Humbled and Honored

My story, The Day I Learned I Could No Longer Jump (or learning to fly) was recently published in the National Ataxia Foundation’s quarterly journal “Generations”. 

I want to thank Stephanie Lucas, the Communications Manager of “Generations” for publishing my story.

I also want to thank all of those who read the story and offered their kind sentiments. I hope my story helps you tell your own.

Thank you,

Jay
 

Another Successful College Essay Writing Camp!

 

During the week of July 17th, I facilitated the Write on Fight on College Essay Camp for a great group of rising 12th grade students.

Throughout the week we learned:

  • Why writers should brainstorm like Vin Diesel… Fast &Furious
  • Why, as writers, should always create more content then we actually need
  • How to destroy writer’s block
  • Why writers should always consider the reader’s feelings
  • How to write a scene of conflict
  • How to be a self-aware writer
  • How to captivate your reader with effective verbs
  • How to properly and effectively break the rules of grammar
  • How to become a ruthless editor of your own work
  • How to effectively organize our writing
  • How to write like a storyteller

The next camp is August 7-11. Limited spaces are available.

If you live in or around the central New Jersey area and would like help crafting an effective college essay as well as learning important writing and editing strategies before another school year begins…contact me at writeonfighton@gmail.com

“Don’t be scared to publish work”: An Interview with Jon Westenberg of Creatomic

Jon Westenberg is a marketing executive, creative director, entrepreneur  and writer from Sydney, Australia . Jon has over 100k readers on medium.com and has been featured in Time, The San Francisco Chronicle, Entrepreneur and over 40 other publications.

He is passionate about marketing, technology, creativity, helping people and occasionally geeks out over a good cup of coffee.

I highly recommend reading anything Jon writes. He is poignant, honest and is surgical with the obscenities.

What I like most about Jon is that he simply wants to help people. He wants to help creatives, writers and entrepreneurs recognize the creative power and magic that lies in them.

Who is Jon Westenberg?

I’m a writer, an entrepreneur and a guy who has a lot of big dreams about helping people. When I’m asked what I do for a living, I tend to answer with – whatever I’m passionate about at any given moment!

Your mother was a high school teacher. What was the most important lesson you learned from her?

My Mum was a high school teacher, but she was also my teacher, because she home-schooled myself and each of my 6 brothers! The most important lesson I learned from her wasn’t academic however…it was a life lesson. She taught me that starting your own business and living life on your own times is a great thing to do.

Describe your high school self in one word? Why?

Creative. Because that’s what I spent all of my time in high school doing – just creating whatever I could get my hands on!

Along with being an entrepreneur, you’re also a writer.  Have you always been a writer? When did writing become so important to you? What writing advice do you think novice writers should hear?

I have always been a writer. When I was a kid, I had a pretty bad speech issue that meant most folks couldn’t understand me. It was very distressing for me, and I used to write all the time as my only real outlet and my only way of feeling like I could communicate. My advice to young writers is this…don’t be scared to publish work that isn’t the greatest piece of writing in the history of humankind. Just get your work out there. It’s truly the only way to improve.

Do you have a book in your library that you wish you had written?

I honestly don’t. Because if there’s a book I have enjoyed, I’d rather somebody else have written it so that I can selfishly enjoy it without the stress of writing it…

I often tell my students that at the core of every work of literature is an argument, and the work is the writer’s attempt to prove their argument. And it’s this argument that makes the work interesting. I think that concept also applies to people as well. So Mr. Westenberg, what’s your argument?

My argument is that just because one way of living is widely accepted as being “Right” does not make it so for everyone.

~~

I want to thank Jon for his time and insight. I follow him on medium.com and at creatomic.org and recommend you do the same.

You can also connect with him on Snapchat– jonwestenberg

Here are 5 of my favorites:

How I Made $3000 on Snapchat in 24 Hours 

Using Snapchat isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding. There’s a lot of fun stuff that can be done right now, if you put your audience first, you’re prepared to talk and you don’t mind getting yourself out there.

Storytelling is the Number One Skill You Want to Improve

I think we need to spend more time — and more resources — on learning and telling better stories. In our personal lives, careers, businesses and social circles. Storytelling is a skill that many people don’t have anymore, but it’s all because we don’t study and teach and learn it.

Let’s Focus on the Unbelievable Importance of Libraries 

Right now, I want to say thank you to the libraries and the librarians who have played a massive part in the lives of millions, and who we forget more and more as we spend our time online, rather than offline.

Run Baby, Run

Sometimes, the brave thing to do is to turn around. To walk out. To run. To get away from a situation that isn’t good for you. To make a break for it and feel free.

I Want Myself to Fail- It’s Easier

I constantly struggle against the urge to fuck up. I constantly struggle against the worst version of myself, knowing that no matter how hard I try to do anything, there’s always a part of me rooting for failure.

Ants Marching: When an Anthem of Your Youth Foreshadows the Quandaries of Adulthood

It’s becoming increasingly clear that my body is not built for Friday nights anymore.

After a week of typical adult life the last thing I want to do is take my creaky knees and venture out. And I mean out, out.  Like the type of going out that requires you to slip on a pair of nice shoes and hustle along city sidewalks and shoulder your way through noisy crowds.

But like every wash-up Friday night hero, I figure I still have a few good nights left in me.

So last Friday night–I went out.

My younger brother Keith and I grabbed some dinner at a hipster craft beer bar in a hipster part of Philadelphia before heading to the Mann Music Center with thousands of other hipsters to see Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds play an acoustic set.

After a grinding drive through city traffic and traversing across Fairmount Park, Keith and I stood in a long line at the concert gates, followed by another long line for $9 beers while listening to a middle-aged, sandal-wearing crowd complain about city traffic, the swelling crowd itself and $9 beers.

Ants Marching

For those of us who were in high school in late nineties the music of The Dave Matthews Band soundtracked our coming-of-age.

The first concert I went to without adult supervision was the Dave Matthews Band at Veterans Stadium in the spring of 1999.

The Dave Matthews Band released its debut studio album “Under the Table and Dreaming” in September 1994.

One of Dave’s biggest hits during that time (and still one of his most recognizable song) is the rousing, drum-thumping, sing along Ants Marching.

I remember being 19 and dancing carelessly in concrete aisles of Veterans Stadium to Ants completely oblivious to the warning Dave Matthews was bestowing upon us all.

“He wakes up in the morning
Does his teeth, bite to eat and he’s rolling
Never changes a thing
The week ends, the week begins.

She thinks, we look at each other
Wondering what the other is thinking
But we never say a thing
And these crimes between us grow deeper.

Take these chances
Place them in a box until a quieter time
Lights down, you up and die.”

That’s some bleak stuff– the boredom and banality of the rat race, our fear and inability to communication with honest and purpose punctuated by regret only to be overshadowed by our inevitable death– sung by a bunch of drunk and happy teenagers.

The Seduction of Ignorance

The  drums, the saxophone, the violin– the musicality of Ants is auditory seduction. But strip the music away and Ants resembles a stern warning,  a cautionary tale that so many of us failed to embrace when we were younger.

Underneath its sing-song veneer lurks the painful and scary and soul- sucking realities of adulthood.

 Ants explores the tragic nature of growing up, “Goes to visit his mommy”  and how we all yearn for simpler times as we “remember being small/ under the table and dreaming” and how complacency seduces us in to playing a high-stakes version of follow the leader, “We all do it the same way.”

Yet, what is interesting about Ants Marching is that the song makes you feel good.

Like life, we crave togetherness. We want to be swept in the undertow of a community doing the same thing, singing the same song. Yet by doing what everyone else is, we remain ignorant to the consequence of such conformity.

But at 19 I didn’t know this. I guess, few of us do.

We didn’t know that one day the lyrics will outweigh the beat. That the lyrics will become real pills we swallow each day.

Lights down, you up and die.

Gulp.

Anyway. Sure it’s fatalistic, but the heartbeat sound of Ants reminds us that despite our inevitable death we must not forget to celebrate life.

It’s a song I will continue to dance and sing to. Maybe not with the same foolish exuberance since it’s a Friday night and I have bad knees and now fully understand the painful cost of growing up.

A cost that’s much steeper than a $9 beer.

Be well,

Jay

My Advice to Young Adults about Work (or Why I Want to Pee My Pants )

It’s graduation season.

And every June, I get asked by soon-to-be high school graduates big questions about work.

“How do you know your doing the right work?”

“How do you find work you’re passionate about?”

“How do you avoid unhappiness and complacency?”

Though I don’t consider myself a beacon of wisdom on such matters (I’m still learning myself), I’m always flattered and (always) a bit stunned by the demands of these questions.

And despite having graduated high school almost 20 years ago and am now 20 years older than most of my students, I’m still wrestling down a response.

But here’s my latest attempt to explain what I know about work.

Bladder Problems

Dylan, my 3 year old son, is stretched on the living room floor playing with his trucks, pushing them across the carpet, parking them next to a row of couch pillows.

He makes truck sounds. Honks and beeps and low rumbling growls. He is lost in his little world, playing and imaging, when his eyes snap suddenly wide.

He jumps to his feet, holds himself and launches into some full-body toddler tribal dance.

“I have to go potty, I have to go potty!

“Well go Dylan!”

Still holding himself, Dylan turns, runs across the living room, breaks out beyond sight as the patter of his little rushing feet trails away to the bathroom.

Parents of young children bare witness to the sudden need-to-pee-pneumonia all the time.

Children get so lost in play, so focused on the present that the pangs erupting from their bladder are ignored until the very last moment.

This moment fascinates me — that a mind can be so enraptured, so focused that it’s ignorant to what is going on in the body.

They might have a bumbling vocabulary and their nose always drippy but children possess the stuff of Buddhist monks.

When I reach the bathroom, Dylan is standing at the front of the toilet with his Paw Patrol underwear lassoed around his ankles. He’s head bowed, his eyes studying the tile.

“Dylan, did you go potty?”

He flinches. His shoulders inch closer to his ears. His eyes refuse to look.

Dylan did you go potty?

He slowly, sheepishly looks up , his eyes ache with tears, “No. I peed myself.”

Why More Adults Should Pee Themselves

Sure, it’s hyperbolic, but stay with me.

I love watching my children lost in absolute play, seemingly ignorant to both the outside and inside world. It’s amazing that children can become so invested in play that they will ignore their screaming bladder. ( I hate to brag but a few months ago Dylan’s efforts earned him a tract infection.)

From what I’ve seen, most adults are bored. They find no wonder in their work. So they fill that void with frivolous things, destructive behavior and unnecessary drama.

As adults, we pine to find good work. Work so curious and engaging that we become constructively lost. Work that we joyously return to again and again.

Listen, my analogy may sound sophomoric (and clearly I’m not advocating bladder infections) but it’s absolutely critical for young adults to find good work that inspires deep contemplation, deep play — the kind of work that is hard to walk away from, not because of the money or convenience or ease, but because you simply the love the essence of it.

My advice for all those who will be turning the tassel and contemplating their future profession — if you find work that is the igniter of imagination, the destroyer of clocks, the antagonist of bladders, work that reminds you of what it was like to be lost on the living room floor, congratulations — you found your work.

Be well,

Jay


Are you a teacher? Join the growing Write on Fight on community and receive ideas, strategies and help to make your classroom an authentic learning environment.

 

The Power of a Conversation: A Recap of the 2017 Spring Write-a-Thon

Never underestimate the power of a little conversation.

The Write-a-Thon grew its roots in 2015, during a little conversation between my school district’s (Robbinsville, New Jersey) Superintendent, Dr. Steven Mayer and myself.

The crux of the conversation was, “How can we teach teenagers to see writing as an exercise in self-discovery and authenticity not just a forced activity aligned with the harbingers of school?”

So we talked. We listened. We brainstormed.

And 3 months later the first Write-a-Thon was held in my classroom., a 2-hour writing event that afforded students the opportunity to write, to tell their story.

The event hosted 13 writers including Dr. Mayer and received donations and support from my student’s parents, faculty and my own friends and family.

When concluded, the Write-a-Thon raised $1,300 for the Special Olympics of New Jersey.

Write-a-Thon-November 2015.

A few months later, in April 2016, as I was planning the second Write-a-Thon, Dr. Mayer was tragically killed.

The May event was held in his honor.

An event that began with me, fighting tears, recounting our little brainstorming session and how though he is physically gone, his story, his passion is alive and well.

The heart of the Write-a-Thon is simple–show up and tell your story.

This week, the fourth installment of the Write-a-Thon had 30 student writers, ranging from 7th to 12th grade. The event hosted a $500 college scholarship essay challenge and was filmed by the Emmy winning “Classroom Close-up NJ” and will be featured in October 2017 episode.

My experience as both a high school teacher and an adult has taught me that, in the contentious transition between young adulthood and adulthood, it’s easy to get distracted with the noise of the world.

It’s easy to forget about the importance and power of your voice, of your story.

It’s easy to believe your story doesn’t matter.

It’s easy to believe fiction.

The Write-a-Thon is a celebration of the human voice. Of the lasting power of the true human story.

And it’s our stories that stand before us, that become the permanent teachers, forever instructing the lives of the living.

Be well,

Jay

Write-a-Thon Supporters

The 2017 Write-a-Thon received tremendous support from the following Robbinsville High School programs:

The Debate Club

Coach Patterson and the Robbinsville Football Program

Robbinsville Boys Lacrosse

The Drama Club

GSA

The RHS Literary Magazine

The RHS Class of 2019

A Look at the Spring Write-a-Thon

 

Check out more pictures courtesy of NJEA


 

The S Word- by Mark Roeder (Guest Post)

Meet Mark Roeder…

Hi everyone, my name is Mark Roeder. I work full time as a Project Manager in Washington DC for a DoD contractor after 10 years active duty in the Navy, living in the Virginia Beach area.

My family is the most important thing to me and I spend all of my spare time with them. I married my best friend over 10 years ago and we have two tiny humans that share our last name. I love sports and my son shares my passion and I’m lucky enough to coach his soccer team for the second year in a row. I am a dad blogger and have contributed to the Huffington Post Blog, Babble by Disney and my own site, All Good in the Fatherhood.

I started off writing as a form of therapy, a way to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper (or a screen really). I really enjoy sharing my experiences through fatherhood and after some of the great feedback that I’ve gotten, I love knowing that I can help out or entertain just a few people.


The S Word

As a married dad, we all think about it all the time, we can never seem to get enough of it, plan our lives around it and often daydream about that dirty S word… Sleep! What other S word could I have been talking about? Get your mind out of the gutter! From the moment that our first bundle of joy, cries and poop was born, we had to adjust our lives to be able to function on significantly less sleep. We thought that once the midnight feedings were done, we would be able to get more sleep but boy were we wrong! As the kids have gotten older, it is nice that they can get their own breakfast and play and even feed the dog in the morning, giving us a few extra minutes, but not many as they haven’t quite figured out the art of quiet. When Brenn is still asleep and Lilly is awake, she will come in our room and talk and use our bathroom and want snuggles and hugs, really any way to not be the only one awake. A clock in each of their rooms has been a blessing and rules that they cannot come out of their room until 8:00 gives us slightly more rest.

Sleep is almost a tradable currency in my house, with negotiations always ongoing such as “If you get up early today, I’ll go grocery shopping for you and get up with them tomorrow”.

It seems like there is a sick kid or a nightmare on a weekly basis. My 5 year old still randomly climbs into bed with us once a week or so and she takes a while to fall asleep and has been known to talk to herself or even ask us some of the most random questions about a meal that we once ate at a restaurant that was completely unmemorable but is enough to spark a thought and make it that much harder to fall back to sleep. On top of kids keeping us up, we have 2 cats that sleep on the bed, a golden retriever that sneaks on to the bed when she thinks I’m not paying attention and a giant rabbit downstairs that doesn’t like to be left alone so will randomly thump or toss things around his cage. The odds are stacked against all of us but I promise that you will not jump out of bed faster than when you hear a kid or animal start gagging and it turning into full-fledged projectile vomiting.

I know that it has become cliché at this point but for all the times that we didn’t want to nap as a kid, we wish we could nap so much more as an adult. We sneak naps whenever we can get away with one, my favorites are when I can sneak out of work early on a Friday and catch an hour cat nap before getting up and thinking about dinner and our raging Friday nights of Pie Face and Nick Jr! My wife relishes her nap time and she loves the lazy Sunday afternoon nap, and I cherish my alone time with my kids on Sundays, even more now that they are no longer devoted to homework and studying. I have been known to catch a few Zs on the couch while the tiny humans play all around me.

I wake up early most days to go to work, usually around 4:45 which is way better than the 3:40 for my last job. It is tough to balance life in that respect between not getting enough sleep to function properly or going to bed when my kids do and not getting any adult time with my wife. I usually get around 6 ½ to 7 hours during the week and a solid 8 on the weekends and that works for me but not everyone is the same. I know a lot of people that need much more than that to function, and others that seem to be able to go without sleep all together. Being in the Navy gave me the ability to sleep anywhere, at any time and I have even fallen asleep standing up on multiple occasions. I fall asleep almost daily on my Metro ride home from work, but I’m too nervous for a deep sleep.

We are all warned when we find out that we are going to be parents to get all the sleep that you can before the baby gets here and that seems to be the stereotypical advice given, but I believe that we need to cherish what we have, whatever it is.

Stay strong and not so sleepy out there dads!


Be sure to check out Mark’s blog at www.allgoodinthefatherhood.com