This year at Thanksgiving, I am very thankful for so many things. I am especially thankful that I can read and write. It’s something that many of us take for granted, but it has always been precious to me. I learned at an early age. My Uncle Ed and mother took the time to teach me the basics of reading before I went to kindergarten.
Growing up on a small farm, I often read the many books in our library long after everyone had gone to bed. A traveling salesman had convinced my family to buy a subscription to a “classics of the month” deal. We received a leather-bound volume of Dickens, Twain and even Shakespeare every month. Each book had gold-edged pages and felt like a real treasure. The stories in those books became friends to a geeky little kid who spent way too much time alone.
A love of reading soon evolved into a love of writing. I got my first typewriter, a brand-new Smith Corona beauty, when I was in 6th grade. Almost every day, I would be upstairs in my third-floor sanctuary, writing the next great essay or American novel. It was on this marvelous machine that I wrote the “adult stories” that I sold to the newsprint precursor to Screw Magazine. Not too shabby for a 16-year-old. I also started writing for several newspapers in the area.
In school I learned the basics of grammar and composition. Quite a few teachers played a role in teaching me how to put words together. But it was one teacher in High School who taught me about the beauty and power of words. His name was Rodman Smith. He was my English teacher as well as the founder and editor of our high school newspaper.
Mr. Smith taught by example. He had to stick to state mandated lesson plans, but added real value to the class in English he taught. He is one of the 4 teachers I had that truly taught me to think. Among the many things he taught me was an appreciation of poetry. Between the “naughty stories” I was selling and the puppet shows I performed (yes, I even had an “adult show,” nothing like puppet sex), I was making pretty good money. I spent a lot of it buying books at a very cool bookstore in Glassboro, NJ. One book about Haiku really changed the way I looked at writing – less is more.
I recently reconnected with Mr. Smith. He had a pretty amazing career helping students appreciate the English language and making sure that students and teachers had the tools they needed for the task. He told me that he used a line from a poem I wrote in high school as an example of what a young person can do if properly inspired. I am so proud of that.
During my career in advertising and then QVC, I often thought about Mr. Smith and the impact he had on my life and career. So far, I’ve had 4 books published and have written film scripts and jingles for some of the biggest companies in the world. Today, although it’s taking longer than I would have liked to get them to major artists, I’m writing what I think are some excellent and meaningful songs.
One song in particular, has a tie in with what I learned from Mr. Smith. The opening couplet may well be the best words I’ve ever written.
“There’s just one God in Heaven,
But we call him different names.”
From Mr. Smith, I learned that words have to enthrall, entertain and, hopefully, educate the reader or audience. That’s what I was going for in this song that I call “Just One.” I plan to pitch it in Nashville. The market for “meaningful” songs has all but disappeared these days. But anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t shy away from difficult things. The simple guitar and voice demo has over 460 views in about a week.
I am so grateful for great friends, a terrific (and beautiful) wife, a couple of world class dogs and a lazy cat. I am also grateful for dedicated and talented teachers like Mr. Smith, who is one the main reasons I could write this.
May God bless you and your family on this Holiday Season. And never forget the second couplet in the song:
“Just one kind of people,
Many faces, all the same.”
(Here’s a link to the guitar/voice demo of the song:)