripping over my own feet at the front of the classroom accidentally and by being complimented by Mr. Cope for always having my history homework completed and reading ahead in English.
None of that worked.
I also tried inane compliments. “You have great hair.” I told her. “I wish I had your hair.”
She did have great hair. Long, black, straight and silky looking hair that reached all the way to her waist and, to me, her incredible hips. I knew though that it was far safer to compliment her hair than her hips.
”Silly! You don’t want hair this long! It’s so much work!” And then she fanned her hair out over my desk for a moment, before expertly gathering it up to one side of her head and pulling it in front of her and away from me.
I didn’t tell her how much I appreciated the work she put into her hair, or how much I wanted to run my hands through it. That seemed almost as dangerous as complimenting her hips. But I think she gathered as much, because she said, “Thanks for the compliment, but if you touch my hair, and my brother finds out, he’ll kill you. He’s super protective of me.”
I didn’t ask how he’d find out. I knew. She’d tell him. “David Garlick had the audacity to touch my hair! And he’s fascinated by my hips!” She’d tell him that for the pleasure of watching her brother kill me. And so I didn’t touch her hair. But having it all right there in front of me, five days a week was a kind of exquisite torture for twelve year old me, from September to April.
And then in April I brought my homemade, personal electric fan to school. I’d constructed a small box to hold two ‘D’ batteries, glued the eighty-five cent motor into place at one end of the box, with a red plastic balsa wood rubberband glider propeller glued onto the motor. By connecting the wires coming from the motor to both ends of the batteries, the propeller would spin, I would point it at myself, and be far cooler than anyone else in the class. In fact, I thought, having such a device on my desk would make me the coolest kid in the class.
Everyone would be jealous of me, and impressed by my technological know-how. Perhaps even Bethany Langer would be impressed and fall in love with me.
That’s not, as you probably guessed, how things turned out.
The fan worked very well at keeping me cool, and earned the notice and admiration of Mr. Cope. “Pretty neat, Dave! You made that yourself?”
A couple of the boys in class were also intrigued. “Where’d you get the motor?” “How’d you know that it was gonna work?”
Bethany, though, was less than impressed. When I initially hooked it up in class it was pointed at her, and it blew her fascinating and exquisite hair out of its usual state of perfection. “Don’t point that thing at me again, okay? Geez!”
And so, for the rest of the morning I had to be satisfied with the compliment from Mr. Cope and the couple of boys who thought it was kind of neat. At least, I thought to myself, I’m not sweating like a pig and smelling up the place with my sweaty arm pits which was a new and unwelcome part of adolescence, and another reason, I thought, Bethany Langer would never fall in love with me.
Things took a terrible turn later that morning though. Just before lunch Bethany fanned her hair out over my desk which was usually something I really enjoyed. But this time, her fascinating and exquisite hair got caught up in the propeller of my fan, which quickly wound itself up, over and over, from her hair’s end, which again, reached all the way to her hips, to her scalp, while she screamed, “TURNITOFFTURNITOFFTURNITOFF!”
As quickly as I could I disconnected the batteries, but by then, my personal electric fan looked as though it had become one with Miss Bethany Langer.
“IDIOT! GARLICK, YOU’RE AN IDIOT! NOW I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GO HOME AND CUT OFF ALL MY HAIR! I’M GOING TO BE BALD AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! IDIOT! MY BROTHER IS GOING TO KILL YOU!”
And then Bethany ran out of the classroom crying. The bell rang and we all went home to lunch.
I went home to wait for death.
I told my mother what had happened, leaving out the fact of my unrequited love for Bethany Langer and her incredible hips.
“Do you know where she lives? We can call her and apologize.”
“She’s still going to be bald, and her brother is still going to kill me.”
“It can’t be that bad, can it?” She asked.
“I don’t know any bald girls, do you?”
There weren’t any Langers in the phone book though, so there didn’t seem any way of calling to apologize, in any case.
Although I spent much of lunch looking out the window for him, Death didn’t come by at lunch. But Bethany didn’t return to school after lunch either. Mr. Cope told me that he didn’t think what had happened was my fault, but it was cold comfort to me. At least I’ll go to my death knowing that Mr. Cope didn’t hold me responsible, I thought.
After school I walked home by myself, waiting for Bethany’s brother to jump out from behind a tree, or pull up to me on a motorcycle and, after running me over, beat me to death with a big stick. I realized that I had no idea what Bethany’s brother looked like, but that whoever came up to me with murder in his eyes would probably be him.
Just before supper, a meal I thought might be my last, there was a knock on the front door. I went to answer it, walking as though I was a Jimmy Cagney character walking towards the electric chair at the end of a movie.
I opened the door to find Roland Markham, the young man who’d become my hero in 1968 by turning his desk into a crystal radio.
“Are you David Garlick?”
“Yes Sir.” I called him Sir, even though he was my brother’s age and in my brother’s classes at high school. He was six years older than I was, but he was about the same size as every other kid in my grade seven class. His voice sounded like a cross between sandpaper on metal and the squeak of a mouse. He had the same impressive case of adolescent acne I was worried about developing, and it didn’t look as though he’d washed his hair that month.
“Here’s your fan back. It still works. There’s a couple of Beth’s hairs wrapped around the motor spinny thing though. It’s pretty cool! Did you get the motor at Janisse’s?”
“Yes, thanks! How do you know Bethany?”
“You mean Beth? She’s my sister. Well, half sister. Her mom married my dad last year.”
So this was the brother sent to kill me.
“I’m awfully sorry about Bethany’s hair. Did she have to cut it all off?”
“Nah! Once she calmed down we unwound things pretty easily.”
“So you’re not going to kill me?
“Kill you? Where’d you get a stupid idea like that? I just didn’t want my stupid sister to throw your fan away!”
“Still, please tell Bethany I’m sorry, okay? I don’t want her hating me because of this.”
“I don’t know if my relaying an apology will help much, but I’m happy to tell her. Have a good evening, okay?” And with that, he left.
I’m pretty sure that Bethany hated me for a good long time after that. She didn’t speak to me, or call me silly, or laugh her laugh of many small bells at anything I said for a very long time. She also started to tie her hair in a long single braid, which was far less fascinating to me, though she still had great hips.
I apologized profusely and wrote her the very best ‘I’m sorry for being a jerk’ letter I could, but I’m pretty certain she continued to hate me, at least for the rest of the month. By the end of the school year though, things had gotten back to almost normal between us, and I’d begun to notice that Michele Lindsay was at least as attractive to me as Bethany had been.
But I never brought the fan to school again.
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If you're from the Windsor area, and you watch CBC or CTV, or you follow their local social media platforms, you may know that I came down with covid a few weeks ago. That's certainly not an unusual thing, given the millions and millions of people who've suffered through the virus over the last two and a half years. In fact, it's almost unusual that it took me so long to be infected. My wife and I have been incredibly careful since the pandemic began. She likes to say that we've lived like monks, and while that's not exactly true, we've certainly been careful. I'm an essential caregiver to two medically fragile parents who live in a retirement home and I had no desire to bring covid-19 into their home and maybe kill a number of their neighbours, their friends, or maybe even them.
Anyway, in what could be interpreted as a lapse in judgement, we went on a cruise to Alaska last month. Even in this though, we were careful. The cruise line demanded that all guests be fully vaccinated, and produce a negative covid test within two days of the cruise beginning. Guests are encouraged to wear masks whenever they are in public spaces except when they're eating, and the entire crew is always masked while working. In spite of all this, as I mentioned at the start, I came down with covid.
I was put in isolation on the ship for the last day and a bit of the cruise, and then I had to spend eight days in isolation in the Vancouver Airport Sheraton. This was the reason for the CBC and CTV news stories. I think the news outlets were looking for an angry traveler story, but I wasn't angry. Not at all. I was happy that the cruise line did their best to make sure no other guests were infected, and I understand the need to isolate until you're no longer a risk to others. I did warn viewers that covid was still a reality; that trips like the one I'd been on are a calculated risk; and that it would be smart to factor in some extra time after such a trip in case they were unlucky, as I had been.
The interviewers were surprised at my non-anger, and that I didn't view the eight days in a fine hotel as a terrible thing. My wife had tested negative, and so she was allowed to travel home at the end of the cruise, so I was left alone. However, due to modern technology, I was able to speak to and see my wife several times a day, and she was able to send me a 'care package' of treats and writing pads and pens. I used the eight days of isolation as a Writer's Retreat, and started fourteen short stories that I hope will be finished off and become part of The Principal Chronicles Too/Two.
That's why I called this blog entry Serendipity. My getting sick (and it was really only like a mild couple day flu) gave me the impetus and time to work on my next book, in much the same way the pandemic, when it started, gave me the impetus to write and publish my first book.
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Whenever a person interviews for any position in education, and I mean any position - it's expected that the person must say, "I'm a life long learner." I've always smiled at the expression. Not just because it's become hackneyed, but because there is no alternative. Everyone is a life long learner, whether they like it or not. Every single day, everyone learns from their experiences, even if it's something as simple as confirming that you still don't like watermelon or lima beans. It's the nature of our existence.
I suppose a better expression would be something like, "I still enjoy learning things, and I expect that that will continue until the day I die." But even that goes without saying, because the alternative to it is, "I've learned enough at your age here and I don't really want to learn anything more. I'm tired of learning." You're not going to be hired as a new teacher, principal, superintendent or director by saying that.
Anyway, the reason I'm writing this post is that I learned an awful lot by writing and publishing my book, and then I continued to learn things through the marketing and selling of it. And I continue to learn more each day. Most recently, due to the interest of Mr. Stephen Hurley at www.voicEd.ca, I've learned how to record my stories to help him publish them as a podcast, a sort of audio book. I had to purchase a pretty nice microphone and a decent set of headphones, but then, via the telephone and computer, Stephen guided me through the process of recording the stories and then uploading them to him so he could clean them up and then add some appropriate introductory and closing music before publishing them at voicEd.ca. (If you'd like, you could head over there and check them out. They're all pretty good, and I've learned to actually enjoy hearing my voice.) It was all a great lot of fun for me.
Like me, Stephen Hurley is a retired educator. I'm positive that he was an excellent one, because he's continued to stay involved and he is excellent at making even an old guy like me feel as though I can master the skills necessary to get involved in podcasting, story recording and being a somewhat recurring guest on a radio show. And he's also made the experiences enjoyable. I don't know how many of these things were related to his job as a teacher, but they certainly prove that, like me, Stephen is a life long learner.
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A Great Audience
On June 9th, I was invited to attend the Ontario Principals' Council, Windsor Branch's retirement dinner. They hadn't been able to hold one since covid arrived, so everyone who had retired in the last three years was invited to attend. Now I retired six years ago, but I was invited to be the entertainment. The organizers had decided to forego the de rigeur speeches from Senior Admin in favour of something they thought the attendees would enjoy a bit more.
Linda and I went, not really knowing what to expect. Back when I was working, the retirement dinner was looked forward to, as a golf outing, followed by a nice meal, but it was only ever attended by about twenty of us - twenty secondary school principals and vice-principals. We were separate from the elementary administrators. This night's affair was to be a combined affair - elementary and secondary together. And, as I said, it was the first one in three years - the first actual live, in person event in three years. We opened the door to the restaurant, carrying a box of books and wearing the masks we wear everywhere inside. We were struck by, first, the noise of many people talking and laughing , and then the sound of live music - a jazz band. We turned the corner to enter the room and saw a hundred and fifty laughing and talking principals and vice-principals with two superintendents and a three piece jazz band - none of them wearing masks!
It looked like an entirely normal scene from a few years ago. We found seats at the perimeter of the room, as far from everyone else as possible, looked at each other, took a deep breath and removed our masks. People came over to shake my hand and congratulate me on the book, two former students of mine, now VPs, came over to thank me and tell me they were doing well. The organizers came over to make sure I knew when I was to speak and to make sure Linda and I were seen to with respect to drinks and dinner. And when the song being played by the Jazz Trio ended, and Linda and I clapped, the way we always did before covid, and will again, perhaps as soon as later this year, the drummer said, "Thanks Mr. Garlick, Mrs. Garlick." It turned out the Trio was led by Owen Jones, who went to the same High School as I did, and had also written a book.
It seemed perfect.
Superintendent Houston brought greetings from the Board and then I was called up. I received polite applause. They all knew that I'd written the book. Several of them had already bought it, but very few had heard me tell a story.
I explained the premise of the book and then read them "Never Leave the Class Alone." The title alone made many of them laugh. And as I read the story, this audience anticipated where the story might lead. They laughed in all the places I hoped they would, at times making me wait for the laughter to subside a bit, and they roared at the exact correct spot, and gave me BIG applause at the end.
I asked the organizers if I had time for a second story, and the audience told me I did. I chose "The Golf Hole and Sixty Trees," explaining that it recounted the first time I got in a bit of trouble with Senior Administration. Just before I started I added, "Oh. I've changed the name of the superintendent involved." Everyone laughed. When I started to read the story, and got to the fictional superintendent's name, I heard one of the organizers stage whisper the real name, which caused a general laugh, but then I enjoyed the same experience with this story telling as I'd enjoyed with the first - laughter in all the right places, at times so loud I had to wait for it to subside before I could continue, and then BIG applause at the end.
It was one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had as David Garlick, author; separate from, but related to, David Garlick, educator.
Oh. And in case you're concerned, neither Linda nor I contracted covid.
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The Making of a Story
If you've read my book, you know that the majority of the stories in it are both true and humorous. There is a disclaimer at the beginning that a few of the stories are only based on true events, and that some, even fewer, are completely fictional. I don't, however, tell the reader which are which.
There is one exception to this: Enid Wakely and the Great Tornado of 1948. I'm happy to tell the reader that that story is completely fictional. It's not even based on anything that happened to me.
I made that one up.
I found it a bit disquieting when one of my readers, a friend from Grade School, told me it brought back memories.
That certainly wasn't the intention. Although I guess I understand both why and how that happened. Enid was based, very loosely, on a teacher from that time, and I won't even mention here who that was. Although many students would know as soon as the teacher is described.
Anyway, it's the oldest story in the book. My first draft was written about thirty-five years ago. I remember reading it to one of my classes at Herman Secondary School. Without giving anything away, I remember with pride that when I came to the end of the story, the twist, one of my students, exclaimed, "That Bitch! Oh! Sorry Sir!"
It was good. But when I gave a version of it to my sister-in-law to read about two years ago, she said that it was too different from the rest of what I was writing - dark - too dark. "It's just not funny, Dave. Can you re-write it so that it's funny?"
After thirty-three years, I didn't think that it was possible. My student was correct all those years ago. And the twist at the end is essential. So I pulled it from the book, and kept writing other stories. But I returned to it again and again. Reading it over and over. Enid Wakely had to be a villain. Otherwise the story didn't work at all. Again, without giving anything away, I remember laughing out loud when I figured out that I could make the story funny, not by changing Enid at all - she would remain the villain, but by adding my brother as a character, and making him kind of a co-villain. Two for the price of one.
And although none of that sounds funny, I think it is. I sent the story off to my brother and asked his permission to present him to the world as a villain. He read it, laughed I think, and gave me permission. My sister-in-law agreed that it was much improved. To thank my brother, the very next story I wrote, made him a hero, and presented him far more as the real brother that I've been fortunate to have around for my whole life.
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The City of Mists
So - another March Break is over, and teachers and kids and principals and vice-principals are back at it. If you're a teacher, education worker, or administrator, or kid or parent, I hope you had the March Break you wanted.
Some of you, I know, travelled to warmer climes and relaxed beach side or pool side - recharging your batteries for the next three months of the school year. Some of you used my book to help you along. Thank you and you're welcome!
In my last blog post, I mentioned that I would be reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The City of Mist and I'd be offering up a review for you.
It's a short little book of eleven short stories at 162 pages. It was intended to be published after Zafon's death, so much of it was written by a Zafon who knew that he was dying, and wanted to tie up some loose strings created by the world of The Shadow of the Wind, the first (and best) in a series of books called The Cemetery of Forgotten Books.
It was a bittersweet read, in the way that any last book by a favourite author would be. The stories are uneven, some far too brief, and maybe, if Zafon had recovered from the cancer that killed him, would have been fleshed out into other novels that we'll never have the chance to read, which made reading them even more bittersweet. But "Rose of Fire" offers up an origin fable for the Cemetery of Forgotten Books itself, and it is wonderful, although suspension of disbelief is essential to its appreciation: a story of dragons and roses told by an inmate in prison to his fellow inmates. It's followed by "The Prince of Parnassus," which creates a myth about Miguel de Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, and perhaps, the inventor of the novel. This myth connects Cervantes and his books to the characters and books of Zafon and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. It, too, is a wonderful read - but - I almost hate writing this - in order to appreciate this story and, really, all the other stories in this little book, I think you have to have read The Shadow of the Wind, which will make you want to read The Angel's Game, The Prisoner of Heaven, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits, before picking it up.
If you're the first person to comment on this review, you live in Windsor, and you haven't read Shadow, I'm happy to loan it to you. In advance, "You're welcome."