Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Go-To-Gay: Be "Prep"-ared

Wade Rouse is "The Go-To Gay" here at Chick Lit Central. After all, without gay guys, a lot of our chick lit heroines would be missing out on some awesome best friends! If you missed his previous posts for this new series, check them out here. Today, Wade shares some memories of working as a PR director for a prestigious prep school.

Speaking of school, Wade is leading a writing workshop on Saturday, September 15th at the Next Chapter Bookshop in Mequon, Wisconsin (somewhat near Milwaukee). Sign up today! He also has a retreat coming up in October (read more about a past retreat here) and another workshop in January.

The writings of bestselling humorist Wade Rouse – called “wise, witty and wicked” by USA Today and the lovechild of Erma Bombeck and David Sedaris – have been featured multiple times on NBC’s Today Show as well as on Chelsea Lately on E! and His latest memoir, "It’s All Relative: 2 Families, 3 Dogs, 34 Holidays and 50 Boxes of Wine," just launched in paperback February 1st from Broadway, and he is creator and editor of the humorous dog anthology, "I’m Not the Biggest Bitch in This Relationship: Hilarious, Heartwarming Tales about Man’s Best from America’s Favorite Humorists" (NAL). The book features a Foreword by Chelsea Handler’s dog, Chunk, essays by such beloved chick lit authors as Jane Green, and 50 percent of the book’s net royalties go to the Humane Society of the United States. His first memoir, "America's Boy," has been re-published by Magnus Books for paperback and Kindle. For more, visit his website, or friend him on Facebook or Twitter.

“To New Beginnings”

Each September as the sugar maples begin to tinge with the first signs of brilliant color in the Michigan woods I now call home as a writer, I swear I can still hear the joyous screams of children carried along by the breeze.

For more than 15 years – in my former, pre-author life – I worked as PR director for some of the nation's best educational institutions, including one of the oldest, richest and most prestigious prep schools, an experience I chronicled in my second memoir, "Confessions of A Prep School Mommy Handler." There, I not only wrangled the “Mean Mommies” – the wealthy matriarchs that “ran” the school – but I also juggled endless events.

Covering the opening of school was an annual tradition for me. September meant capturing – with my trusty camera – students teeming with excitement and screaming to see their friends again, classrooms decorated with “Welcome Back” signs, campus window boxes overflowing with flowers.

September served as a springboard to a new year for students and faculty, but for me it meant a springboard to much work – admission materials, alumni publications, endless fall events.

September was also springboard to my past.

I grew up in the Ozarks and attended a rural school that sat in the middle of a field and offered its students few, if any, amenities beyond the chance to go "cow-tippin.'" I often felt as if I had landed on the moon when I landed my job at that prep school. The campus looked like a movie set. And a large chunk of the students, parents and alumni like stars.

I was continually in awe of the incredible advantages these students had available: A passionate faculty; endless extracurriculars; top-notch college counseling; amazing AP courses; and, of course, more connections than a flight to Fiji.

But with those privileges came palpable pressures. In the prep school world, such pressures often develop before a child's vocabulary.

Which preschool will lead to the best lower school?
Which middle school offers the most intensive foreign-language program?
Which upper school lands the most acceptances to the Ivies?
Who will be the Harvard legacy? The Stanford MBA? The Duke doctor?

Children were often set on paths to their futures before they even had a chance to play hopscotch. I witnessed many prep school kids who weren't allowed to be, well, kids: To fall and get back up on their own. To fail at something, anything. To follow their true passions, their own paths.

My mom and dad were the first in their families to graduate from college. They largely paid their own ways, following their lifelong dreams of becoming an engineer and a nurse. I know they were often astounded by my desire to be a writer – to pick a career that didn't seem "solid" enough – but they let me follow my own meandering path to these Michigan woods, serving as my guides, not my anchors.

What I chose to do with my life was important to my parents not because it defined them to others, but because it defined me to me.

I vividly remember my mother calling me one September day as I was heading out to another opening of school event. It seemed, my mother told me very calmly – as if she had just run out of paper towels – that my father had set himself on fire while burning a pile of leaves. It wasn't the first time this had happened.

"What did you do, mother? Is he OK?" I asked.
"Oh, he's fine! I just walked to the front door and yelled, 'Drop and roll!' We all have to learn from our mistakes, right?"

I headed off, astounded by my family but feeling bizarrely blessed. I watched the new students – a group I knew would likely be running our world in the near future – and I could only hope as they walked across our movie-set campus that they would be allowed to screw up on occasion, to set themselves on fire, as it were.

I think of America’s students every September as I walk my maple-lined woods and pray they not only work to lead promising lives but, most importantly, find their own paths, no matter where they may lead, no matter how unconventional.

September is such a time of promise, a time of new beginnings, so as you and your families springboard into fall, promise me this: You’ll have fun, you’ll take risks, you’ll screw up at least once, you’ll read with your children, and you’ll be yourself and let them be themselves, too: Because that is the true springboard to greatness.

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