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                                                                          JOURNAL ENTRY #206

                                                                                    April 1, 2016


Whenever I'm feeling discouraged about the state of the world, watching lunatics kill strangers because they think of it as a divine imperative, listening to politicians talk nonsense –the most recent example being a consideration about making nuclear weapons available to Saudi Arabia--, following arguments of people who think providing a decent education for girls is pointless, during these dark moments I simply need a break.

There are several ways to arrange a temporary escape. I can lose myself in Priscilla's world, where admittedly there are conflicts, but I think most of the outright silliness of the present day has evaporated. Or, I can spend a few hours in the latest scientific book by Paul Davies. I might take an evening and go down to the Ritz to watch some live theater with Heather Heath or Scott Ryfun performing. Or, as I used to do before life got seriously busy, I might take a weekend and play in a chess tournament.

Another possibility: I can take advantage of one of the several benefits from being a writer and attend an event at a more or less local school. Karen Larrick, the programing director at the Brunswick, GA Library, arranged an invitation for several writers to conduct a panel for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at the Jane Macon Middle School this past week. The school's in a pleasant location, on a side road off a major highway surrounded by trees and out of traffic. As far as I could tell, it has a smart and caring staff. Classrooms are spacious with plenty of light. It's the sort of school I'd have given anything to attend.

Thirty-five students were brought in from the , sixth, seventh, and eighth grades to talk with us. They were bright kids, enthusiastic about books and magazines and writing in general, and they were ready with enough questions to keep the program moving for better than an hour. What made us want to be writers? How did we get started? Did we enjoy it? How much work does a writer do in a day? One student wanted to know how well it paid.     

          The underlying issue, of course, was quality work. How does one produce a piece of writing that will interest readers? How does one measure a good effort?

          I've never had an objective answer for that one. There's no formula, as far as I know, that allows you to determine whether the short story you've just sent off to Asimov's will leave the editor gasping or in tears. There is a subjective method that seems to work pretty well: If I enjoy writing a given work, or better yet if I call Maureen into the room and want her to listen to something, that's a strong indication that it's gold.

          In any case, all of us who participated in the program came away from it grateful that we'd been there. It was an upbeat hour with smart kids and the couple of staff members we'd met. And most notable of all, it was an hour away from the silliness and imbecility of what we call the real world. It reminded me that there's still a future worth pursuing. And maybe we touched bases with a person who'll be remembered in the next century as another Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson.