Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Who am I?

Hmm...was asked who I am today.  It's an interesting question, and not entirely unrelated to the topic of the blog.  After all, part of my queries' contents is a bit where I attempt to say who I am in a manner that will appeal to the literary agent reading it.  It's been through a few iterations, that. 

When was the last time you sat down and committed to writing a definitive response to the question "Who are you?" If you haven't done so in a while, you really should. 

Though I write technical reports and studies and policy documents on a daily basis in my work as the dean of a private college, this is my first work that may truly be categorized as fiction.

I am an unpublished author living in Richmond, Virginia. The responsibilities of my day job as dean of a small private college include a significant amount of writing, but very little of that is fiction.

The first paragraph above is from version one--the unsent draft--of my query letter.  The next one down is the current iteration. Neither of them say one bit about who I am, though.

I'm a writer!

While I suppose that last bit is true, it deserves a big helping of so what coated with a liberal sprinkling of who cares, which is why you don't find it in my query letter.  There are a lot of writers in the world, some better than others, some more experienced than others, and all trying to more or less make it in the world based on their ability to structure ideas in an interesting way on a relatively permanent medium.  Some, like Stephen King--yeah, the other one--make it big-time because they spend years perfecting the craft and eventually figure out what people want to read.  Others, like Stephanie Meyer, make it big-time for reasons I can't fathom.

In any event, labels like dean say a bit less than labels like writer, but they're all deficient.  Dean is, after all, an impressive four-letter-word title for a guy who runs an academic division of a college.  Typically, deans make a lot of money for doing what we do, but we don't get to the post by merely wishing for it.  No, it takes years of experience in the craft of education, followed by a lucky break that somehow allows one to obtain his first dean position.  It's one of those things where nobody wants to hire someone to be dean who's inexperienced unless they have to, so making it really is a stroke of luck.  Just as making it as a writer is a stroke of luck.  Strange, the way that works, yes?

Neither title really speaks to who I am.  Yes, the title of writer indicates some degree of soulful yearning to express myself in a creative manner, while the title of dean indicates a desire to manage the adult educational process.  Both are a bit of a calling.  But....

Hey, I have a lovely family.  Did you know that?  Some people at my day job are in on the secret.  Others just know me as the evil overlord, a reincarnation of Attila the Hun.  It's what I do, not who I am.  But yes, I cherish my family.  My amazing bride, who puts up with my foibles as well as my workaholicism, is right now sitting in there enjoying a show while I continue to hone the craft I enjoy.  We do spend time together, and I have to admit the time so invested ranks among the best I've ever experienced in my life, but she understands as well as I do the need for self-improvement and intellectual growth in order to allow an ever-blooming ego to pollinate a thriving relationship. 

Meanwhile, there are two girls out there whom I consider daughters.  Neither is the product of my own genetics, if it matters--and it doesn't, to me.  One is my ex's daughter, my first stepdaughter, a girl, and now a woman, I wish I were more comfortable interacting with.  See, I was an Army lieutenant, and since she didn't come with either a manual or a living biological father, I proceeded the best I knew how.  It was crap, but then again, most of my first drafts have been total crap.  That she's still alive and still talks to me are both kind of a miracle in their own right.

If they ever make a movie about my life, and if there's any truthfulness to it, it'll be titled, "His First Try Always Sucked." 

The other girl is my current stepdaughter, the one with a living father who made my day--hell, my life--when she called me dad.  I've learned, and I've grown, and I think I've done right by her, but it's still an amazing feeling when somebody who doesn't have to reaches out in love.  She's on her feet, mostly, and she's headed in the right direction, mostly, and whether I can claim any responsibility for that or not, I'm proud of her.  Proud of her in a way that doesn't require the qualification "mostly." 

You know, a walnut is an amazing creation.  Once you crack the shell, you realize there's far more intricacy inside it than you could see from the surface.  I like to think I'm kind of like that.  I'm a dean.  I'm also a writer.  I'm also a lucky, lucky man as a husband.  And I'm a proud father, though I have no biological right to claim the title.  What else am I?

I'm a learner.  Did you know that in 1622 the Indians rose up and massacred a significant percentage of the white population of Virginia?  Of course you did, if you've been following this blog.  Remember when I learned that, though?  Back when I was doing the AP History classes and, later, West Point's military history classes, I learned a lot of dates and a lot of names.  What's far more interesting, I've learned over the years, is to go where the person whose name I learned did what I learned he did on the date I learned he did it, look out over the terrain, and finally understand why the hell everything I learned happened.  History should really be taught from a Sociology framework, I'm finding as I continue to learn that framework myself.

So--who am I?  I'm all that I've discussed, and more.  I'm a man who has a great family, and who has great friends, one of whom took the time to ask me the question and prod me for an answer.

PS.  Yeah, the good friend who started this thing is Cricket Walker:  http://www.cricketwalker.com/who-are-you/


  1. This is absolutely fabulous. I could actually hear you speaking as I read your words!

  2. Theresa Jennings MesaOctober 4, 2011 at 11:23 PM

    Love it, Stephen!!!

  3. I miss having you around to talk to! Dang I seriously miss my friend, my dean yes, but first you were my friend! You have a grand way with words.

  4. Stephen, someone with your skills and name should really consider taking up writing. I think you'd be a smash hit!

    It was very telling that in the face of a direct challenge worded as a succinct question, you just couldn't help but annunciate the glowing qualities of others in your life as opposed to opening the "crack in that walnut" a little wider. By so doing you did in fact answer the question. What better way to show us who you are?