The Boy Wonder in a Paper Bag

TOWER GROVE — The boy wonder, all of 7 now, returned home from his first day of second grade with a paper bag and an assignment.

He had to pour himself into it.

His teacher had asked each member of the class to take home a paper bag, one about the size of a lunch sack. The students could use markers to color their bag however they wanted. Ian covered his in colorful stars. The outside was decoration, not the purpose. What they put inside was the challenge. The boy wonder’s teacher asked each of her students to put five things — and five things only — in the bag. Those five things had to define the student. She wanted the boy wonder and his classmates to introduce themselves to each other and to the teachers with five things that revealed who they are. This wasn’t the five things they would want on a deserted island or their five favorites things in the world, but five things that said who they are.

With help from his mom, here are the five things the boy wonder put in his bag and his explanation on why each one matters to him: Continue reading


My Year Without Books

TOWER GROVE — Evidence of my problem is all over the office, and the movers unwillingness to schlep it up there should have been the first clue.

When we moved into the house more than 10 years ago, the fine folks helping us transport our furniture and clothes and doodads from the apartment stopped at the bottom step when it came to carrying 42 boxes of books up to the tree house, the name for the office on the third floor. I carried them up myself in as close to 21 trips as their weight would allow. Labor didn’t teach me the lesson. I kept buying books. I buy them as souvenirs from bookstores around the world, from the bookstore near Charing Cross or in Pirate’s Alley in that little re-purposed military shelter in Malta. I buy them on because it’s a good deal or it will arrive the day it goes on sale (a miracle of modern post!). I buy them downtown when I’ve read a good review in The New York Times or elsewhere. Some shelves are double-stuffed with books, and pillars of my problem have grown in front of those bookshelves, some stacked 32 paperbacks high. I’ve bought and been given so many books that movers would again leave the moving to me — and 21 trips won’t make a dent this time.

My name is Derrick. I’m a bibliophiliac.

So, I’ve made a New Year’s resolution. Continue reading

1/366/2012 Gotta Start Somewhere

TOWER GROVE — The challenge came from the most unexpected source.

At Busch Stadium, a few weeks ago, new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny took me through his normal day — from his meetings with clubhouse staff to his time spent re-watching the games of the 2011 season. He said he arrives at his office each morning early enough to get some time to himself. Before the days spins out of control he reads and “journals.” He writes these thoughts in the margins of a book he carries, and while the entries aren’t always elaborate or long but they are enough to have filled the open spaces of a few book.

“I want to keep track of my thoughts,” he said, “and there has been a lot going on in my life that I want to remember. You know. A writer like yourself — you journal, right?”

“Not really,” I replied. “I write so much for work that when it comes to personal stuff …”

The sentence sort of lost its substance there because the explanation never really had it. Continue reading