Real and Imagined.

Life

God is on our Side

I’m currently laid up at home with a bad back. I have CNN on in the background, just for the sound of human voices. I muted it to answer the phone and forgot to turn the volume back on.

Anyway, a moment ago, I looked up and what did I see, but Barack Obama, gesturing as he spoke. And the little CNN “blurb” underneath read “Obama asked if God takes sides in a war.”

Is there any good reason for that question, except to generate pointless controversy? The fact of the matter is, that question exists to make the pro-war crowd feel justified. If Obama says no, then the pro-war crowd can bash him around for saying that God is not with us. If Obama says yes, then he also has to agree that God is on OUR side (anything else would get him accused of being unpatriotic, right?). And if that’s so, then not only is being against the war “unpatriotic,” but it also becomes heresy as well. Better yet: it doesn’t matter how many of our troops get killed or maimed because the war is God’s work.

This is, perhaps, the ultimate in ducking responsibility. It’s not even “The Devil made me do it!” It’s “God wants me to do it!”

I think Bruce Springsteen best summed this up in a rare instance where he discussed the meaning of his songs. Performing before an audience, he sang a line, then explained it. Early in the concert, he performed “Devils and Dust,” with the lyric, “I got God on my side.”

Then paused.

And said, “Doesn’t everybody?”

If there is a God and if He can even be bothered to turn His eye to our small segment of the vast universe on occasion, I can imagine his only reaction to war is NOT “Go, team, go!” But, rather, this:

“You stupid assholes. Why are you killing each other again?”

Stupid Google Tricks

I am easily amused…

  • Go to Google Maps .
  • Click on Get Directions
  • Make New York your starting point and London your ending point.
  • Read the directions. Hilarity ensues.

Like I said — easily amused.

Day-um!

OK, I can think of ten, maybe twelve ways to fake this.

But I don’t care. It looks so. Damn. Cool.

Perfect music choice, too…

Fan Mail

I got fan mail today.

OK, now I hope I don’t sound like I’m tooting my own horn or anything, but I actually get fan mail a lot. (Well, it seems like a lot to me. To some writers, I’m sure it seems like a paucity, but hey — for me it’s a lot!) I almost wrote that today’s fan mail was special, but that sounds like I’m denigrating the rest of my fan mail. Every piece of fan mail is a big deal. For those of you out there who are readers, trust me — you have absolutely no idea how much it can make a writer’s day to get a letter or even just a brief note from a fan. We work in isolation, with only our keyboards, our Internet connections, and our pets to keep us company. We thrive on contact from the outside world.

(Um, said thriving, by the way, does not in any way, shape, or form justify the woman who — a few months ago — called me from out of the blue and said, “I’m in your neighborhood today and was wondering if I could stop by to have you sign my book.” Er, how did you get my phone number? And my address? And, oh, right — NO!)*

Where was I? Oh, yeah — contact with the outside world. We love it. Live for it. Keep that fan mail coming.

Today’s fan mail was… Oh, hell, I’ll say it — it was special. Special in a different way from the rest of the fan mail, which is special in and of itself.

See, today’s mail came…in the mail.

As in, via U.S. Postal Service.

As in, actual physical paper with actual physical ink that produced actual physical handwritten words.

This wonderful, wonderful fourteen-year-old girl from New York was so taken with my book that she actually wrote to me. With a pen held in her own hands.

She didn’t pound on a keyboard. Or text me from a phone.

She sat down with that three-hole-punch notebook paper we all remember from school. She filled three sides of it. She folded it up and put it in an envelope and stuck a stamp on there and sent it to my publisher, who dutifully forwarded it to me.

Like I said, I’ve gotten a decent amount of fan mail since The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girlcame out. And I’ve been thrilled by each and every contact with readers.

But this was just cool. In this Internet-connected world, the time and effort it takes to handwrite a letter and mail it seems almost…superhuman. When was the last time you actually handwrote a letter to someone you didn’t know? Hell, when was the last time you handwrote a letter to someone you do know?

I was really touched by the letter. I’m touched by every instance of contact with my fans.

But this one… Yeah, this one was a little extra-special.


*(Oh, and about that woman who called my house a few months ago? Never fear, dear readers — I arranged to meet her in a public place. She was a perfectly lovely woman who had no idea how much she freaked me out. I happily signed her book.)

Back to School

Depending on traffic, I can get from my house to the house where I spent most of my teenaged years in 25-35 minutes. So it was no big hassle to go to my old high school early this morning. (Well, the “early” part was sort of a hassle. I hate getting up when it’s still dark out!)

Why was I up at the crack of God-knows-when? Well, a month or so ago, I received an e-mail from my high school: Would I be interested in coming to speak to students about being a professional writer on Career Day?

I figured why not. Again, it’s not like it was an arduous trek or anything. And I’ve learned that I really, really like talking to groups of students who are interested in writing. I was told that the Career Day groups (I would talk to two of them) would be made up of kids who had expressed an interest in writing, so I was good to go.

When I got there, I was hit with a massive wave of surreality. It’s been something like fifteen years since I walked the halls of my high school. But going from the student parking lot to the cafeteria doors felt like it could have happened yesterday. I mingled with a group of kids arriving for school and had to remind myself that I wasn’t one of them.

Inside, I suffered that most clichéd of all sensations – the school did, indeed, seem smaller. Now, I’m no taller or larger than I was in high school, so it’s not like I literally outgrew it or anything. I guess when you’re younger, school is so central to your life that it seems cavernous and overwhelming. Not so much when you’re an adult. (Although I did confirm that the school was actually smaller in one regard – the lockers seemed shorter and I discovered that they were, in fact, replaced with smaller ones a few years back.)

The building actually was much the same in terms of design and decoration. I wouldn’t have felt out of place had a fifteen-year-old me somehow stumbled through a space-time wormhole and ended up in the North Carroll High School of 2007. Two major differences: the main office, once open to the lobby, was now shuttered behind new walls and doors. And the media center seemed enormous due to the loss of most of the stacks and the ancient card catalog, which opened up the space. (So, yeah, it was the only part of the building that seemed bigger, not smaller.)

And you know what? I found that I could navigate as if I still went there every day. I knew where the English department was, where the Social Studies rooms were. A lost gentlemen (also there for Career Day) stopped me and asked for directions to the Senior Patio and I was able to give them to him, no problem.

Again, I hadn’t been in this building for at least fifteen years. Weird.

Weirder still was seeing many of my old teachers. In the same classrooms! My ancient history teacher “sponsored” my appearance, as I used her room to talk to students and she confirmed for me that, yes, some of the posters on the walls were the same ones there when I was a student. The teacher on whom I played the Great Ecuadorian Tortoise Blight prank (read Fanboy, if you don’t get this joke…) stopped by and hugged me, so I guess all is forgiven.

I saw a couple of my old English teachers, including the teacher who – at my senior awards ceremony – announced me as the outstanding English student by saying, “He claims he’s going to college to be a lawyer, but his English teachers know he’ll be a writer.” Damn, she’s good, huh?

Made my Brit Lit teacher very happy by reciting the first 18 lines to The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English .

Some of them were older. Some heavier. One or two – freakily – looked like they hadn’t aged a day since I last saw them all those years ago.

And the kids? God, the kids!

Some terrific questions from the crowd. They seemed to enjoy my talk, which I had worried about. After all, as I told them, there were FBI Agents and models and video game designers there for Career Day. People who could show you what they did, people who could explain what you had to do in order to attain their profession.

But I couldn’t show my kids what I did. It’s not very exciting to watch someone type! So I just walked them through the process of building a writing career, explaining about agents and publishers and the necessity of revision and good, honest feedback.

(I think it also helped that I was very willing to be a smart-ass. I noticed emergency evacuation plans on my podium, including those for the event of a nuclear attack. I made quite a bit out of those, believe me…)

I felt good doing the presentation. I was telling these kids things that I dearly wish I had known as a struggling wannabe writer at their age. I probably wouldn’t have wasted so much time on dead ends if I had known these things then. So at the very least, I hope I made some budding writer’s journey a tiny bit easier.

I stuck around for a little while after my sessions. Just wandered the halls a little bit. Talked to some old teachers (and did that Chaucer recitation). You know, in my first book, Fanboy fantasizes about achieving fame and fortune, then coming home and having everyone watch him in awe, fawning all over him. As shallow as it is to admit, I think there was a small part of me that shared that fantasy with Fanboy. When I returned to school today, though, there was no awe. Just people from my past who greeted me with a smile…and a handshake…and an honest, “We’re proud of you,” before getting back to work.

And you know what? That’s the way it should be. And that’s good.