In Correspondence

Dear Blog,

Thanks for the congrats on the golf tournament.  It was just a dinky men's association tournament at the Pines.  Another player and I both shot a +3 70, but I ended up with second place because of a "match of cards," meaning whoever shot lower on the back nine won.  I still count it as a W, or I guess as a T1.  Teeing off at 7:30 a.m., the conditions were wet, windy, cold, and rainy.  Basically miserable.  But in a perverse way I enjoyed the four hours of exposure to morning rain that looked and felt like snow flurries.  My equipment was all wet, my feet in their sandal cleats and saturated socks were freezing, and I cursed and complained harder and more sincerely than I have in years.  The utter miserableness of the round brought with it something of a stunning realness, an inescapable and persistently pounding nowness that tested me to really stay present with myself.  Many players quit in the middle of the round, but I stuck it out, fought and battled hard, and got my first W in one of these tournaments in almost two years.  A long dry spell for a former club champ.

So yeah, I guess you could say I'm very committed to golf.  I was the most committed in 2007 and the first half of 2008. My instructor Rodney, who was missing an ear (but that's not why he was a good instructor), would video tape my swing and load the footage on the computer and compare me to pro swings, so I'd know exactly where the club should be at every position in the swing.  I'd practice for hours on end every day and played all the time.  I was so wrapped up in golf that after a good round I'd be extremely happy and satisfied and riding a high that carried over into my everyday life.  But whenever I played below my potential (which all golfers eventually realize happens most of the time) my life would suck and I'd hate everything and feel like a failure, even off the golf course.  I was super-competitive and had some good finishes in some good tournaments, but wasn't very happy otherwise.  And I had dreamed of being a professional golfer since I was a kid, so I figured the way to get happy was to practice more and get better, but it just led to more frustration and a worsened self-perception.

But at some point in 2010--I was reading a lot of books on tape about happiness, satisfaction, and personal awakening--I became aware of the commanding influence golf had over my life and I quit playing.  Didn't touch my clubs or even want to for about four months.  I decided to be happy and satisfied no matter what state my golf game was in, and I had some sort of pleasureful artistic explosion.  I rechanneled all that energy I had put into golf into finding the positive and beautiful in my life, and I found a lot of it.  On an impulse, I started painting.  That June, I threw myself a birthday party and all of Orlando and Winter Park came.  We painted our own name tags and party hats, and everyone got hand-painted gift bags with bouncy balls and thumb wrestlers.  I had set up the fake Christmas tree and we all decorated it with our paintings, and I bought these flashy letters one thumb tacks together and hung a banner in the living room that said "WELCOME TO YOUR PARTY."  And people were using the extra letters to make messages of their own.  I had also bought a bag of little plastic gold "winner" medallions on red white and blue necklaces--there were 23 of them--and very late in the evening I took them off the tree one by one and gave them to people and declared them "winners."  One friend, Randy, when I deemed him a winner looked up and said, "I feel so good about myself right now!" and I'm sure he meant it.  After the party some people hung the winners medals from their rear-view mirrors and those medallions might be hanging there today.  Oh, and there was keg beer.

A few months later, must've been fall by this point, I got a hankering to play some golf.  Not to go out and practice all day and play a money match or enter a tournament, but to just hit some balls on the range and roll some putts and play a few holes.  Plus at this time I was meditating using this book Quantum Consciousness by Stephen Wolinsky (who, by the way, on youtube looks exactly like the caveman from the Geico commercials--"I'll have the roast duck with the mango chutney") which outlines findings in the field of quantum physics and applies it to psychology and leads you through about 100 exercises where you close your eyes and wait for the first thought to come and notice its size, shape, color, composition, etc.  And you do the same with your feelings and emotions, identifying their dimensions and unique qualities.  I would wake up every morning during this time, make my coffee, and inch my way through the chapters and exercises of this book.  By the end I could identify thoughts as they came in my mind, disperse the ones I didn't like, relish in the ones I did, and as a result be present in body and mind.  When I went back to the golf course I was never more aware of exactly what I was doing while hitting a golf shot.  I could shut out every negative thought and distraction and tell myself "hit it straight," or "roll it in the hole," and watch and feel myself do it.  I entered a tournament soon after and, even though I didn't win, played really well and shot even par and placed third, which exceeded everyone's expectations for a guy who hadn't played in four months.  And ever since, when I get bored or frustrated and don't feel like playing, or just plain suck, I go home and don't think about golf anymore.

So those are my thoughts about being seriously committed to golf.  I've come to a point where I try to commit myself more to happiness than excellence, and an organic excellence often follows unsullied by contrivance.  My mantra nowadays is "play for fun."  If I'm not having fun on the course, I either shouldn't be there that day or am drifting back under that cloud where my golf ambitions have wrested control of my happiness.  But I also say that playing good golf is among the most fun I've ever had in my life.  And playing bad golf isn't a whole lot of fun, and I've got a lot of pride invested in my game.  So I still practice and work on my swing (I think my swing is better today than it ever has been--it's the short game that suffers when you don't play much) because doing so will result in lots of fun when I play.  I've lost a bit of my competitive edge but gained a ton of perspective.  And I've come to terms with the fact that I probably won't become a professional golfer, but my other boyhood dream was to become a writer, so I think my boyhood self would be very satisfied with where I'm at today.  (As for my 22-year-old self, I'm not sure.)

And Blog, that might be more than you wanted to know about my experiences with new age spirituality.  These days I take a bit more skeptical approach to their philosophies, like I'm not sure you can really think things into existence, or that by not paying attention to the negative aspects of life they disappear--sometimes they fester and grow large and unmanageable.  Plus many subscribers to the new age movement think shit's going down in 2012 and I just can't subscribe to that.  I recently read Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich which presents a valuable perspective on how the capitalist machine fuels the movement, and how "Positive Thinking" is based on empty promises and untenable science, but I can't completely agree with her either.  For me, authors like Chopra, Gawain, Dyer, and even Julia Cameron gave me a spiritual anchor in an otherwise existential existence.  Though science doesn't support their claims, that sort of perspective adjustment was valuable for me.  And after reading Wolinsky's book, I more in control of what I think, feel, and believe.  So many people go through life awash in a sea of thoughts, and everyone berates themselves in their heads, but some people learn how not to submit to the berating.  If one can objectively examine the composition of consciousness, approaching unfounded but time-tested principles with the proper skepticism, then one can identify what elements of life--for me golf--influence one's happiness.  And I think now that commitment to happiness rather than commitment to excellence will result in plentiful amounts of both.


The Continuum of Holiday Joy

As I’ve advanced to a certain age in life, I’ve found the need to define within myself the kind of person I am, and choose to be, when fumbling through the holiday season.  This time of year between Thanksgiving and January 1 provides copious opportunities to prove oneself as an arrant grouch with a distaste for brotherhood and festivity, or a lighthearted redeemer whose cup runneth over with merriment and charity.  One must know where one stands on this continuum of holiday joy. 
When confronted with Salvation Army supplicants jangling their bells outside the grocery store, do you scowl and push your way through as one of society’s extreme grouches?   Do you smile humbly and politely before averting your eyes and dropping your head as you journey forth toward the automatic doors plastered with red candy canes and green mistletoe which you hope to god will open for one with such a piteous soul as yours, joining the middle-ground majority who endures such abasement one month out of twelve?  Or are you among the charitable Messiahs who greet the bell-ringer with a smile, a handshake, and a hug; one of those gregarious redeemers who open their pockets in repentance for the rest of our selfish lot and reside at the extreme reveler end of the spectrum?  Where do you stand?
How do you react when the woman rings up your groceries, a grandma with grey hair, immaculate makeup, and a decadent sweater says “Merry Christmas” through her dentures, especially emphasizing Christmas while thinking of herself as a soldier in the army of Christian preservation in the increasingly heathenized battleground of America?
Do you reply: “Happy secular holiday celebration of your own choosing indeed” with a righteous and smirky smile while the bag boy loops the plastic handles around your fingers?
Does she answer: “May God bless you, sir” with raised and ostensibly cheerful eyebrows shadowed with Christmas red, while the corners of her mouth shrink in and betray an underlying disgust for your kind? 
After which do you say, “I wasn’t aware that I had sneezed” and body check the Salvation Army supplicant as you barrel toward your car? 
You really ought to know these things about yourself.
If you attempt to go about your life’s normal routine during the holiday season—shopping for groceries, putting gas in your car, attending satanic cult gatherings—without a firm grasp of your holiday personality profile, you’ll encounter people who demand from you a certain holly-jolly demeanor, and instead of responding with a self-respecting reaction of your pre-choosing, you’ll find yourself awash in a sea of societal expectations and may feel like Dylan’s Joker who says, “There’s too much confusion / I can’t get no relief.”  Conversely, if you’ve defined yourself along the continuum of holiday joy, you’ll maintain your integrity in those build-up days of normal life and requisite sacrifice to the capitalist machine of consumerism, and (please excuse the Christian exclusivism here--I can only write what I know) thrive in those climactic moments of holiday festivity: the Thanksgiving dinner, the company holiday party, Christmas Eve, Christmas morning, New Year’s Eve, each celebration demanding you be on your game as the most compelling version of your festive self.  You’ll follow Bill Shakespeare’s impertinent counselor’s directive, “To thine own self be true,” as you don a consistent comportment to endure the season and wield a game-plan for the big events.  No longer will holiday expectation catch you off guard, because you'll know for yourself just how much to grouch, and how much to revel.


Been Looking for This

Found this list I made in Spring 2010. The heading is "Plan for Summer Tournaments," and it breaks down what I would need to compete in amateur golf tournaments, and the costs.


New Driver, $400
New 3-Wood, $250
New 18-Degree Hybrid, $180
Checking the lofts and lies on my irons, $75
Regripping my irons, $75
Two new wedges, $300


Three dozen ProV1 golf balls, $150
10 gloves, $100
New pair of FootJoys, $100
100 bags of range balls, $350


Weekly sessions for four months with Randy, my faithful instructor, $1000
Book stipend, $100
(I think Phil's Secrets of the Short Game had just come out. If anyone's looking for a Christmas present...)


Weekly skins games at the Pines, $500 (with, of course, the probability that I'd get some of that money back)
Six Men's Golf Association tournaments at the Pines, $240 (to keep my competitive juices flowing; and, again, with the hope of getting some of that money back)
Five events on the Moonlight Tour, $600 (no guarantees there--all for sake of experience)
Five other tournaments, $750 (these are the biggies like the Orlando City Amateur, The Pub Links qualifier, qualifier for the U.S. Amateur, etc. These are the tournaments where you play for pride and accomplishment alone.)

Total: $5,000. Which means, of course, that amateurs need sponsors (and they can't be wearin' no logos on their shirts), or to come from a rich family. Anyone want to help me make a run in 2011?


Randy Newman

Last night I dreamt
That You and I
Sang a Randy Newman tune.
If I could only remember
Who was the You,
And which song we sung,
I'd give a call
And ask You whether
Or not You knew that one.


Feelin' Golfy

I keep coming back to this post and adding more, always wandering farther away from the point I'm trying to make about the cost and difficulty of playing competitive amateur golf. I guess I've got a lot to say before I get there, so I'm posting this as-is with the intent of continuing the thread when the mood strikes me. One day, I'll get it said.

In a posting a few months ago I mentioned a plan to play competitive golf over the summer of 2010. And while I ultimately chose not to act on this plan, I still think back to it from time to time and imagine what that undertaking would entail, the sacrifices it would have taken, and the joys I would have felt by plying myself to that task. I am of the mind that hard work and dedication toward a worthy goal with a solid plan will always pay off in one way or another. And this was a good plan.

During the spring of 2010 when I was between Chicago and NorCal, languishing in Orlando, not quite sure where travel and grad school would land me come summer or fall, I fell back into the routine of playing golf a few times a week. Often, the rust would show and my game felt weak from the atrophy of not playing; but other times, when the drives came off straight and long, the irons flew the right distance, the short game shone and the putts rolled in, I allowed myself to ruminate on claiming further golfing glory. 2007 was the last time I really "hit it hard," as they (I) say, and found some success on the golf course. These days I feel like I'm a better player--more consistent in the bad rounds and shooting lower scores on the good rounds, with a better demeanor all around--but I just don't play as much as I did three years ago.

Back then, I had just graduated from college, had a job in the cart barn at Winter Pines Golf Course, and a job serving tables that was very lucrative, especially since I had minimal monthly expenses. Having the job at the golf course meant I could play free any time I wanted and had access to unlimited range balls. At first, I wasn't all that good, but I was capable of hitting the odd brilliant shot--always enough to keep me coming back. I spent countless hours on the practice tee in the humid Florida climate, banging balls into the damp, heavy air, sweat soaking through my hat and saturating my shirt and shorts, until a manageable and repeatable ball flight began to take shape (high and to the right, but consistent, like Bruce Lietzke). On the practice green, I spent whole afternoons bent over putts, playing games with myself to keep the practice interesting, while the sun beat down on the back of my neck, arms and legs, giving me the best farmer's tan of my life. I became a solid and intimidating putter, and other good players at the course began to take notice of me and my game. Soon enough, I was playing money matches against those players, and having success.

I possessed a steely drive and a focus on winning. Nothing proved more fun than playing good golf, especially in the company of other good golfers. After about nine months in the cart barn, I quit. It became apparent to me that I could make much more money serving tables and working less hours, meaning I would have more time for golf. Plus, I could maintain my playing privileges at the course as I had made friends with everyone who worked in the pro shop. Those afternoons under blue Florida skies, with access the all the carts and all the holes, playing with frenemies of roughly equal skill and age, having money to gamble, a degree in my pocket, and no responsibilities, gave me experiences that I count among the most fun I've ever had in my life. Sometimes I'd laugh and smile so hard my cheekbones hurt. Then I'd step up to the tee and slam a power fade out in the fairway, take some ribbing from my competitors who swore a draw was the correct way to play, and hole a putt to take the money. Or watch them hole a putt to take my money. Either way, it was fun as hell.

Every Friday, the Pines hosts a skins game. It's a two-man scramble with everyone throwing $18 in the pot. I played in the game every week, and my putting prowess made me a good partner for anyone. Often times these skins games boil down to a putting contest, and a good putter always proves a good partner. With such a short course, and with the scramble format, every group should have a bunch of looks at birdie and eagle. The winning team holes those putts. My pool of friends at the course grew from the cart barn and others in their early twenties to the senior players, the dirty old men who play every Friday because of a rule allowing players of their advanced ages to play from the ladies tees, therefore hitting wedges into the par 4's, and even 5's. After the game they sit in front of the clubhouse, telling stories that grow more perverted with the more Miller Lite's they down, which they tote around in plastic bags full of ice .

"That Michelle is one hot piece of ... somethin'," J.B. would say, his pin-striped shirt tucked into his knickers, his hat a fancied-up version of what Gilligan wore.I went to high school with Michelle, who was always a good looker, and was taking lessons from the pro at the Pines.  J.B. had about 40 years on her, but he wasn't concerned about the age discrepancy. Without shame, he played those neon green golf balls with the translucent covers designed for extra-slow swing speeds to hit the ball an extra-bit farther. But they feel like rocks on the green. Trading distance off the tee for touch around the green is a sure indication of a player more concerned with flash and glam--i.e. hitting it farther--than he is about getting the ball in the hole.  J.B.'s  swing was sort of an up and down karate chop, followed by a pirouette finish way up on his toes, head held high to track the ball. Often, he'd mishit his shot and scuttle it along the ground, turning away in disgust.

"Boy is she," J.B.'s skins partner Bob would reply with a shaky voice, a sufferer of Essential Tremors. "She is one hot number." Not only his voice, but his hands would act up as he tried to tee up the ball. In those moments, we'd sit patiently in the cart beside the ladies tee box, trying not to stare as the ball fell off again and again. And again. Finally, as his big, old body leaned over the ground, his hand flapping like the American flag flying from the pro shop, the ball finally, almost by accident, or by the law of averages, found its perch atop the tee. Bob stepped back and, in a fluid whoosh recalling none of the tremors moments earlier, smacked the ball down the fairway, positioning his team inside 150 yards on the par five, whereas my partner and I after good drives from the back tees looked at a 200 yard approach. Ridiculous.

"I'll tell you what's wrong with Obama's plan," I heard Jerry Keene say as I putted on the practice green one day in front of the 19th hole. "And this is the reason--" his voice failed and, cigarette in one hand, Miller Lite in the other, he hacked up for a moment, clearing his throat. "--The reason he won't get elected." The rest of the old bastards nodded their heads in unison. Jerry could really play, though. One Friday he and I paired up and shot nine under on the front, taking home the whole pot.

And Lionel. Oh god. You've never seen a golf course regular more difficult to look at. He smoked cigarettes constantly, and his teeth had become crooked and yellow, though he showed them often as he seemed to carry out a comedy routine from the moment he got out of his car. "You ready to play 18 holes of championship golf today? Well I'm sorry you have to play here." He had a wide, sagging gut which hung out over his chicken legs; his shorts came way up above his knees; and skinny, wrinkled arms. But he could make a foursome laugh like none other. When he found his comedy groove, those one-liners could lighten the mood, and you began to forgive him for his gangrenous appearance. You know, I kind of miss that guy.

I befriended those old bastards, and other characters around the course. Ranger Randy, who collected the beer cans from the bastards and the rest of the players on the course, took them home, bagged them up, and recycled them for money, became my friend. He took endless ribbing for his can collecting, but everyone knew the last laugh was his. It's amazing to see just how many beer cans one of the most-played golf courses in the United States can go through in a day, a week, a month. If you asked him he'd tell you he payed off his truck with those cans. He also used to shoot his age a couple times a year, for which he received no ribbing, rather adulation. Few of these adulators had actually seen him play, however. And I knew that a man who hit a persimmon driver, from tee, rough, or fairway, from any yardage beyond 140 couldn't really shoot his age. I would often remind him that the par was 67, and not until she shot four or five below his age could he really have something to brag about.  Boy was I a bastard.

Then again, I could spend thousands of works telling you about the characters I befriended at Winter Pines. There was the maintenance crew, the ladies behind the snack bar, mini tour players, the high school golf team, odd hackers and good players always eager for a friendly, competitive game on the course or on the practice green. The atmosphere of the Pines truly mirrors a social club, and I can always go back and rejoin that community, but I may never be the player I was in in 07-08 when I was there daily playing free of cost and free of care.


Seger's Midnight Reflections

I wrote this a while back, originally intending it as an article for my self-published column which morphed into this blog. But I think this essay has seen its final edit. Seger just wrenches my heart out.  Plus I love his use of the word "unencumbered" in "Like a Rock." Enjoy. 

Seger’s Midnight Reflections

When you ask a group of mixed company their opinions about Bob Seger, you elicit a variety of reactions. Some toss him in the rubbish bin of Americana machismo, writing him off as a commercialized hit machine, a sell-out whose main quest is accumulating wealth.  For proof, just look to Chevrolet’s advertising campaign using “Like a Rock,” as the soundtrack and Metallica’s uninventive cover of “Turn the Page.” 

Others might appreciate the depth and variety of his music, which ranges from hard-driving rock and roll standards like “Old Time Rock'n'Roll” and “C’est La Vie,” to his lyrical 70’s ballads like “Mainstreet” and “We’ve Got Tonight,” to evocative praises of youth in America like “Against the Wind” and “Night Moves.”

However, most people tend to overlook one of Seger’s greatest assets: his lyricism. Now I know what you’re saying: “What? Seger has lyricism? You’re shittin’ me, right?” But I shit you not. Seger is a master lyricist, especially when handling longings of the human spirit, remembrances wrought by moonlight, and moments when visions of the past come crashing into his protagonist's mind.

Take “Night Moves” for example. After establishing those three compelling chords and launching into some romantic recollecting, Seger says in a hushed musical moment, “Woke last night to the sound of thunder / How far off, I sat and wondered / Started humming a song from 1962 / Ain’t it funny how the night moves.” The distant thunder pierces the composition like a siren, becoming an inescapable reminder of the good times Seger's narrator now relives only through memory. The thunder represents the brevity of youth clapping loud and strong, sounding out over the land, then fading slowly and inexorably back into the darkness. The night becomes a time in which one remembers, feels weaker and less able. The light fades and only memories remain. 

In “Like a Rock,” a slow song dripping with melancholy, Seger's speaker details his life as a young man “sweatin’ in the sun.” He depicts his former youth as strong and purposeful, idolizing his past self with a wistful yearning to inhabit that spirited body once again. But the narrator, growing weaker and more uncertain with each passing year, can only relive those past glories in memories wrought by the darkness: “And sometimes late at night / When I bathe in the firelight / The moon comes callin’ a ghostly white / And I recall / I recall.” In this song, the recollection inspired by firelight and the ghostly moon serves as the profound dilemma, recalling a tortuous but somehow soothing image of an idealized past. With “I recall,” the vocals rise, the drums roll, the chorus kicks in, and the listener remembers something of their own selves, something the rigors and perils of time stole from them along the way. Recollecting becomes profundity, the stuff of subjective reality, in Seger’s lyrical universe. 

Seger’s best moments of lyricism lie in the ephemerality of youth, the lusting after those days of strength and beauty, and the yearning to be young again. He renders our souls in the darkest hours of the night, the wind, rain and thunder sounding outside the window, as we long for a distant past in which we lived and loved and felt alive. We realize, in these moments of midnight reflection, that we can never live so vigorously, so deliberately again. To Seger, our younger selves inhabit a space of possibility and enchantment; those memories portray a world with more color, fullness, vigor, and vibrancy than present or future.  And only when we’ve burned through our youths can we appreciate those fleeting moments of strength and beauty, of will and courage, of risk-taking and pure loving. Those days of possibility, of pliability, pass us by, leaving behind a pervading sense of nostalgia.

Check out the lyrics to “The Fire Inside,” a song about a woman on the prowl looking for love and sex in the flashy world of neon and disco. After she succeeds in her quest for love between the sheets, a subtle and indefinable feeling of aching and remorse overtakes her spirit. The narrator says,

Then you walk to the window and stare at the moon
Riding high and lonesome through a starlit sky.
And it comes to you how it all slips away
Youth and beauty are gone one day
No matter what you dream or feel or say
It ends in dust and disarray.

Once again, the moon, the stars, and the darkness of the night instill a sense of emptiness within the song’s main character. In this universe, the setting of the sun signals a loss of youth and innocence, and the moonrise signals a weakening of the spirit. In the nighttime inhabitants of Seger’s lyrical motifs feel their deepest pangs of hunger and regret, of remorse for the death of the person they used to be, of nostalgia for all that person stood for. The stormy, tumultuous nighttime parallels the tumult of the human spirit.

For Seger, midnight remembrances always recall a spirit of American innocence, a time before night fell on our youth. You can find these themes throughout his catalog. We cannot appreciate those years of pure potential until we’ve burned them up, until we've taken those days of vigor and tenacity while the sun shines bright upon us for granted. Our youths provide infinite achievability and beautiful bodies fit for that task.  But before long, the sun will set and the moon will rise. We’ll find ourselves awake one night unable to sleep, gazing out the bedroom window and staring at the moonlight, hearing thunder clap in the distance, wondering where the days have gone, and thinking of the things that might have been.

Eulogy for my Father

My father, Thomas Frank Haney, passed away April 14, 2010. My brother and I eulogized him at his memorial. As I do, I drafted dad's eulogy, made an outline for when I delivered it, and then converted that outline into essay format. I hope posting it here helps spread dad's memory and convey the kind of positive and gentle person he was. So here it is:

A Eulogy for my Father, Thomas Frank Haney

To start, I want to say how nice it is to see everyone here today, even though we’ve been brought together by these difficult circumstances. I was more than a little shocked when I heard the news last week, but I know my father’s gone to a better place.

My father was the youngest of five children, and each sibling had at least five children of their own, children who in turn birthed more and more children. That makes for a very large family. Unfortunately, this seems to bring us to a lot of funerals along the way. However, I feel so fortunate to be part of such a huge web of support as we share our memories and our grief in these times.

Over the last week, many of my cousins have recalled to me their fondest memories of my father. Each one knew him in a slightly different way, and spent time with him in different parts of the country. For the last month I’ve been living in NorCal, in an area where my father lived in his early thirties with Cousin Terry. Terry has a lot of hilarious stories about that era with my father, stories that you might want to ask him about in a different setting. But when I got there last month, I called dad to check in, of course. I told him where I was staying, and in the typical fashion of my father, he said, “Oh yeah. I lived up there once. I liked it about as much as anywhere else I’ve lived.”

But that’s what you could expect from dad. He never missed an opportunity for an adventure. And he was contented as long as he had a stove to cook on and family nearby.

Cooking opened up many doors for my father. He used to say that you can find work anywhere in the world if you know how to cook—everyone’s got to eat. But cooking provided more than just employment for him. He possessed an almost-legendary passion for the culinary arts. I remember spending Saturday mornings with him watching the cooking shows of Paul Prudhome, Burt Wolf, and, his favorite, Julia Childs. He was always learning about food. Friends would beg to spend the night at my house knowing we’d be eating something good for dinner, and in the morning we’d be treated to dad’s famous French toast, topped with maple syrup, bananas, strawberries, a dusting of powdered sugar, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The perfect breakfast for a 10-year old. Sweet and savory.

We were always eager to eat dad’s cooking, and two Thanksgivings ago we suggested that he use his skills to make the family a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. It didn’t take much cajoling. Of course, he was excited to do it. He mulled it over—or cogitated on it, as he liked to say—planned a menu, and spent two days and who-knows-how-many-hours preparing the meal over at my mom’s house. That Thanksgiving was grand, with tender turkey, scrumptious stuffing, home-made cranberry sauce, mixed vegetables, gravy, mashed potatoes, and all the rest of it. And when we thanked him for all the work he put in, he shrugged it off saying, “For me, it’s a labor of love.”

He must’ve felt very lucky to have used his passion for and gift with food to build a career. He worked at many fine restaurants all throughout the country and excelled at every one, even opening up his own restaurant, Chef Haney’s CafĂ©. But I’ll always remember him best as the Director of Food Service Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Orlando. As a young boy running around that huge church I always felt so proud, when I saw the way the people there just adored him, to be my daddy’s son. He was generous, even charitable, and treated all the staff and members with the same genuine kindness and respect. The people there raved about the way he managed that kitchen and his pleasant and gracious personality.

And that’s the way he lived his life. Whether at work, with family, or in the community, my father showed that he respected others and cared about their well-being. He jumped at the chance to help a family member in need. Whether it was Uncle Bill in the last stages of his life, my brother Greg when he tore his ACL, or Cousin Kelly when she needed someone to help clear out her attic, dad loved to help his family, to take on a project and make himself useful.

And any time you spoke to him, you had his undivided attention. He would listen intently, look toward the sky a little bit and cogitate for a moment, and when he spoke again, you could expect insight, encouragement, and understanding to come your way. He had a warm, gentle soul; it shone through his eyes. They were placid and compassionate. They called to mind the proverb about still waters, as they were calm and serene, but you could tell they ran very, very deep.

And I know from our conversations that he had very profound ruminations about life. He read the bible, and he believed in Jesus Christ.

He also had an amazing memory, always willing to recall stories about his life and those of our relatives. I would marvel at the way he could explain the dynamics of a political landscape, including characters, dates and events, from any era he lived through.

It’s sad that we won’t be able to build any more memories with dad, but I’ll always cherish the ones I have, like how he loved to bowl and the pointers he gave to me on the lanes. How he introduced me to golf, using a saw to cut down an old set for me when I was little. How he loved to go camping with the family, catching, cleaning, and cooking our dinner there on the coast. He was so fond of those trips that, as he requested, we’ll be scattering his ashes in the Banana River.

I’ll remember his signature mustache, and the one day he shaved it off before we went to the Disney theme park. We thought we had lost him in the crowd before we realized that the non-mustachioed man standing next to us was, in fact, our own father. I’ll remember how he glowed and chuckled when people said he looked like Tom Selleck, and his frequent impersonations of Marlon Brando from On the Waterfront. The time at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. when we couldn’t help but laugh when dad stood in front of a painting and said, “If that’s not a Monet, I don’t know what is.” The way he loved his family and especially loved spending time with his boys.

Now, no one can doubt that my father had some ups and downs in his life. Like anybody, he went through some tumultuous times. But in his final years my father had made a commitment to improve his well-being, in body, mind and soul, a commitment, I believe, born from the sense of a larger purpose, of a profound guidance, of a desire to truly connect with his deepest self. Through our talks, and through the actions he took in his life, I could tell my father had come to a place of great peace and contentment. His life ended on a positive note—he had made peace with the world, and I know that in peace he will rest.

My Teaching Philosophy: Let the Garden Grow

This is the teaching philosophy the First Year Composition program at FSU required me to compose, summer 2010, in preparation for teaching ENC 1101 in the fall. I borrowed the gardening metaphor from a book we read in Editing Essentials at Rollins, Getting the Words Right, by Theodore A. Rees Cheney, a book that I still refer to as my primary style guide. I think the analogy works really well in regards to teaching composition.

My Teaching Philosophy: Let the Garden Grow

Educators and theorists view the teaching of composition in many ways: as a process of self-exploration, perhaps, or as a transfer of knowledge and know-how from teacher to student, or even as an austere discipline aimed at rendering sentence, paragraph, and essay. I tend to see it as a practice in gardening. When composing, writers become those gardeners who, rolling up and their sleeves and reaching for their shovels, go to work in the wilderness of language. The products of writing, the journals, reflections and essays, become the emerging foliage, the budding flowers, which need careful trimming and attention to grow verdant and fruitful. The processes of writing, the drafting, workshopping, editing, and revising, become the tools—spades, gloves, and shovels; and the mediums in which we plant our ideas become the soil supporting our gardens as they grow. Teachers, given the privileged position of visiting gardener, work to improve the methods of their student writers. They give advice on which rhetorical and grammatical devices, which tools and fertilizers, would improve the quality of the student-garden. In the end, both teacher and student work to produce a powerful written voice and a method for cultivating that voice in the future. My teaching philosophy involves responding to student’s writing in a sensitive, productive manner, always availing myself to new techniques for composition, and encouraging students to grow and maintain their gardens of learning as they go forward in their lives.

As I begin to enter into these student-gardens, I’ll take care to tread lightly, not imposing my authority like one wields a machete, but nurturing what I find with gentle hands of support and care. I mustn’t be an unruly guest, stomping out nascent plants and ideas, and I mustn’t make so many changes to the writing that the work becomes my own, relegating students to the role of superintendent of a garden more mine than theirs. Students often recoil at too much criticism in the lines, margins, and endnotes of their papers, so I’ll strive to allow these ideas and experiments to grow freely, especially in early drafts, and assist them with trimming and shaping at the proper time. Often, the criticism we hand out in papers saturates the gardens like an insidious pesticide; we aim to help in large doses, but too much focus on errors and mistakes can damage the soil for seasons to come. Instead, I’ll try to be selective with the corrections I make on their drafts, but heavy-handed in praising their efforts. For praise from a teacher acts like fertilizer in student composition—you apply it to areas of positive growth and watch the writing flourish. In the same measure, making corrections is like pruning. Often, improving grammar and syntax is necessary to clarify meaning and lend validity to an argument, but too much of this trimming and hedging may whittle the paper down to nothing.

My goal is to bring students up, not chop them down. A good place for this encouragement and confidence building is in the conference setting. To continue the analogy, conferences are like consultations where student and teacher talk gardener-to-gardener, writer-to-writer, sharing methods, observations, and tricks of the trade. During these consultations, the teacher must allow students to speak as much as possible. After all, it’s their gardens we’re working in. Teachers should listen for reflections of the student’s methods, and encourage the student to compare their intentions to their results. But that jump from ideal to actual should be made by the student, not by the instructor. In theory, valuing the students as peers in the writing process should instill in them the confidence to be assertive with their essays. Peer workshops should operate in a similar way, with students consulting each other about clarity and confusion, logic and method, tips and tools. But these students should never discuss matters of grammar and syntax, as student-writers haven’t developed this sort of expertise, and often make incorrect corrections. Also, through exposure to each other’s writings, the students should improve on a set of reading skills applicable to their own writing. The teacher’s role is to oversee and encourage these healthy interactions within the classroom community, doling out knowledge in choice moments of learning.

Of course, the teacher oversees this process of learning, but must allow students to realize that the stylistic choices are their own. The student has to be in control of the writing, and realize that when teachers and peers comment on their papers, those comments are just suggestions. The writing process grants all authority to the writer, and this authorial ownership should stick with them throughout their lives, well beyond their academic careers. In our current democracy, this ownership and capacity for growth proves vital to entering debates and forums for societal improvement. Undoubtedly, we as teachers will never have perfected our methods as writers or educators; one must continuously tend to a garden or it will be overgrown and overrun by weeds. I hope to learn alongside my students as we develop a shared and communal expertise. Just as gardeners must always improve their methods, seek out better supplements for their greenery, and face new challenges with each passing season, teachers must realize that they’ll never come to a point of complete knowledge about composition. I’ll strive to relinquish the need to know everything about my craft for the sake of always learning something. Even though I bring with me the valuable tools of writing I’ve been given by previous teachers and experiences, I hope to never be closed off to the prospect of new learning.

Ideally, I would get as much out of my class as the students. As I hope to always seek ways to retool and strengthen my own written voice, students will find, going forward in their academic and professional lives, that they need a voice to exact the change they want from the world. This voice is the fruit of our labors, the product of our gardens, which is not terminal but regenerative. With each new season, each rhetorical situation, the student should have the power to begin the process anew, and every time produce a voice stronger and more assertive than the last. Our postmodern world is in constant flux, with technology bringing people closer together and information traveling at breakneck speeds. We realize more and more that universal standards of truth don’t really exist, but are redefined in every moment depending on an individual definition of right and wrong. We need to teach students to “learn how to learn,” to analyze and confront exigencies as they appear in the world, and use writing to bring about the changes they want to see. Our students possess the voices of the future; they are the gardeners whose task will be to prune and hone, or completely remodel, the society they’ve inherited. With the resource of written language, and the backing of a supportive community in our composition classrooms, students should have planted the seed of critical skills and witnessed the budding of confidence necessary to shape the world as they see fit.