No Autographs, Please
Last week, as Clark Able and I limped across a stretch of grass toward my son’s soccer game, I was surrounded by four sweaty nine-year-old boys and a dog.
“Are you Dylan’s dad?” a voice asked.
“Did you write a book?”
“What’s it called?”
“The Great Gatsby.“
“Are you famous?”
The dog–maybe a pug or a spaniel– sniffed my famous legs and looked up at my famous face and breathed my famous air.
“What’s your book about?”
“A rich guy lives in a big house and drives cool cars to impress a girl.”
“Are there curses in your book?”
“Cool. Can we read it?”
“When you get older.”
“Hey, Dylan’s dad, can we get your autograph?
Next week, on my virtual, no-pants-required, book tour, I virtually stop by Sandra’s Book Club to offer a description of my writing journey.
And so, twenty-eight years before denying a gang of nine-year-old boys autographs, my journey began as I sat quietly at a wooden desk in 9th grade English class waiting for the teacher to give back our first writing assignment.
We were learning about the Salem Witch Trials and had to write a letter from the point-of-view of an innocent woman on trial for being a witch.
I remember the classroom was silent as our teacher, a young woman with straight brown hair and who always wore high heels, clacked around the room handing back our letters. When she handed back the letter, she looked at me and said , “You have a strong voice. Keep writing.”
I was like a lot of teenagers. I wanted to be seen but not watched. Earn praise but apply little effort. Was too-cool-for-school but cared deeply about learning and growing. Wanted to share myself but was terrified of being vulnerable.
Yet as I wrestled my adolescent contradictions, I realized I wanted my writing read and my voice heard. But I was afraid.
For about the next ten years I was confident I was going to write a book. Probably a bestseller. Probably get a movie deal. Probably move to Hollywood. And probably be hounded by fervent fans–who actually read my book–for an autograph. For which, I would gladly sign.
But something happened. Every time I started writing a story I stopped. I wanted to be a writer but didn’t know how to really write. I wanted to find my voice but didn’t know how.
Sure I could write a ninth grade English assignment, but writing a story from scratch, without questions to answer or teacher expectations to meet, I was totally lost.
So I did what most self-respecting, struggling writers do when they doubt their abilities–I became a high school English teacher.
I realize now, for seventeen years I was teaching the ninth grade version of myself how to write. The quiet kid who had potential but needed guidance and reassurance never graduated. He was always there. In my classroom. Listening. Taking notes. Learning how to write in a way that was honest, wise, vulnerable, and sometimes funny. Discovering his voice.
A month after Dylan was born, I was diagnosed with cerebellar degeneration. An incurable, progressive disease whose many cruelties involves the weakening of a person’s voice.
It was then, when life got seriously urgent, that I–Dylan’s dad–decided it was time. I was ready. I was schooled, properly motivated, and had a subject to write about. So I retired from teaching and began writing little scenes starring my children– learning how to ride a bike or learning the “F” word, witnessing their father’s health decline or witnessing their father pursue his dream.
These scenes became bedrock for Bedtime Stories for the Living. A father’s memoir. A literary scrapbook. A book my children could forever use as a life manual. A quiet place, when life gets loud, for them to hear their dad’s voice.
My writer’s journey, which is fundamental to my human journey, helped me make peace with my disease. It taught me that self-reflection is a requirement of life. That contradictions must be understood and accepted. That growth and perspective only come when we embrace our vulnerabilities and take risks. That as we grow and change we must reexamine our priorities. That our voice matters. That our stories matter. That achieving our dreams matters.
And that nine-year-olds are not versed enough in American literature to have ever heard of The Great Gatsby.
On October 1, I’m participating in a Walk n’ Roll event, with members of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group (my group) and the Central Pennsylvania Ataxia Support Group to raise awareness for another cruel symptom of cerebellar degeneration, ataxia. Ataxia is a neurological symptom that causes movement difficulties, impairs balance, and compromises motor skills.
Please considered donating to the National Ataxia Foundation. Our goal is to raise $5000 for ataxia research. To donate now, you can use the following link: www.ataxia.org/WalkCPA . You can also text AtaxiaWalkCPA to 71777 to donate, it links directly to our fundraising page.
If you enjoy my blog and book please consider donating. Thank you for your support!
International Ataxia Awareness Day is September 25th. #AskMeAboutAtaxia or visit www.ataxia.org so that I can help you learn more! #IAAD22
As part of my current virtual-book tour, check out my recent interview with Lisa Haselton. And while you’re there, enter for a chance to win a $10 Amazon Gift Card!
A few months ago, with low expectations, I entered “Bedtime Stories for the Living” in the highly regarded, highly competitive international book contest presented by Readers’ Favorite. Readers’ Favorite is an established force in the publishing industry. They have worked with Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors.
Anyway, just before I was about to take a midday nap, I was informed that this suburban dad had won…
First Prize, the Gold Medal, in the Non-Fiction/Parenting genre!
The award ceremony is in November and is at Hilton Blue Lagoon in Miami, Florida.
It was totally unexpected. I’m totally honored. And I totally can’t wait for my kids to question my parenting skills so that I can gently remind them I wrote a Gold Medal winning parenting book.
Quote of the Week:
If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi
If you like this post, you may also like:
Procrastination Comes Home
How to Climb Today’s Mountain
Your Voice is the Most Powerful Thing You Own
A Different Kind of Hope
Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, former high school English teacher, and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. The leader of the Philadelphia Ataxia Support Group, he hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com