All-You-Can-Eat Romance

The Herscher Project’s April topic is “Food for the Soul.” I normally use food as a positive force in my literature, using it to bring people together, to experience joy, and to create comfort. However, food can also be used for so many negative things–to fill a hole caused by sorrow, to stave off boredom, to tamp down rage. I got to thinking about that plus the mindless excess in places ranging from The Cheesecake Factory to buffets like Golden Corral, places where people gorge themselves past the point of good sense.

I then began asking myself what those from the past might think about such a sight, and the line from William Wordsworth’s poem “The World is too Much With Us” came to mind. Granted, his poem bemoans the fact people were too far removed from nature and caught up in the trappings of mankind’s technological world, but I thought the statement was applicable to people simple shoveling in as much as they can without paying attention to (or perhaps enjoying) any of it. The result is the first draft you see here.

***

All-You-Can-Eat Romance

Wordsworth would be aghast, I’m sure, at the sight

of our getting and spending, our caloric rivalry of Rome.

Certainly, he’d turn up his refined Romantic nose

at sneezeguards standing sentinel between consumer

and consumed and the golden halo of heat lamps, pendulous

angels supplying warmth to an endless parade

of entrées basking in their own bain maries.

                          *

Coleridge would no doubt become his own doomed

ancient mariner, his deep musings an aesthetic albatross

around his neck as he was compelled to explain

the definition of poetry to patrons concerned

with eating all and tasting nothing. After all,

how can the masses of mass quantities

grasp the pleasure of solitude and musing

behind a frosted window pane

with two hot bars and a dessert table

left to be devoured?

                         *

Blake alone might rejoice in his idiosyncratic

heart to see a place where no children hunger

and black/white, Jew/Gentile, she/he, high/low

eat from the same deep fried cornucopia, a testament

to liberté, égalité, fraternité worthy of engraving.

But would he know the sight of such excess

could pinpoint precisely where his palace of wisdom

may be found?

Of Barren Trees and Overturned Tables

This Easter, I’ve found myself more focused on Jesus Christ and His actions during His last week on Earth. I’ve been examining them in order to glean meaning from each rather than take in the week as a collective whole. Yes, the trial, death, burial, and resurrection are indeed the most important events, but I’m coming to see that every word Christ uttered and every action that He took was meant for some purpose or to teach some lesson we must recognize and understand.

For instance, on Holy Monday, the day after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, the apostles describe Jesus performing two specific actions, both of which are of note.

    1. Cursing the fig tree that has nothing but leaves on it.
    2. Driving money lenders from the temple to cleanse it for prayer.

The Cursing of the Fig Tree (Mark 11: 12-14)

On their return to Jerusalem, Jesus is hungry and approaches a fig tree growing alongside the road. He approaches it and finds that is bears only leaves but no evidence of figs. He then says, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again,” and the tree withers and dies. This seems fairly harsh, especially in light of the evidence in the book of Matthew that “it was not the season for figs.” After all, how can a tree be expected to produce if its season is not yet come? I went in search of a discussion on this very topic and found the following in an article by F.F. Bruce in his book Hard Sayings of the Bible:

Was it not unreasonable to curse the tree for being fruitless when, as Mark expressly says, “it was not the season for figs”? The problem is most satisfactorily cleared up in a discussion called “The Barren Fig Tree” published many years ago by W. M. Christie, a Church of Scotland minister in Palestine under the British mandatory regime. He pointed out first the time of year at which the incident is said to have occurred (if, as is probable, Jesus was crucified on April 6th, A.D. 30, the incident occurred during the first days of April). “Now,” wrote Christie, “the facts connected with the fig tree are these. Toward the end of March the leaves begin to appear, and in about a week the foliage coating is complete. Coincident with [this], and sometimes even before, there appears quite a crop of small knobs, not the real figs, but a kind of early forerunner. They grown to the size of green almonds, in which condition they are eaten by peasants and others when hungry. When they come to their own indefinite maturity they drop off.” These precursors of the true fig are called taqsh  in Palestinian Arabic. Their appearance is a harbinger of the fully formed appearance of the true fig some six weeks later. So, as Mark says, the time for figs had not yet come. But if the leaves appear without any taqsh,  that is a sign that there will be no figs. Since Jesus found “nothing but leaves” – leaves without any taqsh– he knew that “it was an absolutely hopeless, fruitless fig tree” and said as much.

With a little research, the event becomes something both understandable and relevant. Jesus knew that this tree in particular bore no signs of the eventual fruit it should produce. In essence, it looked right and smelled right with its bright leaves absorbing sun and bringing people from the road to gather food from it. However, despite all the promises it made, it would produce nothing tangible and edible, nothing to feed or sustain a hungry man. As a result, Jesus curses the tree, which withers immediately.

When returning to Bethany that same evening, the apostles notice that the same tree Jesus cursed that morning has withered away. In fact, it has “dried up from the roots.” They press Him for answers as to why this is so, and He uses the moment for their edification and ours. I’ll use the passage from Matthew to illustrate this as the text is more detailed.

Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive. (Matthew 21: 20-22)

The first message is fairly obvious–pray knowing the seemingly impossible will be done with God, and that is exactly what will occur. We have a mighty power to call upon, one that quite literally move mountains if we ask for it earnestly, expecting whatever we ask of God will be done. I saw a sign recently that said something to the effect of, “Faith isn’t praying know that God can but that God will.” Simplified, yes, but there is a marked difference between the two words I’ve italicized. And I think that’s where Christians are still falling short. We don’t see those things we ask for come to fruition in a time span we find acceptable or the way we expect, and we begin to assume that God doesn’t answer our requests. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The second lesson I take from this comes when I pair it with the second action Jesus took on this day, the turning over of tables in the temple. The fig tree has not, and by all indications will not, produce fruit. Hence, it is cut off. Can the same be said for the fruitless church or the fruitless Christian? There are many who call themselves Christians and who even look, sound, dress, and act the part. However, there are many people who, like the fig tree, have only the appearance of abundant life and sustaining food without actually bearing any. Many churches and their attending bodies of believers bear beautiful “leaves”—they have stunning campuses, provide ample activities for children and families, do good works in the community such as soup kitchens, clinics, or other outreach programs, and offer a variety of classes ranging from child rearing to marriage counseling and money management. However, all of these things can be provided by a secular establishment who also seeks to do good in the name of man rather than that of God. In my mind, they are like the fig tree in that they provide things people are naturally drawn to without the substance of Christ to sustain those who come to get them.

And what is the result of this for the church or the Christian not producing the “fruit of the spirit”? Are they, too, only ready to be cursed, to wither and die at the root? The answer, I think, is yes. After all, Jesus gives a similar example during His sermon on the mount.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’(Matthew 7: 15-23)

There are several passages in the New Testament, this one included, that cause me to wince and suck air through my teeth. However, a stern warning now, one that makes me uncomfortable, is well worth it in the perspective of eternity. I would rather be reminded every time I read this passage than to forget and live a life without recognizing this truth. After all, people can do “good things” in Christ’s name without having Him anywhere near the process, which can be surprisingly easy to do, especially when we are glorified in the doing of it or when compromises are made in order to get it done.  

By cursing the fig tree that looked the part but that would never provide nourishment, Jesus is showing us all that there are both great rewards for faith and actions as well as punishments for the lack of them. This is especially poignant given the fact that in four days time, His great sacrifice would be made providing reconciliation to the Father for all those who accept Him as Savior and work to further His kingdom.

The Driving of Money Lenders from the Temple (Mark 11:15-19)

For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to this passage of scripture, which is recorded in all of the gospels except John. Jesus had visited the temple the night before and had only observed the goings-on. However, he returns the next day and does some amazing (and to a degree, unexpected) things. Firstly, he quite literally cleans house! He physically drives out those buying and selling in the outer spaces of the temple, those who used it as a market place rather than a house of worship. He also drives out the money lenders and overturns their tables. Why? Jesus was not willing to compromise concerning the use of His Father’s House.

The idea of Jesus, who most people think of as an infinitely patient teacher and leader, flipping over tables  and casting people out fills me with no small amount of pleasure. These who have defiled the temple and turned it into “a den of thieves” are put in their place by none other than the Messiah. He wasn’t afraid to upset a few silly apple carts and rework the status quo! And once the room had been cleared of all the nonsense, He gets back to work preaching and healing the blind and the crippled. People come to hear and praise Him, which irritates the chief priests and scribes to no end. (But, then again, what did He do that didn’t annoy them!?)

This, like the fig tree, is a warning to both the Jewish population to whom he is preaching but also to a modern reader. Those who use the church for their own ends–as a house of commerce rather than an act of worship, a place for changing money rather than saving souls–well, they’ll eventually have their own tables turned. After all, sin is sin, and God can tolerate it from anyone, even His own people. Especially in them.

I don’t even feel this has to be a physical stall or exchange of goods for it to be displeasing to God. Anyone who uses church to make connections, to broker businesses deals, or to craft an image that other businesspeople will trust and admire is “selling” something in the temple. Anyone who preaches with the goal of making money rather than winning souls is guilty of the same sin.

Common sense dictates that not all buying/selling is created equal. For example, kids selling cookies in a foyer to raise money for a mission trip does not fall under this category, but anything other than donations for a cause to benefit the spread of Christianity should be nixed and quickly. Despite the misquotation of the Bible, money is not evil. It can be used for great things. In fact, one of the spiritual gifts that Paul lists in 1 Corinthians is giving, and he states that anyone who can should use that gift just as preachers and teachers and exhorters do theirs. It is when it overruns a church and becomes the primary concern of a church body that Christ finds it objectionable. After all, we’re storing up our treasures in heaven, not on Earth.

Suffice it to say, the first two things Jesus did during the last week up his life are often overlooked, especially when compared to His words at the Last Supper, His actions in the garden of Gethsemane, and, of course, the events surrounding the cross. However, I can’t help but wonder that if He was angered these acts of unfaithfulness and poor service then, how much more so will His feelings be at His return? When he comes again, it will not be as the son of a carpenter, a peasant supposedly easy to try via illegal council or to be scourged and put to death while a criminal like Barabbas walks free. He will come in full splendor to claim what is rightfully His and bring home those who have been found faithful, and want nothing more than to be counted as one of that number!

Because Muffins Don’t Bitch

A co-worker and I once had a lengthy discussion about how wonderful it would be to own a bakery/coffee shop in a small town square, one where patrons came each day to get a cup of well-made joe and one or more of our homemade baked goods. In our version of the story, everyone was whistling, walking or driving to their own joyful place of business, or taking it easy on a lazy Saturday morning in our establishments, reading the paper (either in print or on their laptop…using our free WIFI access provided for customers of course!), and generally enjoying life. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? What could be better than doing something you enjoyed, something that made the lives of others more pleasurable, and then being home by 3:00 PM? After all, I could use that time to write, to participate in local theater, and to volunteer at church to help others. My time would always be spent doing something useful and that would, I’m sure, make the world a better, happier, and shinier place.

This thought was only strengthened and reinforced during a recent weekend trip to Memphis, Tennessee. Wayne and I chose to splurge and have breakfast both mornings there in a little cafe/diner known as Cockadoos rather than the cheaper and more pedestrian options like Denny’s or any analogous variations of it. While there, we gorged ourselves on chocolate chip pancakes, cathead biscuits and sausage gravy, a pulled pork omelette, sweet potato hash browns, and a Memphis special known as “The Shag”–an Elvis inspired dish made with two pieces of French toast filled with peanut butter and bananas and topped with whipped cream and blueberries.

I can’t imagine what kind of dietary seppuku I committed that weekend by beginning each day with the food there, but I didn’t care. (Granted the other places we frequented–Gus’ Fried Chicken, the Rendezvous, and the Peabody Hotel bakery among others–likely didn’t help either!) It tasted great, the service was fantastic, and we were able to mingle with locals and fellow visitors before our day began.

Just click on the link and look at the place; I dare you. From the decor to the food to the attitude, this is exactly the kind of place I’d like to own and run each day for both breakfast and lunch. Everyone there was happily working, eating, and talking, including the kitchen and wait staff!

Oh, and did I mention that the place was completely and utterly PACKED both mornings!? Really, I think they bordered on a fire hazard on Saturday because there were so many people sitting around waiting to eat or who were engaged in the act at a table or at the bar. The place is making money; it has to be. Imagine that!? They simply use their creativity and work ethic to create a pleasing place filled with quality food, and people reward them as we did–by becoming repeat customers and spreading the word to others. There’s something beautiful to that for someone in my situation. Their rewards are immediate and tangible after all. People pay them in cash and in praise for their efforts, and as long as the results are the same each time, that cycle of unmitigated awesomeness will continue to repeat itself into perpetuity.

The thought is positively intoxicating and leaves me high on a sugar and blueberry fueled endorphin rush each and every time I allow myself a moment to think about it. And that isn’t often. I liken it to a bright bird in a pet store left looking out the shop window at its fellow aviary friends happily eating birdseed under a park bench. Why think about something you can never have or torture yourself with dreams about life outside the bars that define your world? Paul Laurence Dunbar captured the impulse perfectly in his poem “Sympathy” in which he, as a black man in a white world, identifies with a creature that’s told it must deny its innermost self and be content with its restrictive lot. Granted, I am by no means oppressed. I do not live in fear of lynchings or of being barred from doing something because I’m X instead of Y. However, I do understand the concept of a gilded cage. I am relatively safe–my job makes me a solid living, I occupy an apartment in safe (albeit painfully vanilla and WASP infested) town, and I am never required to go without basic needs like food and clothing. Do I have everything I want? No. But I cannot complain, and that is why I feel truly guilty each time I do.

At the risk of sounding like Quint in the town hall meeting in Jaws, “You all know me, know what I do for a living…” Yes, I teach, and I do so in a place where I am the living embodiment of a fifth wheel. In a nutshell, I teach English in a technical college. Please know that I am a firm supporter of the technical college system; I think it is a valuable place for an ever-growing populace in America. People who come here get training for work that more Americans need to be doing if we ever want to get back to our roots as a nation, one that knows how to get things handled and make things that last. Our soul is in that which is technical.

However, ENG 1101 and 1102, the two classes I teach, are often the barrier that stands between them and that job training. Often, I am nothing more to them than a hinderance and a nuisance, something that must be checked off a required list of classes, and that, I must say, can sometimes be hard on someone who does love the subject. Yes, there are many students who enjoy my classes and who thank me in some small way for my help over the course of a quarter, but they are rare. There are a great deal more who come to me with only complaints, excuses, and threats than there are with praise and thanks. I work long hours grading, lecturing, and handling other forms of paperwork and minutiae that I don’t plan on elaborating on here. (That’s a blog for another time.) In short, I make a living, but I rarely feel alive in my chosen career. More often than not, I’m going through the motions and trying to do the best I can.

Is there any wonder then in the fact that I often fall prey to the siren song of my imaginary muffins sitting on the shelf in my equally ephemeral cafe? After all, as I’ve said to others, muffins don’t bitch. They don’t send you to pointless meetings or require you to earn continuing education credits; they don’t question your motives or your knowledge and why they need it. Muffins simply wait in their elemental form for you to mix them in the correct proportions and slip them in to rise, like gooey fruit and chocolate filled phoenixes, from their own floury ashes.

I know what you’re thinking–Jamie, you’re not thinking of the early mornings, the customer complaints, or the other problems ranging from product delivery to paperwork and taxes. Your glass is unfairly half full. And you’d be right–I’ve worked in a restaurant, but I have little knowledge as to how to actually run one effectively. And I am certain that if I did undertake such a business now that it would be doomed to failure no matter how good my recipes were or how cheerfully I crafted them. I am a realist in this regard. However, as Jane Eyre says in the novel by Charlotte Brontë:

I desired liberty; for liberty I gasped; for liberty I uttered a prayer; it seemed scattered on the wind then faintly blowing. I abandoned it and framed a humbler supplication; for change, stimulus: that petition, too, seemed swept off into vague space: ‘Then,’ I cried, half desperate, ‘grant me at least a new servitude!’

In this scene, Jane has been working for eight years as a teacher at Lowood School where she herself was taught, and as she looks out the window of her room to an open road, one she has never travelled, she begins to think of a new career as a governess. Like her, I’m not asking for perfection, for true freedom to be whatever I wish whenever I wish it. I only desire a change of scenery, a new world of work built on different expectations and principles that I can use to challenge myself and see just how successful I can be.

Accepting Rejection

Now that I’ve re-committed myself to writing, I decided that I needed a goal, something tangible to work towards as I write. Therefore, I chose to keep submitting work until I get something published. In March, I sent out approximatley ten pieces for consideration, some of which will take months to finally get back to me. Some were for paying contests and others for magazines/journals that publish electronically, in print, or both. So far, in about thirty days, three of those submissions, all fiction, have come back rejected.

Naturally, my first thought was to feel sorry for myself. However, after reading an interesting article from Simon Haynes, author of the Hal Spacejock series, I felt a little better. (The article in question can be read here.)  According to him, there are levels of rejection ranging from “Holy crap, go learn grammar and spelling” to “This doesn’t fit what we’re looking for right now.” In essence, not all rejections are created equal. I decided to take my rejection letters and look at them individually to see where I fell on his pyramid of doom.

Rejection Letter #1–ASIM Magazine

(Story Submitted–“Thirteenth Colony”)

Thank you for submitting to Andromeda Spaceways. Sadly, we find that we can’t use your submission at this stage. Thank you again, and we hope to hear from you in the future. Notes from the readers—“I liked the theme, but it needs some development. Perhaps more about the twin sisters with the powers?”—Hope that’s of some help, and better luck next time!

Okay, judging by the feedback I got, which was actually somewhat personalized, I’m willing to bet I’m in the better half of the rejection pyramid. They liked the work and actually stated that the theme was good. They got the central commentary of the story I was trying to get across. They didn’t say it was “dull and derivative” or “poorly written.” They simply wanted to see more about the twin sisters with the powers. Perhaps I was over focused on the theme and the development of my main character, a man who is searching for redemption and finds it with the love of a Seminole woman. The power twins were actually created during my research of Seminole culture. They feared twins because they believed that if the two stayed together, they could control things like weather, people, or animals. Perhaps I could go back and redevelop this piece, putting more emphasis on the fantasy/sci-fi aspect of the work and submit it to another genre magazine like this one. Another piece I’ve written, one with more details that a fantasy/sci-fi reader is interested in, might even have been accepted. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Rejection Letter #2–Slice Magazine

(Story Submitted–“House of Dreams”)

Thanks so much for giving us the opportunity to consider your work for Slice. Due to the high volume of submissions we receive, we regret that we aren’t able to respond to each submission personally. We’ve been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work that we’ve received. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to include your piece in our next issue of Slice. We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though, so please do continue submitting to us. —Best wishes, The Editors

I quote Dori from Finding Nemo when she’s attempting to translate whale—“This one’s a liiiittttlleee bit tougher.” Slice is a larger magazine, one published for a more broad based, artisitic market. I truthfully never expected to get in there at all, but the submission was closing soon and was free to do, so I took a crack at it. They admit to a higher volume of submissions, hence no personal feedback from their editors/readers. That’s typical from what I’ve experienced. However, this one has a light at the end of the tunnel according to Mr. Haynes–and maybe, just maybe, it isn’t a speeding train. They say they’ve “been thoroughly impressed by the quality of the work” they’ve read, which seems to say that there’s a lot of good work coming into them and that mine simply wasn’t fitting for their taste. Also, I have to consider the fact that this piece is one of my older ones and could probably benefit from further development and editing. Perhaps with a more solid story, I might have made it through to the next round.

They close with the nugget of text I like that says “We’d love to consider more of your work in the future, though.” My hope is that they have different form letters they send out to cover writers in all levels of the pyramid and that this, too, shows that I am in the top tier of it, mere inches away from that glorious golden pinnacle at the top. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it; perhaps they send this same letter to people like me who take the craft seriously and people writing Twilight fan fiction in which Jacob gets Bella and Edward glitters his way to a miserable death in the second book. I don’t know. Again, I’m hoping for the former.

Rejection Letter #3–Camera Obscura Journal

 (Story Submitted–“Put Out the Light”)

Thanks so much for letting us read your work. We do so appreciate your interest in the Camera Obscura Journal and that you chose to entrust your story with us. Unfortunately, this story was not chosen for publication. Given the number of submissions, we must decline many worthy stories. We wish you much success with your writing. Thanks again, The Editors

This one says much the same as the rejection letter for Slice Magazine, that I wasn’t selected in a rather generic kind of way. Again, the high number of submissions is mentioned as a cause for a lack of personal feedback, but I don’t get the same positive vibe off of this one as I did the previous one. Maybe it’s the “we decline many worthy stories” doesn’t sit as well with me, or perhaps the “We wish you much success with your writing” rings a little more hollow than the “We’d like to read more of your stuff in the future” did. I could be wrong on this, but I think this story scored the lowest of the three, which is ironic because it is the newest of the three rejected so far, the one most indicative of what I’m capable of as a writer. I actually like this one a great deal though it is rather sad in nature. Again, perhaps, I’m just guilty of sending the wrong kind of piece to the right place or vice versa. I’m still learning the ins and outs of the publishing game, and I have a feeling that with a bit more targeting, I can get something going this year.

I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice from other writers out there who either are in the same situation as I or who have made it to the top and have published something recently. Am I on track, or am I overthinking it? Please leave comments and let me know!

It’s the Write Thing to Do

I know times are tough and that everyone is going to have to tighten his or her financial belt a little in the coming years if our country is to remain solvent and prosperous. Therefore, as a fiscal conservative, I am normally all for the cutting of programs that are wasteful and produce nothing beneficial for the country, and I’ll be the first to admit there are arts based programs out there that are either wasteful or, in the case of PBS and NPR, are profit-making entities that no longer need our tax dollars to thrive. The National Writing Project, however, is not one of those. I attended this summer institute in 2001 when I was a first year teacher with a head full of ideas and a zen passion for writing and reading, and I later returned as a presenter, a technology liaison, and a writing group leader. Performing all those functions, I was able to put the lessons I’d learned after another year of teaching back into the program in order to help teachers both newer and younger than myself grow in the profession.

The Blackwater Writing Project, the branch I worked with, was amazingly responsible with its funding and found ways to save money and use it effectively at all points during the summer institutes. This is the kind of behavior that should be rewarded rather than slated for the chopping block like all other wasteful programs. Also, unlike so many programs funded by tax dollars, the NWP actually provided results for teachers and their students. It encouraged writing across the disciplines and allowed writing teachers the chance to directly instruct those who are experts in science, math, history, and other fields on the best methods for including writing in their classrooms. Rather than generic lessons given by a state or federal training program, teachers who wanted to do a better job in their classrooms were given specific instruction from teachers who had tried new techniques in classrooms much like theirs. The instruction was targeted and practical, and after a two-week period in the NWP, many “non-English” teachers have begun to utilize writing and enhance student learning with it.

I recently found an op-ed piece by Dana Giola at the Boston Globe regarding the importance of reading and writing and its decline in the teenage population of this country. She touches on several key benefits of literacy and writing including increased problem solving skills, increased creativity, and even increased social and civic awareness and participation. It seems obvious, therefore, that students must be told about the importance of reading and writing to their overall education, but without programs like the NWP, teachers will be ill-equipped to show students just how essential and beneficial both truly are. If we have a passion for it, it comes through in what we do. Students see it, and whether or not they admit to this truth, they respond to it. The NWP helps teachers gain that confidence and joy that is needed to motivate students in this new electronic age, and, for that reason alone, it should be given continued funding.

On a personal note, the first summer I spent in the NWP sparked a fire for creative writing in my life. Because of the support and guidance I received from amazing teachers like Dr. Donna Sewell, Dr. Chere Peguesse, and Mr. Adam Hathaway of the Blackwater Writing Project, I began to write, and I have continued to progress in that area ever since. I am now currently working on a novel of my own, I teach creative writing classes to students and adults in my area, and I participate in online writing groups such as The Herscher Project, a group of fellow scribblers from around the world who support one another in their literary and artistic endeavors. I might never have known that part of me was there had it not been for the Blackwater Writing Project at Valdosta State University.

In short, I am a firm believer in accountability, and I’ll be the first to run through the 2011 federal budget with a machete in an attempt to bring our country back to financial solvency. However, to say that all of the programs out there that relate to the arts or eduction need to be cut is not the best way to spend our money wisely. The National Writing Project, and several other programs like it, deserve continued funding and support from communities and the government in order to continue preparing teachers, those people on the front lines who have the best chance of creating productive and thoughtful citizens for the future.