Three years ago, while working on a short story, I wrote down some goals. Short-term – cut coffee consumption down from ten-cups-a-day to eight-cups-a-day. Long-term – get a book published before turning 40. On 11 December 2019, I sat at my desk in my little room at the Elliot Park Hotel in Minneapolis and jotted […]
We shook harder and then Norman pulled me in and hugged me. “I’ll see you soon,” he said.
“Me? I’m done, Matt.” At least for now. But it’s not about doubt for me. It’s about fuel. I need to refill the tank. But I don’t doubt my skills.”
“Yeah. Bigger. We’re going to create a bunch of ancillary CDs for Harcourt’s high school history books. Do you like a challenge?”
I leaned forward showing my interest.
of all the wisdom Norman shared, openly or just by example, the one lesson that has stayed with me is this – everyone has a right to be heard, to be represented both by law and by story, regardless of how much we may disagree with their point of view or their beliefs. If we never stop to listen, we will never have the opportunity to find out where we do agree.
I picked up the book and flipped open the cover. “I have to read this,” I said. “Norman persisted. He wrote this book and he’s ancient. He doesn’t stop.” I flipped the page and saw a note and smiled…
Norman leaned forward and reached into a thin briefcase. He pulled out a manilla envelop and lay it in front of me. “The Gamblers”, I said, reading the black writing scrolled across the front. “What’s this?”
I’m going deep with this one, I know. But it is relevant and perhaps my first attempt at entering the current narrative. It’s also relevant because when my daughters catch a glimpse of the news or overhear my wife and I or others talking about current events, they inevitably ask the fundamental questions that adults skip over.
But I’m not a writer… you may be thinking. I’m not a storyteller. That’s crap. We’re all both.
And that’s where I sat for the next three weeks. Holed up like a mole in the video cave. But damn I was intent on finding the best footage for those scripts.
Instead of the next installment of Breakfast at The Cottage, below is a short non-fiction piece called Painted Lady that’s in my Porch Stories collection. These are my girls.
“I study, too,” she said smiling. Nancy leaned forward and opened up. She held a blackbelt in Tiger Schulman’s and was studying for her second degree.
Then Norman said something that has stuck with me since – “You’re interviewing each other. They want to know if you are a good fit for them. But you should be asking questions to gauge if you really want to work there.”
At this point, you are either a little like my normal self – barely looking into Norman and letting his personality and humanness unfold in front of you. Or you are like my working self – immediately researching the guy to find out who he is. If you’re the latter, then you know his accomplishments. He had written at least two books – Life’s Snapshots and The Gamblers – and had written opinion pieces for various papers including the New York Times.
Fully under a sold, used boat, my attention was on the hull and then…
A pair of brown, polished loafers slid across the floor and stopped next to me.
“What if you don’t like that kind of writing? What if you’re no good at it?”
“Nonsense,” said Norman as he walked in the door. “He’ll learn and adapt. Good morning, too.” His silent gait let him slip into the diner undetected.
So there I sat in my room, surrounded by yellow legal pads and index cards, trying to figure out what the hell I was going to hand over to Norman. Fixing a resume proved difficult enough, now I had to share something more personal. I had to turn in my work.
“Eisenhower.” He said. Norman responded to my question like it was no big deal.
“You’ll find I don’t shut up with my ideas,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for thirty-years. Place hasn’t changed.”
“We haven’t, but you’ve turned into a grumpy, old geezer,” said the woman from behind the counter. Don’t look offended, hun. We love him like family.”
Broke and dreamy, I had convinced myself I could become a writer. But I actually had no clue what the hell I was doing. So I scraped the barnacle off of rich people’s boats and waited tables so that I could use tips to feed myself.
Then a single act changed my career’s trajectory.
Young and idealistic. Broke and in debt. I had just graduated and hoped to land my dream job – writing for a Discovery Channel show. Instead, I hustled at a local marina to stay afloat. My $10-an-hour job scraping barnacle and painting boat bottoms covered rent for my townhouse and my student loan payments. Every […]