Monday, October 5, 2009

My Brother is Still Kicking My Butt

Three pages a day. If it's good enough for Patricia Reilly Giff and Linda Sue Park, it's good enough for me! I figure if I set out to do three to five a day, I'll be able to come up with a solid two--easy...right? I'm going to also allow myself to adhere to the Anne Lamott SFD (loosely translated, "crappy" first draft) rule.

And here's another brother is completely kicking my butt in the blogging area. Not only is he incredibly prolific, his entries are incredibly not SFDs. keep up with this standard I've set, I need to maintain the 5:15 am start. As I pointed out to my friend, Laura, there is nothing pretty about 5:15.

This morning, I wrote about a page and a half, then went on a quick run to jumpstart the creative juices. So I'm running along the sidewalk in the neighborhood, and I see some kids emerge from the bushes across the street. I recognize a couple of them right away. They are now middle schoolers, but they were once my first graders. Something is up across the street, but being middle-schoolers, nobody is likely to squeal. So the best thing for me to do is to let them know I am on to them. As soon as we make eye contact, a tiny glimmer of panic flares up on their faces, because they know what I do; once you are in my first grade, I am forever your teacher. So I pick up the pace on the sidewalk. "Hi guys!" I call out.

"Hi," they say, nervously, wishing without a doubt they hadn't strayed from their backpacks at the bus stop.

"What's across the street?" I ask, freezing them to the sidewalk with my first grade teacher/Tony Soprano eye lock.

"Oh, nothing," one of them squeaks, weakly. "We just wanted to see what was over there."

Lame excuse, my teacher eyes tell them. Because a couple of them have lived down the street from that swamp their entire lives.

"Your feet must be wet," I say. "I'm sure you won't be going back there again, since it's just a big swamp."

They laugh nervously, trying unsuccessfully to avert their eyes from mine.

"Have a great day at school," I tell them. Don't worry, my eyes say. I'll be by again tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


The dinner table at our house was centrally located, with the kitchen behind my dad, and the living room television directly behind me. There was a definite routine to it. My brothers and I sat in the same places and the television was always on, permanently tuned in to the evening news, which was the closest I ever got to Vietnam.

I have several close relatives that served in the military in Vietnam, and not one of them was willing or able to say much about it. But Dean Ellis Kohler and Susan VanHecke do in the new young adult memoir from HarperTeen, ROCK 'N ROLL SOLDIER.

It's a good thing my family is pretty self-sufficient, because I had to force myself to put this book down. VanHecke and Kohler had my undivided attention from page one. I truly felt the grit and visceral emotions of a kid just out of high school as he lands knee-deep in Qui Nhon, Vietnam, a newly trained nineteen-year-old military policeman.

Before Vietnam, Kohler, like so many young adults, had dreams of making it in the music world, in a legitimate rock and roll band. And he was living his dream, having landed a national record deal. But his life was one of bad timing, because before he and his band could set foot in the recording studio, Kohler received his draft notice.

But he never feels sorry for himself. He sets out to get a band together-- a fully-functioning, touring rock band in the middle of the muddy, mosquito-infested war.

So here is what kept me wasn't just the fast-paced action that held was the incredible voice. I was there in Vietnam like I'd never been during the evening news at my dining room table. I was in the makeshift club, listening to Kohler's band, The Electrical Banana, wanting to go put their record on my stereo. Kohler and VanHecke gave me an unusual glimpse of the humanity of the war, from pondering who the not-so-obvious enemies were, to coping mechanisms the young soldiers would acquire to keep from losing themselves.

This book will stay with me for a long while.