Category Archives: Writing & Blogging

The “Average” Collector

My godson who lives in the Capital Region of New York State just published his very first blog post! I was honored that he asked me to look it over for him. It hardly needed any edits. I’m very excited for him (and a little proud too)!

For context he’s a numismatist and wrote this piece for the website of American Numismatic Association. I hope you enjoy and share.

The Myth of the “Average” Collector

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A Prayer for Writers

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers/authors.  My prayer today is that every word I commit to print may glorify God.  Since I know that many of you, my readers, are also writers I pray the same for you.  And when we encounter others who weaponize their words, may God give us the grace to forgive.

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Amazing head of hair, too.

Harvey’s Mailbag

First, a big thank you to the many of you who sent me messages after my last post.  It is nice to be appreciated for your writing.  For me, it’s nice to be praised for something that was about my dad.

One of my sisters pointed out (rightly so) why Dad would have been laughing at me running.  He was an actuary.  Numbers never lied to him and the more data he could get his hands on the more complete a picture of your impending mortality he could paint for you.  Runners, it seems, tend to die.  Well, if I remember this one correctly, it had something to do with the fact that all human beings die.  In a nutshell, though, runners tended to enjoy a negligibly similar mortality with non-runners (there was always that control group).  In other words, overall, running doesn’t make you live longer or shorter.  But it did correlate with death from (do not quote me on this) an enlarged heart.  Again, there wasn’t a direct cause and effect, just a correlation.  Whatever, I’m going to keep running so I have a way to burn up the nervous energy of an ex-smoker – as in, “What do I do with my hands!?”

Now then, on to the rest of the mail.

Six and half years ago, right after moving to Texas, my wife, in-law’s, and I traveled to Oklahoma one night to see one of my favorite singers – the immortal Frankie Valli.  I then wrote a story about it.  I’m not even going to link it.  If you want, you can find it for yourself.  In that story, as in so many stories I’ve written over the years, I employed a sort of absurdist humor.  For the uneducated or uninitiated, this type of humor is represented by several key hallmarks including series of events that do not follow (often in an extreme fashion, also called “non sequitir humor”), descriptives that are patently false yet played for reality, and a sense that the narrator may in fact be suffering from dementia.  In my story about Mr. Valli, the reader ought to be able to tell a few things.  First, I truly do love this man, his voice, and his contribution to the world.  There is no denying that.  Second, I am using absurdist humor to prop him up.  In other words, at an age when every human on the planet has outlived his actuarily lifespan; Frankie Valli is still making a buck, doing what he loves.

So I received the following comment…

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Takeaway: People read Harvey!

At first I wondered if the person posting the comment was a personal friend of Mr. Valli.  Then I began to realize something…  There is at least one person who read a post of mine almost seven years ago and remembered it well enough to dredge it back up.  In an absurd way, this person just validated my writing.  But let me address the issue at hand because I do not like to stifle criticism.  I’m a big boy and I can take it.  The comment was civil in tone.  Let’s assume that we live in a world in which a guy from Newark, NJ can’t poke some fun at an idol of his who also happens to come from Newark, NJ (which is a pretty awesome place, by the way) and is a gazillionaire celebrity who’s probably seen worse on the pages of Billboard Magazine.  Let’s assume.  Well, then, Mr. Valli and your dear family, I apologize for hurting your feelings.  If you’d ever like to suggest that my writing is crap please feel free.  It’s on me this time.  I promise I won’t even cry.

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep reading I will keep writing.  And Frankie, if you’re reading this and you ever feel like sending me an autographed headshot for my kids (who also adore you), let me know.  I’ll send you my address.

Place Generic Title Here

I’ve often remarked on these pages that a good title will write a good blog.  The both of you, my loyal readers, know this to be true.  The rest of you who swing through to gaze upon the wreckage like so many standers-by drawn to a train crash will also note the lack of many decent titles.

Tonight I want to write.

I want to write for the joy of writing.

I just finished watching a movie.  It was a silly flick starring Kevin James.  In it he plays a writer.  Actually he plays an actuary who is also working on a novel.  I mention that because my late father was an actuary.

A note about that…  Growing up, none of us knew how to answer the question our friends would inevitably ask.  “What does your dad do?”  I remember asking the old man once.  I think I was six.  “Daddy, what do you do?”  Reaching deep into his brain he quickly shot back, without raising his eyes from behind the Wall Street Journal, “Well son, an actuary is the man who brings a bomb on a plane.  Because while the chances of there being one bomb on a plane are negligible, the probability of there being two bombs on a plane are infinitesimal.”

A few years later I had cause to ask him again.  I believe I was 11.  “Dad, what’s an actuary?”  Releasing a puff of smoke from the pipe clenched between his teeth he said: “Well my boy, an actuary is place where they bury dead actors.

Finally when I was sixteen I asked yet again.  “Father, what exactly is an actuary?”  Putting the remote down for a brief moment while switching between Jeopardy! and Crossfire he rejoined: “An actuary, lad, is the guy who uses the last urinal in the men’s room because he knows it cuts in half the statistical likelihood of getting his shoes pissed on.”

And I finally understood.

I went back to all my friends and said: “He does something with math.”

In the movie, James’ character, working on a novel, remarks that he writes to escape life.

Not me.  I write to document life.  I sometimes feel as though if I didn’t write down some of the crazy things that have happened to me no one, not even I, would believe them.  So what crazy things have happened to me lately?

I went out to visit the school where I am soon to begin work as an assistant principal.  I met with my spine surgeon and discovered that I’m in pretty amazing shape.  My kids appeared in a couple of short plays at their music school.

None of these things are amazing by themselves.  Take the job, for instance.  Lots of people start new jobs and lots of people work in school administration.  But standing in my new office the other day looking around, being called into meetings with the principal to decide important matters…  A few short months ago I really would not have believed this is where I’d be.  In the back of my mind I had a goal that had almost vanished.  I wanted to be an administrator before I hit 40.  Here I am.  I still can’t believe it.

So I’m cheating. This spine is strong because it’s been fused.

Sitting in the office with the doctor today and looking at the CT scan of my spine all brightly lit up from the contrasting dye I was convinced he was going to tell me I had some kind of condition, maybe even a spinal tumor.  Instead he said: “Both fusion are holding great and the disc height at the level above is incredible.  Your spine is strong.”  He even tossed in “In fact, you’re looking really good.  What are you doing?”  Hear that?  My spine is strong!  And I’m looking good.  Must be doing something decent.

That’s my girl playing the empress (she of the “new clothes”)

OK, with those two plays…  Nothing really remarkable here except that my babies are growing up.  There was a time not long ago when I would hold them and read to them and take care of them.  Now they’re entertaining me.  They’re memorizing lines, looking so grown-up in character on a stage.  How did that happen?

So the title of this post is so generic I didn’t even have to write it.

Nothing amazing happening here except life.

And life is pretty damn awesome.

Spring Cleaning

The astute reader (that’s about half of you, so one) will note that some of the blocks where pictures should appear in my posts are suddenly showing broken links and captions instead.  It’s parent-teacher conference night at work and I have almost none scheduled.  That means I finally had the time to go through my media files on WordPress and start deleting old pictures in order to make way for newer pictures.  Realizing that I have the originals to just about all of the pics that have shown in my posts either on my hard drive or on Google, I started way back at the beginning (that’s July of 2010) and bulk deleted all the way up through July of 2012.  That saved moved the needle from 3GB of media storage space (which had been all taken up) down to 2.2 GB.  Eventually I will purchase a WordPress premium account and be able to upload tons of pics and video too!  But I’m not there yet.  I blog so erratically  these days that I can’t justify the cost.  Until then, sorry for the broken picture links.  I had been simply reusing old blog pics, some of which date to that time frame.  Remove the picture from the site and it disappears from every post you’ve placed it in.  Just use your imagination.

Another Why I Write

You (both of you) have been eagerly awaiting an update on my new workout so I’d like to take a moment to share.

Actually, my mind is a jumbled mess right now so I’d like to take a lot of moments to share (and sort) a lot of things.  Indulge me?  Look, I’ve been through a lot lately.  Consider it your work of mercy.

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If I didn’t blog, how would you ever see fun pics like this?

At work today where I joyfully bounced around between the spiritual battle raging all round us as relayed in Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and the concept of authentic freedom as being something wholly different than license; the subject of this blog came up.  I don’t hide my blog from my students but I sure don’t advertise it either.  “If you can find it, you can read it,” I tell them.  I just like to keep things by and large separate on this one front as I feel I can be more authentically free that way.  A student asked “So why do you blog?”  I thought about it and said “I blog because I need to.”

The truth is that I do love to write.  As I said to my trainer-friend recently “Some men can move heavy weights around.  I play with words.”  Looking back I truly hope he didn’t take that as an insult as I always wanted to be able to one of the former and I greatly admire men like him who actually can move heavy weights around.  Weightlifting gives you an enviable body.  Writing can, well, let’s talk about that…

I write because I am a twin.  Sound odd?  OK, I was born, in all likelihood, speaking a secret language that only one other person understood.  So I spent the next few decades trying out different forms of communication to get my message across to a larger audience.  That period of monosyllabic grunts was kind of awkward for sure.

No?

OK.  Here it is.  I write because I love to write.  I don’t know who reads it and I don’t always care.  After my dad died I got a comment on a post about his funeral.  A woman said she had been reading for years and felt that she knew me and wanted to convey her sympathy.  I was touched.  I have never met her but we have a connection.  Words, you could say, are sacramental.  They make real in the physical world that which is invisible — namely our thoughts.  And when we write we are committing our souls to posterity.  It might not ever be very good writing but a piece of my mind and heart will live on as long as there are eyes to see it.  I have seen this so clearly over the past two months while reading The Chronicles of Narnia to my son at bedtime.  I have become enthralled with these books, with Lewis. I said to my son: “How amazing to think that this man wrote these books so long ago.  He’s dead but the thoughts in his mind are still speaking to us.  His brilliance lives.  The soul lives.”

To me, it’s fun.  I know what I’m capable of.  It is probably the only area of my life where I feel any measure of confidence.

I certainly don’t always feel that confidence in the gym (or the home gym as the case may be).  And that’s where we end for this post.  Did you really think I’d ramble on for 2500 words about a mess of different subjects with no underlying theme?  Ha.  Guess again.

Miss Me?

So I’ve been away for a while.

Sue me.

I’ve got to stop inviting that upon myself, the lawsuits.

So how’ve you been?  Everything good?  Oh me?  Where’ve I been?  Funny you should ask…

It all started back around Easter when I heard from someone that a mutual “friend” thought that my writing was not very good, that in fact I was the only one who believed it to be decent in quality.  I had also heard around the same time that another friend believed I had used my brother’s death as a way to garner sympathy.

So, 1) I don’t need sympathy from anyone for anything.  To clarify what this person was saying… I posted a picture of my brother – the last picture from the last time I would see him alive.  I mentioned how I hadn’t known him all that well.  What I was trying to say was that I hadn’t actually known him that well and this was a source of sadness.  But I was thankful that God had given us this time in the final moments of his life to spend any time with him.  To be of any service to my brother as he lay dying was a blessing to me.

And 2) who cares if you don’t like my writing?  I like it.  My kids will like it when they eventually get around to reading it.  That’s all that matters.  So there.

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So here’s the deal…  I was captured by aliens and trapped on the pages of a coloring book.

Want to catch up?  Work’s good.  Still teaching.  Nothing new on that front.  Running?  It’s still hard as hell.  But I’m sticking with it.  I forget sometimes to celebrate the accomplishments.  I ran five miles the other night.  That’s a PR for me.  I also learned that this is runner-speak for “personal record”.  Hey, I’ve never run that far before in my life.  It was slow but I did it and I’m happy.  Trainer’s been busy so I haven’t had a chance to get a tune-up on my routine – you know, see what needs tweaking and the like.  Of course trainer’s still rockin’ the fitness world.  I’m still not sure how he finds time to teach and pose for covers of men’s fitness magazines while raising a family.  Perhaps we’ll get to catch up before my body catches up to my schemes and starts hiding fat in places I’ll never find.

I also noticed that my feet have grown.  Ain’t that a bitch?  But I looked it up and it’s apparently for real.  When people start running on a regular basis their feet can actually go up a size.  This would explain why my now-size 12 feet are stretching out my size 11 dress shoes.

Finally, my amazing son just had a birthday.  He turned 8.  I don’t know where the time went.  It’s like I blinked one day and a young man was standing before me sharing his ideas for what we should get Mommy for Mother’s Day.  I love him so much (and my little girl).  We had a party for him, a small affair.  In fact, it was even smaller after the Texas-tornado-season weather forced a few people to drop out.  He didn’t mind.  We went to play lunar mini-golf.  Yep, there’s a place in the mall that does glow in the dark miniature golf.  My mother-in-law found and booked the place.  We both determined that it was the kind of place that would be occupied by a different business the next time we were at this mall, like a Christmas-all-the-time shop or something.

While playing “golf” one of my son’s friends expressed a desire to use the bathroom.  Being the only man in the group of adults, I was given the task of taking him.  Being a fly-by-night operation, this place did not have it’s own facilities.  Out into the mall we headed, me and a kid I had just met, who’s name I wasn’t quite sure I had remembered.  To top it off, he wasn’t really listening to me and my pleas that he walk a bit faster and keep up with me as we headed down a mall corridor to a public bathroom.  Gee this is sounding like a Dateline special.

I walked into the men’s room and saw my little party guest head for a stall.  Being a dad I jumped in front to check the cleanliness of the stall.  Three stalls later I allowed him some privacy.  And then it happened.  I stood outside a bathroom stall while its occupant began making the most ghastly whining noises I’ve ever heard.  “You almost done in there, buddy?” I asked.  “NO!  My stomach hurts,” came the reply.  “And what time is it?” he bellowed.  “About 7:15, kid,” I replied.  He shouted back “It’s almost my bedtime.”  Fifteen minutes later I think he must have finished.  Either that or cholera is a quicker moving malady than I thought.

We walked back to the party where our little friend proceeded to lie on the floor.  What he was doing there I know not.  My wife did happen to reveal to me that his mom had mentioned that this was his first time going to a party by himself.  “Aha!'” I thought.  “Time for me to slip into best friend mode.”  And that’s something I’ve always done well.  I think it comes from my childhood.  Growing up without my twin I always felt a little out of place in the world.  I’ve been extraordinarily blessed to have such wonderful people surround me through those times where I’ve felt more alone than others.  My sisters taught me great kindness.  Always.  My best friend Dan (I’ve mentioned him before) has been a kindred soul, a brother to me and ever since we met in college is always around with a bawdy joke or an encouraging word.  A thousand mile distance only means it’s usually by text.  And more recently trainer has been a good friend, albeit one who pushes me around (in a good way) when he has a spare minute between running mud marathons.  Why the tangent?  Because these people have given me example and reinforced what I always knew – that sometimes people just need a little bit of kindness.  So I sat down with our son’s guest and started with the questions.  “So, kiddo, got any brothers or sisters?…”  And like that, he opened up and after a few minutes, the dysentery was gone.  Our little friend was happy for a moment.  And all because some people in my life were kind to me and I could extend a little of that kindness to another.

Forgive me for my length.  I wanted to say thank you to my dear sister Maureen.  We spoke the other night and she asked why I’d stopped writing.  “[My daughter] and I both agreed it would be a shame for you to stop writing.  Trust me your words help all of us.  We laugh.  We cry.  We share.  It all helps.  I found myself needing to read your work today.”

Someone needed me.  And that’s reason enough to keep going.

Thanks, guys, for sticking with me.  Now tell your friends.