This is an edited version of the one appearing on my Facebook page:

1. The Apple iPod is the machine I've waited for my whole life. I can put my entire CD collection on it and keep it in my pocket. As a bonus, I get to go around saying that there's music in my pants.

2. I spent two and a half years pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles.  I was able to do a number of things that I never would have been able to do otherwise and should never, ever do again.

3. I have always had an immutable impulse to communicate my ideas through writing.

4. But the deepest desire in my soul has always been to sing. Unfortunately, I cannot sing nor can I keep a beat, as I have the rhythm of a block of wood. So writing it is.

5. For a 3 year period, I owned a 1985 Honda Rebel, which was a model of a Harley-Davidson chopper. Not only did it get me through much of college, but I took trips on that motorcycle I'll remember the rest of my life. I miss that bike.

6. Pretty much anything is better when it's covered in melted cheese.

7. Of my three vices, soda is probably the worst.

8. I have written one terrible mystery novel, one good young adult novel, and one possibly publishable young adult novel.

9. I have also published a number of short poems in forgettable literary journals. Expecting any reaction from this is a bit like throwing a pebble into The Grand Canyon and waiting for the “plop.”

10. My first real job was at a pretzel place called “Twisteroos.” I ate free pretzels with melted cheese (see number 6) for years.

11. I consider every woman on the face of the earth a work of art and a gift from God. This philosophy sometimes causes me trouble.

12. Until I was much too old for it to be healthy, I was the biggest Barry Manilow fan on the planet. There, I said it. I hope you're happy.

13. I once worked at The Universal Amphitheater for seven months. This allowed me to see free concerts, hang out with stars, and enjoy numerous other perks of the Entertainment Industry. It was also one of the most soulless, evil places I've ever been.

14. I would love popcorn even if I didn't have amazingly fond memories of eating it with my whole family while we watched TV most nights of my life.

15. . When I was 10, I thought The Partridge Family was real.

16. I've never tried a recreational drug in my life. Reality is bizarre enough, why would you want to chemically alter it?

17. I've been an English teacher at West Hills High School for 16 years and I absolutely love what I do. I am grateful every day that I get to walk into my classroom.

18. But if I thought more about my students who show up hungry, abused, neglected/ignored, depressed, lacking sleep, etc., I'd have to quit my job.

19. I wish I were Batman who can do super things even though he's only human, but I'm more like The Incredible Hulk because I act like a monster when I'm angry.

20. Favorite actors: DeNiro, Pacino, Hoffman, Mantegna, Nicholson. Favorite Writers: Mamet, Shepard, Shakespeare. There are others of both.

21. The Beat Farmers will always be my favorite rock and roll band. Their first album Tales of the New West helped me survive the last twenty years. I'm also a lifelong fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, CCR, and Bob Dylan.

22. What I always called pacifism was, in large part, cowardice.

23. Tomorrow, I will want to change these.

24. I did 26 because I like to rebel—in small, subtle ways.

25. I have no regrets, but would a few “do-overs” really kill anybody, I ask you?

26. I expected things to be different.
My father, a retired businessman whose education never extended beyond high school, recently asked me to review a piece of writing he planned to publish on a website.  My father is a smart man, but I knew his writing skills might be rusty, so I feared his feelings could be hurt and I might appear overly-critical if I red-penciled too many of his words.  Nevertheless, I corrected grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors and also made a number of gentle edits and "suggestions" in clarity and structure.  After reading my critique, my father said, "This is great.  You improved the writing, but it still sounds like me!"  My father taught me that as a high school English teacher, I'd learned how to improve a piece of writing without sacrificing the writer's voice.  He reminded me that honoring the individual style while simultaneously addressing quality is one of the best ways to instill confidence in beginning writers.

Maintaining a positive attitude is one of the first steps in fostering confidence in beginning writers because constructive criticism can be positive as well as negative.  Emphasizing what's going well is as important as assessing areas for improvement, especially in early drafts.  On my students' papers, for example, I frequently place a star by a clever turn of phrase, an excellent word choice, or a particularly insightful piece of commentary.  This takes little effort, but the positive reinforcement tells the writer that specific areas have been successfully executed.  As teachers, we do not know how deeply our pupils internalize this praise and the benefit of that ripple effect is incalculable.  Beth, a former student who is now a teacher herself, recently e-mailed me to say that I was one of the first teachers to give her a sense of confidence in her writing and that I helped her become an "independent thinker."  I suspect I recognized her unique perspective on the world and nurtured her individual voice which, as her e-mail suggested, resulted in a positive classroom experience for her.

Another important technique in creating confidence while pushing students toward clarity and precision in their writing is to meet them at their current level of performance.  Earnestly wanting my students to improve their writing, I spent many years in the beginning of my career correcting every error I saw and making every suggestion I could think of.  While sincere, this approach often overwhelmed the student, and I eventually learned it wasn't the best avenue toward improvement.  I realized a much more effective approach was to ask myself, "What are the biggest issues preventing THIS piece of writing from being better?  What handful of corrections can the student handle--where he or she is right now--that will transfer to this piece of writing and move it to the next level of clarity?"  Next, I made edits, suggestions, or corrections based on those needs--typically asking for a revision and another draft to ensure the student was able to make the transfer from suggestion to implementation.  This proved more manageable for students and allowed them not only take ownership of their own writing skills, but to take control of the development OF those skills.  Once those initial roadblocks were eliminated, we were able to move to the next level.  This incremental approach to writing built confidence in the student while making concrete improvements.  The more I approached each student at his or her own level, the more success he or she found with each draft and each successive paper.

In seventeen years of teaching English (as well as two summer school sessions a year for the last ten years), I have read and marked over 19,000 student essays.  I've learned that whether it is a student sitting in a class of forty other writers or, quite possible, my own father, creating a non-judgmental atmosphere is imperative.  The beginning writer must feel comfortable experimenting, risking and, yes, even failing, without the fear that he or she will be humiliated in the process.