June 02, 2008
More Gratuitous Photos

I'm so behind. I still haven't responded to the many e-mails y'all have sent since the birth of baby Andrew. Please forgive me! I'm working on getting caught up! In the meantime, here are some photos that were taken during the first week or two since Andrew's arrival.

My three sons.
Here's Nolan, Alex, and Andrew. Alex loves to hold his baby brother. We've been encouraging him to provide more support for Andrew's neck, but when the camera is rolling, he sometimes forgets.

Alexander holds Andrew.
... in fact, Alex will often spend very long stretches of time holding Andrew, which not only give them bonding time, and makes Alex feel like he's being a good big brother, but also gives their mom a chance to do things other than attending to the baby non-stop.

Grandpa Dwen holds Andrew.
Here's a shot of Andrew's maternal grandfather holding him at less than one-week-old.

Andrew sleeps.
In this one, Andrew looks almost exactly like Alex did in a similar shot almost six years ago. (I may eventually pull up some of those older photos and format them for the web to provide compare-and-contrast opportunities on this page....)

Andrew sleeps some more.
Mostly, the little guy sleeps. But hey, he does it beautifully!

Posted by at 12:53 AM in the following Department(s): The Boys | Comments (1)
 June 12, 2008
Valedictory Advice

Around this time last year (and again this year), traffic to my site increased partially because there are a lot of folks out there searching Google, Yahoo!, and other search engines for ideas regarding "Valedictorian speeches." An essay that I posted here a couple of years ago ("Worst Valedictorian Speech Ever") ranks high among the search results. I guess there aren't a lot of us former Valedictorians who have posted our speeches, even though I *know* that there are many, many, many better examples out there of the species than my own feeble creation.

That said, I've received a couple of different kinds of reactions, neither of which I expected. One was a series of responses (both in public comments on the site and private e-mails) from people who were there, giving their [favorable] reactions (over two decades later, granted). The other kind of response I've received has been from kindred spirits currently facing the same kind of dilemmas I faced back then: given an opportunity to deliver a speech to the entire graduating class, its teachers and their administrators... now what?

"Kevin" posted the following just a few days ago:

Hi Allan, i am in a similar situation and seek some advice. i am valdictorian at my school and i've written about 3 first drafts of my speech by now, but every time it gets shut down [by] the principal because it is too negative and will make the school look bad. all i want to do is speak the truth about the injustices taking place and i am still debating whether or not so speak about the injustice. well, i would like to know if you feel it was worth it?

Well, now you've done it, Kevin. You've asked an old fart to give you adivce. Here goes.

First, congratulations on earning the top spot in your class. You certainly must have done an awful lot of busy-work homework assignments well in order to have filled that slot. My heart goes out to you. You will never be able to get those hours of your life back. But, then again, you wouldn't have been able to get them back if you had spent that time playing Nintendo, either.

Second, when you send out your college apps and resumes, be sure to capitalize your 'I's. [Sorry, Kevin, I couldn't resist.]

You ask if I feel it was worth it, delivering the speech that I did. Your question brings up dozens of thoughts, often conflicting, so here are a few in no particular order:

* As I mentioned in my essay, I'm embarrassed by that speech now, and by how bitter it makes the younger me out to have been. Never mind that I'm even more bitter now. Possibly. But bitterness isn't attractive. It doesn't get you the girls. Trust me, I know. From cruel, bitter experience.

* I gave that speech in 1986. I'm now forty years old. The events that led up to my writing and delivering that speech, and the fallout afterward, have had no lasting impact on my life that I'm aware of.

* I am not aware of my little speech having had any lasting impact on anyone else, for that matter. I got on stage and said my piece. As one teacher had remarked, I rained on some people's parade. Did the teachers and administrators kiss and make up as a result? No. The administrators continued the path that they were on, of favoring discipline over academics, and my alma mater's educational scores plummeted. Some very good teachers left the school, while other very good teachers stayed and did the best they could. Did any of the teachers change their approach to teaching or their relationship with the administration or how they handled their students? I don't imagine so, and I've never heard anything to imply otherwise.

* As The Man said so much better than I ever could (granted, he was speaking about other things, but the words are just as true now): "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here...."

* I'm proud that the speech mostly holds up after all these years, a few awkward phrases notwithstanding. If you agree it holds up, then I suspect it's because the speech was not specific about incidents, but about particular issues. Those issues apparently still resonate, even though the incidents that brought them to light are long since moot. [I told you my feelings are conflicting. Embarrassment and pride at the same time?]

* As a result of my speech, all of the valedictorians who came after me had to have their speeches vetted by the principal. So, I guess there was that one legacy. Since I'm opposed to censorship, I'm not proud of that legacy. Then again, what's the point of free speech if you aren't free to say something that makes the Establishment uncomfortable? Kevin, it's individuals like you who have individuals like me to thank for the fact that your speech has to be vetted. I'm sure the same would be true if our chronology were reversed.

There's more, but it's late, and I have [paying] work to do before I call it a day. More to the point is your own situation: unlike my situation, you have to have your speech vetted by the Establishment. Your principal is either hoping to make sure the event goes smoothly for all concerned, or he's covering his behind, or both.

You speak of injustice at your school, but of what nature? Racism? Favoritism? Socio-economic classism? Religionism? Were people expelled because they wore black trench coats [as has happened at some schools] or wrote violent essays? Was someone offended because they saw a Christmas tree and they don't believe in trees?

What was the severity of the injustice? Were the victims made to feel bad about themselves? Were they given lower grades or fewer privileges? Were they drummed out of school? Were they physically harmed?

Who is your speech aimed at? Your fellow students? The administration? Parents? The janitorial staff?

These are important questions that will shape your approach. The thing is, your message can be expressed in either positive or negative terms, and you have the choice of being humorous or serious.

Comedy is much, much, much more subversive. It is also harder to pull off. I've spent most of my "adult" life (including my time at high school) absorbing and practicing comedy. But as I learned recently, I can still miss the mark badly. I wrote a self-deprecating piece about my Irish heritage a couple of weeks ago, and managed to offend family members in the process. This is the exact opposite of what I wanted to do (and I'm still working on the apology -- a well-crafted apology is even harder to employ successfully than comedy, which is hard enough). I knew when I wrote my valedictorian speech that I was neither in the mood nor did I have the chops necessary to write humor for that particular audience at that particular time. Your mileage may vary.

If your target audience is your principal, you've already delivered your message, and it has been rejected. So, move on. If your goal is to upstage your principal, you can always have him vet one speech and then deliver another. Note: I am *not* recommending this. Unless you see your principal as a villain, it's reasonable to assume he has good reasons for steering you in the direction he is. Allow me to suggest you work with him to address his concerns but still address yours, as well.

If your goal is to give a memorable speech, allow me to recommend stand-up comedy rather than the aforementioned pointed humor or deadly-serious approach. There are several examples of this approach available on the web.

[Then again, they come up higher in the search engines than my speech, so since you found me, I'll assume you've already decided to consider other-than-stand-up-comedy options.]

BTW, nobody will remember your speech. Sorry. But you can post it online later to remind them. When you do, send me a link.

I knew my speech would never have been approved if it had to go through serious vetting. As was pointed out in the comments section of my post on the subject, I wrote the speech at the last minute with the collaboration of my writing partner of that time (and with whom I later went on to edit a college humor magazine). Had I written my speech in collaboration with the school principal instead, I couldn't begin to guess what form it would have arrived at. It might have been a fine speech. But it certainly would have been different.

But my goal wasn't to upstage the principal; nor was it to rain on my fellow graduates' parade. I knew that was going to be the result, but that wasn't the point. I truly wanted to say something worth saying. In retrospect, I'm still not sure that I did.

You ask my advice, but here I am yammering "It depends! It depends!" Here's the deal, Kevin:

  1. eighty percent of communication is non-verbal. Tone of voice and body language convey more meaning than the words being said.
  2. sometimes, some well-placed silence, employed strategically, can speak volumes more than words ever can. [Along those lines: if I had had more time, this essay would have been much, much shorter.]
  3. if at all possible, work with your principal in good faith on the message, especially if the principal is working with you in good faith.
  4. practice, practice, practice the delivery.
Here's a little secret about my valedictorian speech that I didn't share when I first wrote about it publicly: I'm not terribly proud of the speech, but I *am* proud of the delivery.

Posted by at 04:00 AM in the following Department(s): Adventures in Academia , Essays , Writing | Comments (1)
 June 23, 2008
"I'll take Potpourri for $100, Alex"

Random news that's fit to print:

* Andrew James continues to be the (current) cutest baby in the world, just as Alexander Benjamin continues to be the (current) cutest almost-six-year-old in the world, and Nolan Theodore continues to be the (current) cutest three-year-old in the world. I'll post more pix soon to prove it.

* I have recently signed a contract for my third pro fiction sale, "Last Man Standing", for the upcoming Swordplay anthology coming from DAW Books. Three short story sales to a pro market makes me eligible to join the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America -- a union that (I've been told) would put me on the invite lists for other upcoming "invite only" anthos and also allow me to vote for the Nebula Awards.

Also of note, this was my first attempt at writing historical fiction (not that I don't have some background in history, mind you). I'm very happy to have sold it right out of the gate, since there are few markets for historical fiction.

* I have even more recently signed a contract (and received a check!) for my fourth pro fiction sale, "If I Did It", for the upcoming The Trouble With Heroes anthology, also coming from DAW Books. I'm very excited about this sale, as this was a tricky piece of writing. It's a very short story (only 2,400 words or so), but I try to pack in as much humor, wry social commentary, and *story* as I can in a tiny little package. Satire is typically hard to sell, but it's something I *want* to get good at, so it's nice to see my practice may be paying off.

* Last night, I finally, finally, FINALLY began work on my new novel project. Wow, did it feel good to get that started. This beast is going to be much, much better than my first novel-length project (The Do Over), if only because I learned so much from the many things I did wrong on that one.

* More advice to Kevin (see my previous post on "Valedictory Advice") will be posted here shortly.

* M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most talented film directors working today, but his latest offering, The Happening, is so anti-science that I could scream. He tries to make a catch phrase out of "...just a theory!" That he does this in a flick ostensibly about ecological calamity is bizarre. When Paulette gave me a Father's Day pass to go see a movie without the kids around, I shoulda seen Iron Man instead. Grrr.

More later, potaters.

Posted by at 01:52 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Tidbits , Writing | Comments (1)

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