I started reading your blog last month because some of my students follow you on Instagram and said you were “cool,” but honestly, sir, you disappoint me somewhat.
Some of your writing is nothing but flippance and poor attempts at humor that is sometimes inappropriate, and even sacreligious…
The purpose of this email is to encourage you to abandon irreverence and cheap teenage humor, and stop using fragment sentences!
Do yourself proud, Sean. Emulate the great American authors of our time, and really put yourself into it. And just like I tell my students, “If you continue to work hard, you might even get a book published.”
I’m sorry if this offends you, but I tell the truth for a living,
I’m afraid you’re right about me, ma’am. I’ll admit, I’m not much of a role model. But I’d like to think I’m a nice guy. And maybe that counts for something.
You’re not alone in how you feel about me. I have a long track record of disappointing teachers.
Once, my kindergarten teacher was leading the class in singing “America the Beautiful,” and my bladder was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit.
I raised my hand.
My teacher said, “You’re gonna have to hold it.”
So I squeezed my thighs together and prayed. But by the time our class had started singing “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” I had already made a peaceful river all over the floor.
When I was in fifth grade, my teacher told me I was a hopeless writer. I won’t go into details because they don’t matter. She suggested I give up the craft altogether. So, I followed her suggestion.
I believed this woman’s opinion of me. That’s part of the unspoken agreement between educators and students—students trust those who stand before chalkboards.
And when an educator tells you that you are not enough, it does something to you.
By my teenage years, after my father had died, I was an aimless kid. I felt like an orphan. Money was tight. I had already dropped out of school—blah, blah, blah. It’s a long story.
Anyway, I hung out at the library a lot because I liked to read. And I will never forget the day a volunteer librarian approached me. I was seated at a long desk. She handed me a book by Lewis Grizzard and said, “This made me think of you, Sean.”
I read the book in three hours. Then, I went back to the library and checked out the rest of his books. I read everything he ever wrote. A hundred times over and again. He was my hero.
And more than that, he was my people. He was funny. He was irreverent. He was serious. He was honest. He was smart. He wrote short sentences. He was clever. He talked like I did. And above all, he seemed like a nice guy.
That’s what I’ve always believed good writing feels like. Like it was written by a nice person.
When I tried to return the books, the librarian wouldn’t accept them. She winked at me and said:
“Why don’t you just hold onto them? I can always order new ones.”
Those books changed the trajectory of my life. And I still own them today. In fact, I am looking at them right now, on my bookshelf.
So maybe I’m not a writer, ma’am. But then, I never claimed to be. The truth is, I know I’ll never impress anyone who is accomplished in their field, and I know I’ll never win a journalism prize. But that’s okay with me.
Because when I write, I write to an unseen fifteen-year-old in a library. A kid who needs someone to be his friend. I write to the boy without a father, who just needs a few laughs. And to the kid who still misses the dog he buried. To the person who needs to know that someone out there talks like they do—and ain’t at all ashamed of it, neither.
I’ll admit, I don’t have anything profound to say. I am not a profound man.
But Lord willing, if I do things right, my friends will have something to read when they need it. In hospital waiting rooms. On lunch breaks. After a rough day at school. Late at night, when they are exhausted from parenting. Early mornings, before getting showered for work.
I’m not a brilliant mind, I’m a terrible student, and I use sentence fragments. So you’re right about me. I am all the things you say, and more. I wish I could prove you wrong, but I can’t.
Even so, despite all my shortcomings, I do try very hard to be a nice guy.
You might try that sometime, too.
Tell your students I said “Hello.”