I have learned through conversations with my children (in their early 20s) that they have plans, which is more than I could say for myself when I was that age. It is a great relief for a parent to learn this, and I know it worried my parents when the most complete answer I could give to their questions was that I wanted to be a writer.

My senior year in high school, we were all supposed to have a career discussion with the guidance counselor. By then, it should have been clear to anyone that my passion lay in stringing words together. But the counselor’s advice was to major in business administration.

I realize that’s practical advice – unless you want to be a poet!

At least my senior-year English teacher encouraged me to be a writer. She and I had just one quibble: Whenever I used a sentence fragment, she wanted me to write “SF” in the margin with a red pen. If I failed to indicate a sentence fragment in the margins, she would lower my grade. I suppose she was trying to grant me some creative license while still going “by the book.”

I finally said to her, “Miss Robinson, you know that I know a sentence fragment when I write one. I don’t see why I have to fuss with indicating it.” She wouldn’t relent and kept taking off points for my lack of SF in the mar-gins. I know now, later in life and wiser, that women are just like that.

(Sidebar: Miss Robinson also taught me to be sneaky. Her class was right before lunch. She hated the cafeteria food and, for whatever reason, didn’t bother to bring her own lunch. I had a car and I always parked it beside an outbuilding that nobody monitored. I always finished the daily writing assignments early. A perfect storm awaited. I can’t remember how it began, but it became routine for Miss Robinson to catch my eye, beckon me with her finger and hand me $3. I would drive to Dairy Queen, purchase a cheeseburger, fries, and shake, and sneak it back into the school before the lunch bell rang. The lesson I took from the experience was that if you make good grades and don’t talk out of turn, you can get away with a lot of stuff.)

I headed off to college wondering if my writing would hold at a higher level, or if I could use sentence fragments without fear. My freshman English class began at 7 a.m. (There should be some kind of rule, in America if not throughout the world, that college freshmen shouldn’t even have to be awake at 7 a.m., much less in class. But there I was.)

An early assignment was to write a sonnet. I loved Shakespeare in high school (my class-mates didn’t), and I had kinda gotten into John Donne on my own, but I didn’t write in iambic pentameter at all. My style was free verse or, as I call it, broken meter. But given the assignment, I set out to write three quatrains followed by a couplet.

The following Monday (at 7 a.m., I remind you), the teacher told us that we had mostly followed direction and mostly adhered to sonnet form, but he had singled out one work to read aloud. I was thrilled moments later to hear the words I had written being spoken.

At times, people tried to get me to go into sales. I briefly did pretty well in retail, but I was a bust in real estate and auto sales. If I’m going to pull the wool over your eyes, I’ll be at a keyboard, not in a passenger seat or a sparkling kitchen.

A few years ago, I was in a relationship with a woman from West Rome. Several people said we were a good – even perfect – match. After she broke off the romance, a casual friend emailed me to say, “I knew she wasn’t right for you. You have the soul of a poet.” My flippant reply was: “Which poet’s soul do I have? I’ll gladly give it back.”

But the point was well-taken. In the romance department, despite old stereotypes, women usually aren’t on the same staircase as men. I have known only one woman (my current flame) who shared poetry with me.

We were having wine at a bar a few months ago, and a man tried to hit on her. She leaned back on her stool to introduce me, then excused herself to go powder her nose, or whatever the hell it is that women do when they excuse themselves.

The chastened man looked at me and asked, “What led you to become a writer?” I used to hate questions like that. Am I supposed to answer that I pulled a sword out of a stone? Or that a dove settled on my head and made a halo?

But I have come up with a pat answer: “Writ-ing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.” It has a way of making people either laugh or shut up.

Recently at Kroger, I ran into a former associate who said, “I always enjoy your writing in V3.”
Maybe that’s what “led” me to be a writ-er. Because no one ever says, “I always enjoy watching you sell a microwave oven.”

Back to my point: My kids have more defined goals than I did at their age. I’m relieved about that. But I also recently was making an omelet for my son, and he didn’t want a tomato in it!
I guess I still have work to do. It’s good to have purpose in your life.


The federal government has quietly dropped its admonishment to floss daily. I hope my kids didn’t hear that piece of news. They would be, like, “Golly, I wonder what else dad was wrong about.”

My best guess on the history of flossing is that some entrepreneurial type, several decades ago, was chewing on a toothpick after supper, watching his cat bat around a ball of yarn, and had a brainstorm: “I wonder how much money I could make if I convinced people that pulling skinny yarn between their teeth would prevent gum disease?”

Once upon a time in Atlanta, my dental hygienist was a pretty, buxom, older blonde named Sharon who had a soothing effect as she leaned in to floss between my teeth and pick at them with a pointed metal thingy. To this day, she is the only woman I’ve allowed to put sharp instruments in my mouth.

To heck with the feds. I’m going to keep flossing, if only to remind me of Sharon.

I went to a store early the other day and had to wait in line. As I finally checked out, I made chit chat with the clerk.

“I thought I’d be your only customer at this time of day.”

“No. Everybody comes early to avoid the rush later.

Mull that a moment before you turn the page.

J. Bryant Steele was first published when he was 14 and has made a living stringing words together for 40 years. But the main reason he writes is to avoid housework. He has won 50 or so writing awards. He is a graduate of the Grady School of Journalism (The University of Georgia) and of Education for Ministry (The University of the South). He also publishes poetry and fiction. He is the proud father of two magnificent adult children. He is also very opinionated.