If you stick with this long enough — and by long enough I mean you will have to read all of this — I will tell you exactly what “naval watching” means.
But first …
It seems appropriate that Bladen County Schools holds it annual job-shadowing event in the spring — if not for the students who take part, then especially for those whose jobs they are shadowing.
I say that because it gives the short-term mentors the opportunity to step back from their jobs and take an overall look at their occupation, along with how they got where they are.
On Tuesday, I had the privilege of participating in this year’s job-shadow event. But rather than a student coming to the Bladen Journal, it was the Elizabethtown Public Library and Librarian Rhea Hebert who played host to a couple of local eighth-grade students — Desmonique Brown from Tar Heel Middle and Morgan Babson from Bladenboro Middle.
Neither participated in any “naval gazing,” I am happy to say.
Although the two students seemed to be vastly different in their demeanor, personalities and interest, I could easily see a little of myself in each of them when I was their age 257 years ago. OK, I embellished that a little, which was one of the things the students were told can sometimes help a story.
Speaking to Brown and Babson, along with myself, was local author Jane Pait, a retired teacher who also teaches writing classes to home-schooled groups.
If there was an overriding message given to the students, it was that they should write, write, write — and write some more. And while they are writing every chance they get, they should also do a lot of reading. Books, magazines, newspapers … whatever.
All of which is easier said than done. Believe me, I know.
As I was looking back over my career and how I arrived where I am, I realized that, as a teenager, I never came close to taking advantage of all the opportunities I had available to me. Things like cars, sports, girls, the beach and other things always seemed to take priority.
Years later — far too late, of course — I realized that Miss Leta Marks, my high-school English teacher, was trying to push, prod and take me under her wing in an effort to develop, nurture and improve my writing skills. Somehow, she saw something in the book reports and short stories we were required to write that made her think I could put words together in a way that might interest others. Little did she know, at the time, that much of what I wrote was done in the locker room before and after cross country or baseball practice.
So along with emphasizing to Brown and Babson that doing as much reading and writing as they can, there are numerous opportunities out there to take advantage of if they are truly interested in becoming a writer. Those opportunities start with their school English teachers, the school librarian and even their local newspaper.
Both Pait and I shared with the students that there are also a myriad of ways to get published — even at their age. There are poetry anthologies, short-story contests, submissions to all kinds of magazines that will actually pay a nominal price of they publish a story, and so many others.
But the bottom line point was this: It really doesn’t matter if what they write is GOOD. It’s that they keep writing. I mean, show me a writer who never got a rejection of any kind, and I’ll show you 100 well-known authors who were rejected many times before their work made it. Without a doubt, good writing can be subjective.
I wouldn’t want you to do this, because it would be terribly embarrassing, but if you were to go back to 1986 when I wrote my very first column you would see that … well, it stunk. Plain and simple. In fact, why my editor and publisher ever let it see the light of day is beyond me. At the time, of course, I thought it was the most insightful and interesting look into the career of William “The Refrigerator” Perry that had ever been written.
But my dream of a Pulitzer Prize turned out to be far closer to a pullet surprise — I’d laid an egg.
Thankfully, my bosses chose to let me have my start and allow me to improve. And that’s what Brown and Babson will need to do — get started and keep improving by doing.
By now, y’all should be gnashing the teeth and itching to know exactly what “naval gazing” is.
Well, I will give thanks to my friend and fellow columnist Ronnie McBrayer for the term, because it’s in his newest book, “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” It is a wonderful, visual-inducing reference to what too many church congregations have become.
I would bet that Brown and Babson find a way to use that term in their writing sometime soon.
— W. Curt Vincent is the general manager and editor of the Bladen Journal. He can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.