Friday, September 23, 2011

A change in the air...

The leaves are starting to change. The air has gotten much more crisp -- the kind that seeps into your bones. Football season is in full swing. I could hear the grunting, the whistles, and the crunching of shoulder pads as I walked to my car today. I didn't need to look at the field. I played. All of the images were in my head, hanging out in some back corner of my brain. I smiled. Not because of the football scenes playing out behind my eyes, though. I smiled because football means summer is now fall, and fall means that, somewhere, people are starting to lace up their skates. They're taping their sticks, tightening up their chin-straps. Somewhere, a kid is running onto to the ice like he just got introduced at the NHL all-star game. He doesn't know any better. He and the sport are still deeply in love. They've never had a fight. Not even a spat.

What a great feeling...

Just Finished: Nothing by Janne Teller
Reading: Gentlemen by Michael Northrop
Up Next: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trying to do the "HARD" writing.

I work in a high school library. Last week, one of the students -- I think he's a junior -- brought back a book he'd checked out the day before. When someone brings back a book the next day, they either loved it and read it deep into the wee hours of the night, or they couldn't stand it, it didn't work for them, they read a bit and put it down. One of my colleagues asked this particular student which it was. All night reading, or not for him?

He smiled.

"Definitely an all-nighter," he said. "It was easy reading. Hard writing is easy reading. Hard reading means easy writing." He dashed off to find another volume to consume.

I just stared at him as he walked away. Wow. Either that kid pulled that comment out of his you-know-where, he heard that from somebody else, or he really has it figured out. Maybe it's a combo of the three, but that comment really hit me. HARD.

He's right, of course. The harder one works at the craft of writing, the easier it will be for our future readers to enjoy our words. I need to pour all that I have into my manuscripts so that a reader can one day stay up all night, rifling through the pages, never once questioning the amazing ride that I'm taking him on.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


If my blog is what it says it is - A glimpse inside my life and writing by Peter Patrick Langella - then who would I be if I didn't share my story from 9/11/01.

It was the first day of class my senior year at boarding school in Massachusetts. I had just finished an amazing preseason football training camp and a class camping trip/retreat. Our football team was looking good. We were returning almost all of our starters from the previous year, and we had Patriots legend John Hannah helping out as a volunteer coach. I was one of the leaders in my dorm, trusted to be in charge of an entire floor of sophomores. I was also being pretty heavily recruited by a lot of great schools to play hockey in college. I had a lot of options. I barely had a care in the world.

I went to history class in one of the small rooms at the rear of our student center, the French Building. On the way out, I headed for the main student area. I was on my way to the snack bar to buy a bagel. I was joking around with a friend. The first thing I noticed was the silence. The French Building was never silent. There was a huge TV in the corner to my right. I realized everybody was staring at it. The first plane had already crashed. The tower was billowing smoke. Someone behind me laughed. They didn't mean it in a bad way. They just didn't know how to react. None of us did. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen to us, on our home soil.

Some of my classmates were from NYC. One girl screamed. Others were on their phones, trying to get a hold of their families. I was frozen, silent like most of the crowd. It felt like we were watching a movie. It couldn't be real. When the second plane crashed, we knew it was. I can't remember one word that any of the news reporters were saying. I wasn't listening. I could only watch. The rest of my senses were numb. I don't know how long I watched for. I don't remember who was standing next to me. I don't know what I was wearing. I only know what it felt like when I saw the towers collapse. It was as if I was completely frozen in time. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I was completely stuck in place, lifeless. When all of the feeling began to seep back in, the fear started to take over.

I rushed outside, stood in the shade of the large oak tree, and called my mom. The first thought that entered my mind was that I didn't want to enter the military. I told her that I didn't want to. West Point was recruiting me to play hockey, and they had quite a recruiting pitch. The package they could offer was unmatchable: a full scholarship plus military per diem and benefits starting right away. No only would I not have to pay for college, they were actually going to pay me to go to school there and play hockey. But, as soon as I saw that tower fall, I knew that was no longer an option. As far as I was concerned, I didn't care if I never talked to those nice men from West Point ever again.

I knew our country. I knew that we would fight. I knew that young soldiers would die. And, I knew that I didn't want to be part of it. My mom tried to calm me down. She said she loved me. She said that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do. I cried.

I don't think I knew anyone who died that day, but I feel deeply for the affected families of victims and responders. I have had many friends serve overseas since 9/11. Two of them died in action. Most made it home in one piece. Some are still over there, wherever there may be. I think of them often, and I'm thinking of them tonight.

I don't regret my choice. Military service was not for me. I chose to serve future generations in another way. I chose to write. I hope I can make the most of my opportunity.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Respond

What do you do when a personal and community hardship, a new job, writer's block, a crisis of confidence, and a VCFA packet all come together to create the week from hell?

Dive right in!

Or maybe it's more like walking the plank...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Help for Vermonters


Vermont has been ravaged by Irene's flooding. Many homes have been washed away. Others are filled with debris. Roads are destroyed.

For my wife and I, the horror started around 11:00 AM last Sunday. As the rain kept coming, harder and harder by the minute, the now roaring stream parallel to our driveway clogged the nearest culvert with rocks and clay. We then heard an enormous SNAP! as the water broke through the bridge and poured over the road. Further up the hillside, the stream threatened to break through the bank, which would have sent it straight toward the house. Luckily, it broke the other direction, swallowing up the road along its new path. All we could do was watch as the stream and the river below continued to rise throughout the day. We held each other that night, trying to sleep, the sounds of churning rocks and boulders and breaking trees echoing in the darkness.

On Monday, we took in the scene. We couldn't believe what it looked like outside our house. A pile of rubble blocked our driveway. Our road was a riverbed to the left, a gaping hole to the right. Trees and rocks littered the ground in all directions. We thought we had it bad. The power was out, and there's no cell service at the house, so I decided to walk down the road to a cell-zone, over two miles away. At least, I thought I would walk down the road. I ended up bushwhacking through the hillsides to avoid the ravines that now stood where the road used to be. The road was gone. Sure, little stretches remained, but not many. Our neighbor's barn was missing, swallowed up by the re-routed river. Further down, a cottage was gone, swept away as the river claimed the path that the road used to take. I came to one spot with no outlet, the river taking over everything. I scurried across a downed tree acting as a bridge over the water. I met some more people, gawking in disbelief at the destruction. An elderly woman gave me her son's phone number, hoping that I might be able to call if I found service. I continued through the wooded hillsides, avoiding the mess of debris and power lines below at river/old road level. I met up with more people at the next ravine. A house was missing. There wasn't even a trace that it had been there. I continued on. Another blocked path. Another tree-bridge across the river. I finally reached cell phone range.

I called our families. The entire state was in the same situation. I was completely shell-shocked. Vermont had become a legitimate disaster zone. It was an eerie feeling, really. Things like this happen around the country and the world all the time, but nothing can prepare you for what it feels like to join that list. It's like a slap in the face that aches and aches and aches until the pain starts to take over.

I hiked back to our house. I tried to explain to my wife what had happened, but you can't explain that type of destruction. We decided to hike out. We each packed a bag and set off. We retraced my path. I took her into the hills. I took her across the downed trees. I pushed her in ways that I never should have. The path was too hard. It was more than a hike, it was a survival journey, and we weren't prepared for it. After walking for hours, we turned back, needing another plan. After all, the main road was gone too. We'd learned that. Our entire town was isolated from the rest of the state. Nobody in, nobody out.

We spent that evening and all of Tuesday meeting with people on our road. We talked about supplies, who had what for food, generators, water, etc. We were meeting some of these folks for the first time. Many of them were elderly couples, and they all were extremely generous. It always amazes how people can come together during a crisis. One couple had a generator and satellite internet, so they were able to send e-mail updates to all of our families. That was a huge help. At least our parents knew that we were still safe.

Luckily, we had another outlet.

On Wednesday, we decided to hike out of our road in the other direction, through an old logging area, to the intersection with the Appalachian Trail. The Inn at Long Trail was our destination. The wonderful people there were taking in anyone who could get there. We loaded our packs with as much as we could possibly carry. Thankfully, we own nice hiking boots and trekking poles, which really saved us along our route. Again, we had to bushwhack around a couple of ravines where the road used to be. We reached the AT and headed into the mountains. It was a difficult hike, especially since we were carrying heavier packs than we had ever hiked with before. As we made our descent toward Killington, the air was filled with strange noises. Helicopters buzzing overhead. Beepers and rotors of work trucks and heavy machinery. When we finally reached the road, my wife flagged down the first car we saw. The couple was confused, not really sure if we were telling the truth or not. They had heard our governor say on TV that no one was still isolated. He was wrong. Who knows how many people were still in the same situation as our neighbors? At least the people with the car were nice enough to give us a ride to the Inn.

The people at the Inn at Long Trail were so gracious. They gave us a room and a great meal, and they wouldn't let us pay for anything. It was the same for a half-dozen other couples that had managed to get there. We then called some of the emergency numbers from some of the surrounding towns, trying to share information and organize. I think our information helped plan a Red Cross drop-off closer to our still-isolated neighbors. People didn't realize that so many elderly couples lived on our road.

On Thursday, one of the Inn employees allowed us to join her as she evacuated out of the area. All of the roads were closed for repairs, but the emergency personnel agreed to open Route 4 toward Woodstock for an hour. It was a dangerous trip. The road was rarely fully-intact. Sometimes we were in the right lane, sometimes the left, and sometimes we were straddling the double-yellow. The entire area was devastated. Houses buried in mud, farms covered in rubble, bridges missing, and foul dust everywhere. The truth of what had happened was finally setting in. I was sick to my stomach, dizzy.

We met our parents at a gas station along the route. It was emotional to say the least, but it didn't last long. Now that we were outside, we immediately sprang to work. We made calls to more emergency personnel, bought a couple of shopping cart loads of supplies (food, water, baby wipes and formula), and we brought it to one of the relief stations. We then visited with fire and rescue workers, sharing more information. We were interviewed by a reporter from the Associated Press, voicing our extreme disappointment that some elected officials were downplaying the severity of the situation. We then e-mailed and called more people, trying to keep awareness high.

Today, I feel weird. I know that's a generic term, but I don't have a word for this sensation. I feel lucky to be safe, but, at the same time, utterly helpless. We may not be able to access our cars or belongings by road until after winter. It's that bad. Our cats are still stuck there. We put out a heap of food. We're planning to hike back in to get them in the coming days. We can't get back in the way we came out right now, and there aren't enough roads intact to get close from the other direction yet.

I guess all we can do is keep advocating for our neighbors and help others that we can reach. I'm heading to a flooded housing development to clean up debris.

That's all for now. Much, much more someday.