Category Archives: Tributes

Post #125: From the Files of the Wonderful and Utterly Unexpected

So, here’s a strange one. I won an award. For my writing. That’s never happened before. It wasn’t a major award or anything, and I suppose it’s obnoxious to gush, but I can’t deny it feels good to know some people out there noticed.

It’s a piece you may have seen before, as I featured its publication on the blog. It’s an essay I wrote about my father entitled “On Becoming–and Not Becoming–My Dad” and it was featured in Kids Vermont in June, 2013. If you haven’t read it, you can link to the essay here.

But about the award. There’s this thing you’ve never heard of called the Parenting Media Association. They host an annual Conference in Philadelphia where they honor contributions to journalistic efforts related to parenting, looking at publications all over the East Coast. There’s a personal essay category in which, unbeknownst to me, my essay was a candidate, and ended up winning Silver (2nd place, if you don’t follow Olympic parlance). Until I heard from the editor a couple weeks ago, I had no idea this was even a possibility.

There’s no money or anything, but I do understand a certificate of some sort will be forthcoming, and I have nice spot on the fridge picked out.

It’s the little things in life, friends. It has to be.

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Post #120: Happy New Year!

Greetings, and a very merry New Year to all of you out there. I guess it’s customary this time of year to make resolutions. But I’m struggling. Last night I resolved to drink less this year, then promptly poured myself a beer. So…well…there’s always 2015.

Some brief apologies for the extended wait between posts these last couple months. The hate mail, which I know comes from a place of love and real pain on the part of our loyal readers, has been piling up on our desk. And rest assured, we read every last piece of it, and try to reply personally as often as we can. Chalk it up to this: I’m starting a low-residency MFA program and the prep work, along with the end of the teaching semester has been kicking my already  bruised ass. We’ll resolve to serve you better in the new year.

Until then, here’s a few recommendations to ring in the new year, as well as one urgent observation.

You should watch…

The Newsroom on HBO. I had listened a little too loudly to the bad buzz on Sorkin’s latest. And though he’s reminding me of Woody Allen in the way he repeats both themes, motifs, and plot points, assuming his genius excuses such blatant repetition (which it kind of does), the show, especially the second season, is definitely worth watching. A great ensemble cast. Whip crack dialogue. Laughs. And a nod to serious issues of the moment, even if they’re delivered with a bludgeon to the head. This guy is one of the great screen writers of all time.

You should see…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. There’s some hit or miss moments, but you get to spend almost an entire hour with a giant dragon voiced by Sherlock’s Benedict Cumberbatch.

You should listen to…

“Foreverly” by Billie Joe and Norah. This is an odd one. Greenday’s Billie Joe Armstrong and jazz/pop chanteuse Norah Jones teamed up to record a whole album of Everly Brothers tunes. The results are spare, haunting, and beautiful.

You should eat…

More Peanut Brittle. I proved this holiday season that it can be eaten as an entire meal without losing consciousness.

You should read…

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro. I’d explain why if they hadn’t just given her the fucking Nobel Prize. She’s that good.

And finally, one urgent observation…

Black bean sauce really doesn’t taste that much like black beans.

Happy New Year’s from all of us here at The Almost Right Words. We wish you a healthy and productive 2014.

 

Post #113: Carol Dweck, meet Tim Tebow

Tim-TebowI don’t follow football. Not really. But I am currently breathing and I do follow sports in general, so of course I heard the news when fledgling quarterback and football celebrity (soon to be outcast?) Tim Tebow was recently cut by the New England Patriots just prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season. Like it or not, pretty much anything Tebow does is national news.

If you recall, a couple years ago, Tebow (former Heisman trophy winner and widely considered one of the greatest, if not more memorable, college quarterbacks in history), become the Denver Broncos starter after their QB was injured and then, through either guile and budding talent and a fierce awareness of timing, or through fluke luck and serendipity and accidental greatness, won several games in a row, including a string of comebacks, and took the Broncos into the playoffs. Media frenzy ensued. Tebow, who was already on the cusp, became a star for all kinds of reasons, only some of them to do with how he played the game of football. Many of them were to do with his religious piety, his good looks.

In the off season though, Tebow was released. He spent the year with the Jets last year and saw minimal playing time and was subsequently released by the Jets, who opted not to re-sign him. They were not all that complimentary of his playing talent or future either. The dream of NFL QBdom seemed, perhaps, to have withered on the vine for a player whose media profile far outshone either his talent or his accomplishments on the field. Suddenly the fact that Tebow was not an NFL caliber QB seemed rather obvious.

Now, coming full circle, the Patriots recently surprised everyone and signed Tebow and brought him to training camp, only to release him, leaving him hapless, team-less, and it would seem, lost.

A couple days ago, it was revealed that Tebow had been getting offers, from the CFL, from the USA Rugby team, and even from another NFL team, though the latter involved a position change. People wanted Tebow after all, though they wanted him on their terms. Tebow has refused them all.  He has decided, at least for now, to hold tight to his dream of being an NFL quarterback and to move in dogged pursuit of it, regardless of obstacle or consequence.

Even if no one else believes Tebow can or will achieve his goal, Tebow himself seems to. And that’s commendable. Of course, if the window on those other opportunities closes at roughly the same rate that the one on his NFL dream and he manages to get himself through neither, everyone’s feelings may change on the matter. For now, though, it’s NFL or bust.

Carol Dweck is a Stanford professor of psychology whose similarities to Tebow probably end at two limbs and a beating heart. But whether he knows it or not, Tebow’s dedication to achieving his goal is a great examples of what Dweck would call a “Growth” Mindset. This as opposed to a “Fixed” Mindset.

In layman’s terms, those with a Fixed Mindset see ability, talent, and intelligence as “fixed,” unable to really be changed even in the face of effort or will. In this mindset, people are less willing to adapt, less open to feedback, and have a more difficult time responding to criticism and adversity.

Conversely, those with a Growth Mindset believe that effort, belief, and a willingness to take extra time and receive extra support as the means to gain what one wants trump any notions of existing ability, talent, or intelligence. Having a Growth Mindset doesn’t mean that you can defy the laws of physics or that anyone could be Michael Jordan. What it means, though, is that you’re far more focused on adaptation and support, believing that you can grow and improve no matter what the circumstances. Science supports the theory and the fact that one’s capabilities are not at the mercy of pre-existing conditions. They can be changed, not just physiologically, but chemically.

There’s a great TED talk on the two mindsets by Eduardo Briceno. It’s ten minutes and well worth your time. It might just change the way you think about yourself and the world.

As you probably know, I’m a high school teacher and I’m starting off the new school year with a unit on brain science, learning, and Mindset. There’s some very cool new revelations regarding what we know about the brain and its capacity to grow, change, and improve. All the time, I bump into students with a Fixed Mindset about school. They believe they are a certain kind of student. They believe that it’s all too hard. Or all too easy. Or that no one likes them. Or that everyone likes them. Or that math is just something they’ll never get. Or that a teacher’s feedback on their writing is worthless because they’re just not a good writer. What I’m learning is that these mindsets play a huge role in how we see ourselves and how we interact with the world. Worrying less about what we can do well naturally, worrying less about talent and natural ability, and worrying more about growth and adaptation, can put someone in a far better position to improve, and not just in the short term.

What’s interesting about Mindset is that it’s not just formed by us. In fact, a lot of our own mindset about ourselves comes from the outside. Parents, friends, coaches, teachers–they tell us things about ourselves, things that might be mirrored in our day to day experience, and before too long, that becomes our narrative of ourselves.

What’s fascinating about Tebow is how much the external narrative around him has changed. A few years ago, this guy was winning the Heisman trophy and was the best player in college football. An unstoppable force on the field. A king. Today he’s a joke. The narrative has flipped on him. Oddly enough, the one thing that seems not to have changed in the story all that much is Tebow. His Mindset on becoming an NFL quarterback is focused and driven, seemingly undeterred by the changing story around him, which now says that he can’t do it, that he’s not talented enough, that it won’t happen. Tebow isn’t listening. Or he’s doing an amazing job or pretending he’s not. The guy simply believes that his desire to be an NFL quarterback and his ability to grow towards that goal is more powerful than whatever natural ability landed him in this position in the first place. If he can just put in enough time and effort, he can will himself past some limitations he’s now experiencing in natural ability. In spite of the odds, he’s chosen to focus on that.

Maybe he’s deluding himself. Maybe he’s exercising a genius of will that’s unfamiliar.

He’ll probably never know, but he’s putting Dweck’s theory to a very high profile test. Who knows what will happen. Maybe he’ll make it, maybe he won’t. Maybe in a few years he’ll be on Hollywood Squares. I honestly don’t really care whether Tim Tebow makes it as an NFL quarterback. But his belief in himself made me sit up and take notice.

I wish him luck.

 

Post #99: Being Dad

sociallogo-kidsvtsquareI have an essay in the new issue of Kid’s Vermont, a monthly foray into the world of what to do with your kid if you’re a Vermont parent. For their Dad Issue, they asked me to contribute to their “Use Your Words” feature, a monthly personal essay, on a topic related to parenting. I ended up writing an essay about my dad, who was, is, and always will be the most important man in my life. I know that’s not an original thing to say–Dads loom large, after all–but writing this piece was a reminder of just how grand and essential a figure my dad has been for me. Check out the essay here.

I would be remiss not to express gratitude to the editors at Kids Vermont, Carolyn Fox and Cathy Resmer, for helping see this piece through. There was quite a lot of back and forth on this one, and I’m grateful for their help and guidance.

Post #89: AWP, by the Numbers

5-March-Boston-AWP-program-book-466x6001Two weekends ago I ventured to Boston for the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference. I’ve decided to break my experience down for you by the numbers.

Number of times my wife told me I’d regret not going to AWP before I finally decided to miss work even though I’d just had a vacation: Approx 8,000

Number of hours it took me to get to Boston in half way crappy weather: 4

Number of times my GPS was thwarted by the insane and downright cruel layout of Boston streets before it led me to the Hotel Buckminster: 2

Number of miles our hotel was situated from the Hynes Convention Center, where AWP took place: 1

Number of inches thick the AWP program guide is: 1.5

Number of writers and readers that attend AWP: 11,000

Number of literary conferences that are bigger than AWP: 0

Number of consecutive nights Alan Stewart Carl (with whom I bunked) and I stayed up way too late and drank way too much: (The best part of AWP, no doubt, was re-connecting with my great friend and former Bread Loaf roommate. We talked so much and spent so much time together that we both agreed it’s probably a good thing we don’t live in the same city)

Number of readings attended: 2 (I know that’s a really small number…not sure what’s up with that; I walked by a lot more that)

Number of cocktails consumed before it could reasonably be deemed happy hour on the East Coast: Um….

Number of events attended in a men’s clothing store/barber shop: 1

Number of inches of snow Boston received while I was there: 12-15

Number of times Alan Stewart Carl slipped so badly in the snow/ice (wearing treadless cowboy boots) that he literally become airborne: 1

Number of vegetables consumed while in Boston: Does the weird-o broccoli they put in food court Chinese count?

Number of ornery aging geniuses whose autograph I procured: 1 (Don Delillio, who did not seem all that pleased to be signing my just purchased copy of White Noise)

Number of books bought at the massive, totally overwhelming AWP book fair: 3 (White Noise by Don Delillio, Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta, Sick of Nature by David Gessner)

Number of hours spent wandering said book fair in a flabbergasted daze: 4-6

Number of exhibitors represented at the book fair: 700 (hence the flabbergasted daze) 

Number of times I had to say “no, chicken gumbo,” to the soup guy at the Au Bon Pain at Hynes Convention Center before he gave me the right soup, which turned out to be the wrong soup: 3

Number of new insults coined: 1 (tell you later)

Number of drinks shared with my dear friend Kara Waite: lost track

Number of great conversations had with my dear friend Kara Waite: lost track

Number of times I said, “I know I keep talking about that David Foster Wallace biography, but…”: 87

 

Number of Bread Loaf attendees I recognized but didn’t talk to: 7-9

Number of times Alan Stewart Carl, who is from Texas, commented on how much the guys in Boston seemed like they were straight out of a Mark Wahlberg movie: 12

Number of famous authors not on panels they were supposed to be on because of shitty weather: 2 (that I know of). I had hoped to see/hear Cheryl Strayed and Amy Hempel in person, but both were delayed by weather. In both instances, I didn’t learn they weren’t on the panel until I was in the already jammed packed room. The panels turned out to be awesome anyway

Number of people who came up to me and said, “hey, aren’t you Benjamin Roesch? I love your work!”: (But I never gave up hope)

Number of world famous ballparks visible out my hotel window: 1

 

Post #80: Did You Get Healed?

jazzTook my lady to see The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at our beloved local theater, The Flynn, the other night. We sat front row in the balcony and watched Wynton and the cats do their thing, and as always, the experience was pure bliss. I was a little tired that night, and in truth, gave my sweatpants an extra look before pulling on my boots and coat to brave the sub-zero January. As usual, though, there is no substitute for live music, jazz in particular.  Jazz is one of the few constants in my life, a continued source of pleasure and inspiration that mostly feeds a private place in my soul, a little garden that always prospers and always has plenty of sunshine and rain. It’s been that way for many many years and Wynton has long been a hero of mine, both for his musical genius and for his advocacy for the arts and arts education. And for how damn cool he is. I’ve seen Wynton seven or eight times over the years, though haven’t seen the orchestra since college, and their precision was astounding. When you hear a group of men playing so together, it’s easy to take for granted what they’re achieving because the music, and the individual contributions necessary to make it, are so seamless, so empathetic. This is the essence of big band jazz. And when it’s working best, you barely notice it.

Here’s a few clips of Wynton for your Monday morning. This one is a nice interview with Wynton and Paul Simon that’s about Simon’s contribution to American music, but it’s cool to see them together. The second, below, is Wynton’s quartet with Frank O’Connor and Frank Vignola sitting in on Sweet Georgia Brown.

And a third of the orchestra doing Chick Corea’s “Wigwam.” Enjoy. Have a banner week.

Post #76: Nicholas David, A Tribute

thevoice2012p-1727795142291215960-1Yes, I watch The Voice. Yes, I love The Voice. Yes, I have a problem. No, I don’t care if you’re making fun of me right now. Go ahead. Shannon and I started watching the reality singing competition at its inception and have religiously watched all three seasons so far, cheering as Javier (Season 1), Jermaine (Season 2), and recently Cassadee took home the prize. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s a great show. Sure, it’s as rife with shameless product placement as the next reality show. Sometimes, the whole show feels like one interminable commercial for the coaches (Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, and Christina Aguilera) or the special musical guests, and when that part becomes particularly icky, when the commercial break just happens to be plugging the new CD by the special guest who just performed, I occasionally start cracking wise. But most of the time, The Voice, more than anything, is a full on love fest. I’m serious. The Voice has got to be just about the most positive, affirming reality show ever made. Nobody ever gets cut down. Nobody is ever embarrassed just because. People are encouraged, given constructive criticism, and, if they progress deep into the competition, are granted the space, time, nurturing, and corporate muscle to turn them into legitimate stars. Most reality shows’ sole purpose is to create an apparatus to humiliate its contestants. To see what stupid and erroneous things they’ll do to get famous. The Voice only rewards. Yes, there are winners and losers. Yes, the early going features “knockout rounds” but even when parting ways with an outgoing guest who just choked on live television, the show wraps everybody up in a big Cee-Lo bear hug and, almost stubbornly, remains a positive space for its cast and for the viewers.

I write not just to praise The Voice overall, but to praise Nicholas David, who came in third in the recently ended Season 3 competition. In the past, I’ve enjoyed and gotten attached to some Voice contestants, but even in the early going of this season, I was invested in Nicholas’s growth and wanting him to win this show. At times, I felt ashamed at how much I wanted him to win. You wanna know how much I wanted him to win? I actually voted. I’ve never voted for anything that wasn’t an election in my life. You know how during the Olympics, you watch those little human interest stories and learn about the teenaged backstroker’s life outside the pool, and then when the big race comes you’re sweating and screaming at the television for her to take home the gold? How uplifted you feel when she wins? How crestfallen when she doesn’t? It was kind of like that. I was also rooting for Nicholas because, looks wise, he’s about the last guy who ever has a chance of winning a reality television show, where though the playing field appears to be “even,” the best looking people somehow always seem to rise to the top. Nicholas is a timeless soul singer wrapped in a chubby, gangly, geeky white guys body. He wears a lot of rings and beads and swag, but the captain of a neighborhood Dungeons and Dragons club is still under there. When he sings, he kicks his leg out in the most awkward way. He says “yeah, baby,” a lot. Bows in this weird, Budda like way. Started wearing his hair in a freaky Barry Gibb thing. But week after week, I’d watch him progress, rise to the pressure, and totally slay whatever song he took on, from “Lean on Me” to “September” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to “You Are So Beautiful.” His version of the latter literally made me cry. Twice. The guy has pipes so soulful and pure America looked way the hell past his looks and almost crowned him the champ. He used to be way overweight and a heavy drinker and, it would seem, many times came close to giving up on his dreams. He had a few kids and watched his singing career drift away from him like a detached thought balloon. You watch this guy sing, so much better than 99% of the shit that passes for popular music and you start swearing there’s no justice in the world. Or maybe there is just a bit. Because I’m sitting here writing about him, singing his praises. Singing, get it?

Now, let’s say you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, but for some reason you’ve read this far anyway out of blind loyalty, or strange curiosity, then let me reward your patience with some samples of Nicholas’s performances from the show. I dare you not to fall in love with this guy.