Today we are sitting down with Andy Young, the author of Young Ideas. Mr. Young is a high school English teacher in Kennebunk, and the writer of several columns in such publications as The Falmouth Community Leader and The Portland Press Herald.
Q: Please, tell our readers something about your book.
A: Young Ideas consists of 70 different columns, none of which consists of more than 800 words. All of them have previously appeared in print in one of eight different Maine newspapers, several of which are, against all odds, still in business. I had about 450 essays to choose from, so hopefully I’ve selected judiciously. I’d like to think each one has some sort of value; they’re intended to amuse, inspire and/or prompt life-changing epiphanies. With a little luck a couple of the really good ones might do all three. I’ve written a lot about sports and politics, but the columns in this collection include few if any references to baseball and have virtually no political content. After looking back at over a decade’s worth of essays I’ve learned most of the ones dealing with current events or pop culture don’t have much of a shelf life. Little vignettes about everyday occurrences, though…they stay relevant forever, and sometimes the significance of those events grows with time, particularly if they were accurately chronicled shortly after they took place.
Q: In your book, you discuss your early aversion to writing. If you could go back in time, would you encourage your younger self to write more often? Do you think your younger self would listen?
A: If I could go back in time it would be great to encourage my younger self to write, write, write anytime something unusual or noteworthy took place. However, since the youthful Andy rarely listened to anyone, particularly anyone ten or more years older than he was, my guess is that young Andy Young would have smiled politely at current (old) Andy Young and let any and all well-intended encouragement go in one ear and out the other. Either that or he just would have ignored me (his future self) entirely!
Q: You mention you avoided writing in school, but did you enjoy reading? Who were your favorite authors? Did they have an impact on your writing style today?
A: I’m not sure I read much of anything other than the sports page and the comics between my teenage years and the time I turned 30 or so. I was more into physical pursuits at that time, a knuckle-dragger who proudly wore his willful lack of literacy like a badge of honor. The more my father urged me to read Dickens, the more I turned to Alfred E. Neuman or The Sporting News. As I grew older and started reading a bit I did pick out some favorites. W. P. Kinsella wrote fiction about baseball and life on a western Canadian Indian reservation that spoke eloquently to me. These days I’ll read anything by Carl Hiaasen, be it fiction or opinion; he’s both funny and passionate. For non-fiction, the best is the late David Halberstam, even though it sometimes takes me half the summer to get through one of his works. His impeccable research was always encyclopedic, yet everything he wrote was crystal clear and concise.
Q: In your foreword, you also mention that your first published piece was about sports. What made you decide to write on such a wide variety of topics rather than keeping with sports only writing?
A: I think I sort of got tired of being obsessed with sports, although that happened about 30 years later than my parents thought (or at least wished) it would. I spent 14 years as a minor league baseball play-by-play announcer, and spent several winters doing similar work in professional hockey. After you see a couple of thousand professional baseball games you start to realize that in the long run none of them really matter all that much. The best thing about sports are the people who are involved in them; some of the most fascinating, committed individuals I’ve ever met have spent all of their adult lives, which in some cases meant three, four, five, or even six decades, around the game of baseball in some capacity or capacities. But that said, in retrospect not much of what I saw in any of those games ended up having much lasting significance in the grand scheme of things. At one time baseball was an integral part of America’s culture, but these days it’s just another form of entertainment competing for the almighty dollar, and unfortunately it’s one that in this day and age doesn’t lend itself terribly well to electronic transmission. Once I allowed myself to be curious about a wider variety of subjects my field(s) of interest expanded a bit. That happens to most people, or at least most people who maintain functioning, open minds; in my case it just started happening a couple of decades later than it does for most folks.
Q: Some writers have a favorite writing spot, or a time of day they prefer to write in, others need a cup of tea or to listen to their favorite songs. Do you have any rituals to your writing?
A: I do a great deal of writing early in the morning, between 3:30 and 4:30 AM on weekdays, and from around 5 AM until whenever any of my children get up on weekends. I love the solitude (and the utter silence) at that time, and I find that at that hour my cognitive energy level is about as high as it’s going to be for the rest of the day. That’s if I have a good breakfast…which I always do. My day starts with a banana, an orange, an apple, and a bowl of Cheerios, or Rice Chex if I’m feeling frisky. No tea or coffee for me, though; my dad said those two things would stunt your growth. He drank a cup of tea with dinner every night, and never got taller than 5’7”. By the time I reached the age of twelve I knew I had no shot at a National Basketball Association career unless I was at least six feet tall, so I never tried those particular stimulants. Here’s what I didn’t know at age 12: I had no shot at an NBA career no matter what I ate or drank!
Q: Have you ever considered writing fiction? If so, what would it be about?
A: I’m not sure I’d be much of a fiction writer because I haven’t read enough of it. I prefer reading biographies or oral histories, particularly those involving baseball from long ago. I used to think that The Glory of Their Times, which was a series of interviews conducted by Lawrence Ritter in the early 1960’s with men who had played major league baseball in the early 20th (and in a couple of cases the late 19th) century, was the greatest sports book ever written. However, after a few decades of processing and sober reflection, I think it would be more accurate to call it the best oral history book ever written. I’ve probably bought that book, new or used, at least two dozen times, because I always know someone who’d love a copy. If I were to write fiction, it would probably be a children’s book, and the protagonist(s) would probably be several of my physically long-gone but still-vivid-in-my-mind childhood toys, which pop up in my dreams (both at night and during the day) far more often than I would have thought they might.
Q: Your book has a huge list of “thank yous,” acknowledgements, and special mentions. What do you think was the most important contribution of these people to your work? If you were addressing a writer’s family and friends, what advice would you give them?
A: Every person I listed at the back of that book (as well as a few who, thanks to a faulty or incomplete memory, I inexcusably overlooked) did, has done, or continues to do something which confirms for me that I matter, and that my very existence is making a difference. The coolest thing about all the people who’ve provided various forms of affirmation for me is that probably 95% of them have no earthly idea of how significant and meaningful their actions have been to me, and by extension to those close to me. When I have faced adversity in my life it’s been everyday kindnesses and good deeds from friends, family, and total strangers that have helped me persevere. And during good times legions of people have been there to not only help me celebrate, but to keep me sufficiently grounded. If I had the money to give everyone on that list of acknowledgments at the end of the book a copy of Young Ideas with a personalized note inside, I would. At the moment I don’t quite have the wherewithal necessary to do that, but if I can sell a couple hundred thousand copies of the book to people I don’t know, well, then maybe I’ll have the chance to see if I can make that ambitious pipe dream a reality.
I’d urge the friends and families of aspiring authors to treat the writer(s) in their lives in exactly the same way they themselves want to be treated: with genuine love, respect, patience, honesty, and affection. I’d also urge anyone who isn’t related to any (or doesn’t know any) writers to do those exact same things for the people they do know. Of course, that free advice is worth (at most) exactly what they paid for it.
Q: What role do you think gratitude has played in your life?
A: What a great question! It’s played (and is playing) a huge role, and its significance gets greater with every passing day. I have a whole lot to be thankful for, starting, I suppose, with having a reasonably healthy body and mind for someone of my vintage. I’ve also got three great kids, all of whom have the potential to be real impact makers. Each one is a unique, smart, funny, original thinker. But there are countless other less easily-described blessings which I consciously remind myself to savor, starting with some of the young people who walk into my classroom at Kennebunk High School each day. I’ve got some incredible colleagues there too, each of whom serves as a walking, breathing reminder that the most valuable treasures in my life aren’t tangible possessions, but people. And I know for a fact who they are, just like they know for a fact I’m there for them, whether it’s every day, once a year, or once every other decade or so.
Q: Do you think you will be creating another compilation soon?
A: It’s possible, although it may take awhile. Being a fulltime teacher and fulltime dad takes quite a bit of time, and doing what it takes to put together any kind of book is pretty daunting. I’d like to give it a try, though. I can’t begin to estimate the hundreds or thousands of hours it took to put Young Ideas together; in fact, I can’t even estimate how many hours it took me to (ineffectively) catch all the typos! Looking back, though, it’s been a labor of love that’s been worth every second of exertion.
Q: How can someone get a hold of you to purchase a copy of your book?
A: There are three ways to make this happen. The first would be to contact me through Kennebunk High School. The second is to e-mail me at my double-secret e-mail address, which clever people can probably deduce from visiting the KHS website. And the third way, the one which I would choose if I were looking for a copy, would be to come up to me on the street or in the grocery store and ask if I had any for sale. For those who’ve never seen me, I look sort of like a taller, more buff Tom Cruise. So if you see anyone matching that description, ask him how to get a copy of Young Ideas. If it’s actually me, you’re in luck. But even if it’s someone else, who knows…maybe you’ll make a new friend, and an uncommonly handsome one at that!