Tony Woodlief | Author

Write What You Know

A friend told me that this place, when I used to put things in it, was a window to my soul. I think there’s something wrong with me, in that I can set down in words what delights and torments my soul, but I just can’t talk about them, at least not to most people. I’d much rather talk to a thousand people in an audience than to one person — at least, most one persons. I used to think that this was something I needed to fix, and I guess it still is, but I’m starting to believe that it, like many other things about me, cannot be repaired. Maybe that’s alright; maybe writing will suffice. I have been writing, as some of you know. But maybe I should write more here.

But enough about me. It’s been a wonderful year and a terrible year, and I’ll write more about that here, but not today. Instead I’ll write about the children.

Caleb has a block set, which when assembled produces a manger scene, complete with little wooden animals and a little wooden Jesus. Last week he got out the box that holds all the pieces and brought it to me. “Daddy,” he said, “can we put together the Jesus farm?”

“Sure,” I said. “Let’s grow some Jesuses.”

I hope I don’t go to hell for that.

Sometimes we go to this family-owned pizza place in town. They are always busy, and so you place your order and then you get a number and then you wait for what feels like forever as you smell the dough cooking and the sauce simmering. Eventually they call your number, and you feel what it must be like to have St. Peter look up sternly from his big book and give you the nod to pass on through the pearly gates.

The lady who works the microphone is not originally from the U.S. She’s from Sicily, I think, or maybe Greece, or perhaps Bulgaria. Maybe Massachusetts; I don’t know. She announces the numbers with a thick, deep voice, and inserts extra syllables into some words, and removes consonants from others. Fifty-nine becomes “fifity-nine.” Thirty-three is “tirty-tree.”

My boys have picked up on this. We have to sit far away from the counter now, because when she announces a number, they sometimes parrot her, and then giggle. Eli is the worst, because he believes anything is funnier when it is loud. When they’re sixteen and they do that, I’ll have to smack them on the backs of their heads. But for now it’s done out of innocence, and so I just smile.

I took Caleb to work with me the day before Thanksgiving. He popped right out of bed that morning while it was still dark, and I dressed him in khakis and a white shirt, and put my Snoopy tie on him. Then we slipped on our coats, and I put on a backpack full of his books, and art supplies, and music, and we set out for the train station.

The train, of course, was thirty minutes late. Caleb paid them back by leaving granola bits and banana smears all over the floor and three seats. He met four people as well, which is three more than I’ve met in my whole year riding the train. What can I say? He’s an extrovert, and I’m the pathological opposite of that.

I don’t think I did anything for his work ethic once we got there; as soon as we set down our bags, I took him back out for a Starbucks run. Did you know that they make a child’s size hot cocoa, which isn’t as hot? Caleb got two, because he dropped the first one amidst a crowd of people waiting for their lattes and frappucinos and various other sissy drinks.

Had you or I splattered their pants and hose with chocolate, we would have been cursed. But when Caleb did it, in his little floppy hat and Snoopy tie, and immediately afterward said, “Oops. I’m sorry, Daddy,” well, you would think that the boy had just sung a Shirley Temple tune while dancing on the countertop. I think a couple of people actually applauded. And the nice Starbucks lady gave him another cup of cocoa, gratis.

So the lesson is: always say you’re sorry. Especially if you’re a man.

Work was productive for Caleb. He used up all my tape, drained at least two markers, and left me on the hook for about a ream of copier paper. I don’t think it was so productive for the ladies in the office, because my son is, in the popular vernacular, a chick magnet.

But he’s also a boy, which means he has the concerns of a boy. For example, one recent night he asked — during dinner, of course — “Daddy, do trains poop?”


“Well, some trains poop.”

“No, they don’t.”

“Thomas the Tank Engine poops.”

“That’s smoke.”

“Well, I think it’s poop.”

“Enough of the poop talk.”

I shouldn’t blame him. What’s the first thing they tell a writer? Write what you know.

On Key

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