Ramblings – Part 4 of 10

Newsletter 044 – August 11, 2023


Disclaimer: This newsletter and the six that will follow it were written in advance. This was done to allow me to focus on tasks I have to complete before I can publish my next books (Flood and Fire  and  Jagged Man). In previous newsletters I talked about some of the earliest jobs I had (in the 1960’s and 1970’s), and about how I sometimes used those experiences in my writing. Let’s continue with that theme, beginning in the late 1970’s.

It used to be very common in the United States for a worker to stick with a job for most of their working life, often for several decades. In the next phase of mine I definitely went old school. It took me over a year to decide to quit the grocery store and look for a teaching gig again. I took a huge cut in salary when I did, but landed at Lanier Middle School, a great inner-city school in Houston. I was there from 1979 to 2002, teaching everything from various language arts classes (reading, English at all grade levels, journalism, and creative writing) plus drama and technology. I also produced the schools literary magazine, Scribetis, and its student newspaper, The Purple Pup. Just to clarify, I was usually only teaching one or two of those subjects during any given school year, but every year was unique, with different classes and grade levels. I had to keep reorienting myself to each new subject, and that proved useful to me later on.

In the mid-1990s I was given the opportunity by Don Perkins (from Rice University) to create a web page for Lanier MS. He said he would host it at Rice if I would learn HTML over the summer and design it myself. As a result, between 1995 and 2002 I created and maintained what I have been told was the first middle school website in Texas. There was nothing like WordPress for websites when I started working with technology. I coded by hand at first, and then moved on to web design tools like Adobe Dreamweaver, learning bits and pieces of new coding languages (like JavaScript and CSS) along the way.

Soon after the Lanier website was first established I was hired by the Texas Historical Commission to create a web version of a book they had just printed about the Los Caminos del Rio Heritage Project (A Shared Experience). It was about a 200-mile heritage corridor along the Rio Grande, and about a whole town that was moved because the newly constructed Falcon Reservoir and Falcon Dam flooded the original town. That town was originally called Guerrero. It’s now referred to as Guerrero Viejo (Old Guerrero), and the new town is called Nueva Guerrero. The book was filled with images, and it was great way to learn how to layout a book-length manuscript.

Over the years, I used the Lanier website to provide information about the school, but also to teach HTML to the students, and to teach them about safe practices on the Internet. Toward the end I was also writing technology grants for the school, obtaining over $200,000 in funding for new equipment and tech training for the teachers. I served as co-chair of the school’s technology planning committee from 1997 to 2002. During those twenty-three years at Lanier I rarely taught the same course more than a couple of years in a row. It never got boring for me. Dick Jarvis’ job at Riley Middle School in If a Butterfly is very similar to what my job was at Lanier.

I also found time to write and act during that time period, and did manage to hold down a second job for a few years (more on that in some of the upcoming newsletters). Most of my acting was done in local theaters, or in print ads or industrial films or TV commercials, but I also did some voice work and a few television shows, getting bit roles on shows like Matt Houston, and on TV movies like Challenger and Dalton: Code of Vengeance II, plus I was a member of the KUHF Radio Theatre Players (a program on the local PBS radio station, in 1983 and 1984).

And I met my wife, Minay, in 1982, forty-one years ago, at a play audition at a local theater. We married that same year, and are still going strong, just at a much less hectic pace. Chasing acting jobs at auditions is a harried existence. She became a quilter, and I stopped auditioning eventually and focused on teaching. The character of Jane Jarvis in If a Butterfly is largely patterned after Minay (all of Jane’s good qualities at least).

The next newsletter will be about the end of my teaching career in 2002 because of a new opportunity that surfaced that summer.

See you then,


[“You must not suppose, because I am a man of letters,
that I never tried to earn an honest living,”
George Bernard Shaw.]

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