Be a donkey: Meeting Tim O’Brien… again

Be a donkey: Meeting Tim O’Brien…again

If you have been reading for a while you know my affinity for novelist Tim O’Brien. His masterwork, The Things They Carried, taught me more about the power of storytelling, the profoundness of language, the danger of absolute truth than any other work. For 14 years I have taught Things, hoping it will have the same affect on my students as it did on me. It’s the finest book I have ever read. On March 23, 2010, I went to the Philadelphia Free Public Library to here Tim speak. Afterward, I found my self alone with him on a cold city street and failed to start a conversation. For 8 years I lived with the fact I was chickenshit. I wrote a story about the near encounter and called it The Incident on North 20th Street. On March, 28,2018, I drove one hour and a half to Ocean County Community College to here him speak again and maybe meet him again. That time I had the courage to meet him. We took this picture–even though I was told that pictures with Tim were prohibited. On Tuesday I had the fortune to meet Tim O’Brien again. He is currently on a nation-wide tour promoting his new book “Dad’s Maybe Book”, about being an older father. Tim is now 73. He became a father at 58. “Dad’s Maybe Book” is a collection of anecdotes– some funny, some sad–that he scratched down and stored away while he was raising his sons. It’s a book that took 15 years to write. Writing aside– what I admire about Tim O’Brien is his realness. His humanity. I’ve seen him speak three times and each time he cried on stage when he talk about the Vietnam war, his mother, and when he talked about the love he has for his sons. In a pair of stained jeans and a sweatshirt, he explained how stories have the power to– not only instruct– but to change and save lives. Stories are what separate us from the beasts. To tell a story is to announce you’re human. Coincidentally, my students are current reading The Things They Carried and I told them my own Tim stories. How I chickened-out the first time. How, the second time, I gave him a Write on Fight on bookmark, and how I refused to leave without a picture. I asked my students, if I have the opportunity to ask Tim a question, what should I ask him? My students decided on, “What one piece of life advice would you give to high school seniors?” I asked. Tim O’Brien finished signing my copy of “Dad’s Maybe Book”, thoughtfully looked at me with a pair of tired eyes. His face weathered and crisscrossed with deep lines. Still staring at me, he ran his hand across his chin while footsteps clicked across the marble atrium floor. “Gosh, That’s a big question,” Tim said. “I guess I would tell them to be a donkey. Be stubborn. Be persistent. Be passionate. Don’t let tell you that you can’ t do something. Yeah, I would tell them to be a stubborn, passionate, persistent  donkey.” I don’t think you have to be a 17 year old high school student to heed his advice. Whatever your working on–yourself, a relationship, a creative project, your day job–I hope you take O’Brien’s advice to heart. Be stubborn. Be passionate. Be persistent. Be a donkey. Be well, Jay
Here’s an excerpt from a recent post: The Happy Place  Maybe its holding hands with your spouse. Smiling with your children. Playing music. Taking a walk. Taking a moment to admire nature. Or simply replaying a pleasant memory. The point is– your happy place is not at the end of the highway. You don’t have to pay tolls to find peace. Happiness and peace are in you. They always have been.


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Jay Armstrong is a writer, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning high school English teacherDiagnosed with a rare neurological disease that resulted in a hole in his brain– Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:

1. Reading 2. Writing 3. Exercising 4. Hearing his children laugh 5. Hugging his wife (Bonus points for a dinner with his parents and a beer with his friends)

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