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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A New Unpublished Story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."
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March Break Reading
Your twitter feed and Facebook news feed are individual to you, I know, but if they're anything like mine you're often asked for book recommendations. "What's your favourite classic?" "What's your favourite book written this century?" That kind of thing.
People who know me, know that for most of my life, almost any book was the best gift you could get me. That's still true today. I love pretty much all books. But if I'm asked for an all time favourite, after a few seconds of hemming and hawing, the answer will almost always be, The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
First off, in spite of the fact that it is the best selling Spanish novel after Cervantes' Don Quixote, most English readers don't seem to have heard of it, so I get to introduce it to them (You're welcome). And secondly, it's just a remarkable novel that creates the character of The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. You'll have to read the book to understand why this place is actually a character in this novel, and why it's such a compelling idea.
I'm going to be careful and not tell you anything about this book beyond that. Well, that and the fact that Zafon died a bit less than two years ago, and in spite of that, whenever I go into any book store, I walk to the "Z" section in fiction to see if they've got anything by him. I've bought at least ten copies of Shadow in used book stores, against the time someone visits and asks me to recommend a book. I have three right now on my shelves.
Today I went to Chapters Lakeshore, to drop off copies of my book to them, and instead of walking to the shelves, I went to one of their computer stations and typed in Zafon's name. Of course, Shadow was there, along with several other books, all of which I've read, but imagine my surprise when I saw The City of Mist. A book I'd never even heard of and the computer said there was a copy in that very store!
As I write this, I know no more about this book than this: It's a collection of short stories, it's by Zafon, and it was published after his death.
For the last week or so, I've been telling my Facebook friends and twitter followers that if they felt they needed a good book to read over the March Break, they could pick up Dave Garlick's The Principal Chronicles. And that is still true. But I've read that one. And I've read it more than twenty or thirty times over the last year or so. If you haven't read it, it's a good little book, a worthy 'in the cottage by the fireplace' read. Or 'by the beach' read. March Break was always a time for me to catch up on fun reading, no matter if I went away or stayed home. I think The Principal Chronicles, or TPC as my wife's taken to calling it, is excellent for that.
But this March Break, even though I no longer have to, or get to take a break from school, I get to curl up with The City of Mist.
I'll make you a deal. If you tell me, after this March Break, what you thought of TPC, I'll tell you what I thought of The City of Mist.
Have a nice March Break everyone!
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Something I Didn't Consider
I know that the first few posts are out of order. On the first page of my website I asked for kindness and understanding because I was still learning. This is one of the things I was talking about.
February 4, 2022
To be filed under "Things you shouldn't have to take into consideration."
If you're from Windsor, you may remember the name Carl Morgan. Carl was the long time editor of The Windsor Star and a local author of some repute. I also regarded Carl as a friend. I remember him, often, selling his books out of the trunk of his car. He'd pop the trunk open and there would be three or four boxes of different books of his that he had for sale. So when the day arrived in the publication process of my book for me to choose how many copies of The Principal Chronicles I would be responsible to sell, it brought a smile to my face.
This was back in November of 2021. I chose 500 paperbacks and 10 hardbacks. When I did, I saw myself popping open the back door of my van, just like Carl, and reaching into a half empty box to sell a copy to someone on the street. The publishing house advised me that there was an author queue, and that I probably wouldn't get any of my books until early in February. I wasn't concerned about this. I thought that this would give covid a chance to calm down, and maybe I could have an in-person book launch, as I'd planned, and not have to do some on-line thing.
The hard covers, all ten of them, arrived far more quickly and sold out within a day. Although I drove to a few houses to deliver them, I didn't get to sell any out of the trunk of my car.
And I waited and waited for the five hundred.
On January 26th, I received a brief email saying, "Your books have shipped. Estimated delivery date January 31st." My wife and I began to look around our house, wondering where we'd store so many books. Although I thought I might keep a box in the van, I hadn't given much thought as to where the rest of them would go. My wife advised me though, not to send out Facebook messages or tweets telling people the books were coming. “Wait until they’re here. Something might happen”.
The shipping company did a pretty good job letting me know where my books were as they travelled across the country. On January 30th I received another email saying they were in Brampton and due in Windsor on the 31st. I was very excited.
On the 31st, I called the shipping company to ask them if they could be any more specific as to when they might arrive at my house. The man there said, "I see no reason they won't be at your house later this morning, or early this afternoon." I was super excited. I pretended to remain calm, but throughout the morning and early afternoon, whenever I heard anything outside, I rushed to the window like a puppy waiting on his human.
I called the shipping company at 4:30, and a different person said, "I'm sorry Sir. Your books arrived in Windsor this morning, but they were just off-loaded from an 18 wheeler. They'll probably be delivered to your house tomorrow." Not "probably tomorrow morning" or "tomorrow afternoon" but "probably tomorrow." I told this person, "No. They have to be delivered tomorrow! We have a major winter storm coming the day after tomorrow! These are paperback books in cardboard boxes! They can't be delivered in a snow storm!"
I thought of what my wife had said. “Wait. Don’t tell anyone. Something might happen.”
"We'll do our best, Sir."
The next morning I resumed my vigil by the front window. At 11:00 in the morning, a delivery truck pulled up and I raced outside to greet the driver. He gave me a bill of lading that listed my 13 boxes of books. I ran around my driveway like that same puppy whose human had just come home.
He opened the back of his truck to show me two plastic buckets and a huge container of green liquid. "This isn't yours?" he asked when he saw how crestfallen I was. "BOOKS! I'm expecting 13 boxes of books!" "Oh... You'd better call the office. Somebody made a mistake."
The shipping company was very apologetic. They realized that, yes, they'd made an error, and they would find my books and make every effort to get them to me, hopefully some time today.
My wife and I looked at the weather map. There was a huge storm on the way. Snow for the next two full days and rain starting in a few hours. Rain. Not even snow. Rain. Rain on my paperback books in carboard boxes. The ones I'd been waiting for for months. Something might happen…
In November, when I ordered five hundred books, I thought only about whether or not I could sell them. I did not worry about them being caught in a snow or rain storm. That is not something an author should have to consider.
In any case, at just after 4:00, another delivery truck arrived. This one had my books. My wife and I got them into the house as quickly as we could. Dry. The rain started a few hours later. Two days of snow followed that.
Selling the books out of the back of my van will have to wait. And it will be easy compared to the waiting I did for the books to arrive.
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Why I wrote the book in the first place
I know that the first few posts are out of order. On the first page of my website I asked for kindness and understanding because I was still learning. This is one of the things I was talking about.
January 25, 2022
Why I wrote the book in the first place
For many years, I traded stories with friends and colleagues at dinner parties, at the pub, and at staff meetings. “What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you in your career?” “What’s the best thing that happened to you this month?” “What’s the funniest thing that’s happened?” That kind of thing.
Good times. Good laughs.
No one ever asked, “What’s the most depressing thing that ever happened?” “What’s the worst thing that happened to you this year?” Those things happened, and, if pressed, I could trade a few of those stories as well. Teaching certainly isn’t all fun and games. As a principal, I saw more than my fair share of bad things. But I don’t dwell on them, and not much would be gained by telling those stories over a glass of wine and a fine dinner.
Near the end of my career I got the idea of spending a good portion of the final staff meeting each year by trading “Best stories of the Year.” I forced everyone to say something positive - funny - at our last meeting. If someone was stuck, I let them pass, but I always came back to them, and teachers knew I wasn’t going to let them off the hook.
And everyone did. The vast majority were eager to tell their story. The kid who finally got it, whatever it was. A memory from Buddy Week. The supportive phone call from a parent. The school team winning a game against the arch rival. I don’t remember what all else. I don’t remember very many of their answers specifically.
But I remember the feelings I had as teachers told their stories. I remember the laughter. I remember being thanked - and thanked a lot - after each of these meetings.
It was a fine way to end a year. Maybe one of the best ways.
So, back when covid started, and the world was held in thrall by all things Donald Trump, I found myself becoming a very angry and frustrated man. I shouted at the television. I shouted at my smart phone. I shook my fist at the world.
This wasn’t normal for me. Although I used to have quite a temper, I learned to keep it in check a long, long time ago. I’m known for my patience. Almost without exception, if kids heard me ranting in the hallways it was either a performance or a joke. I don’t remember, ever, losing my temper with a teacher. But now I was retired and I was shouting at the world.
And it wasn’t an act. I was angry. And frustrated. And like most people, a little bit scared.
So one day I sat down at my computer, and rather than yell at it, I looked through an old file I’d saved. “Barebones Incidents” it’s called. Hundreds of two or three sentence reminders of things that happened to me during my career. Things that usually made me laugh. And as I read them again, I laughed again.
I began to write some of them into short stories, and, as I finished each of them, I’d send them off to a small group of friends and family members. Their comments were all positive and said, basically, “Keep going, these are good!”
I did. I wrote about fifty of them, and forty of them made it into The Principal Chronicles.