Evanston RoundTable, Jan. 12, 2017
Address to students at Daniel Webster Elementary School, New Rochelle, N.Y.:
Good morning, boys and girls. My name is Lester Jacobson. But back when I roamed these wonderful halls, I was known simply as “Butch.” (Pause for laughter.)
I moved here from Chicago and started first grade at Daniel Webster in 1950. One day our principal, Dr. Jack Roberts, invited everyone in school to try out for Storytime. Storytime was a new segment broadcast every morning, at the start of the school day, along with the announcements. He encouraged anyone interested to write a script, kind of like a radio show, and submit it for consideration. The winners would read a little of their made-up story on the PA system every week.
I decided to write a story called The Adventures of Nibsy, based on my family dog, Spotty. Spotty liked to eat chicken bones and slip off his leash and run around causing trouble. But we loved him anyway.
Nibsy would be like that too. Only I figured I could invent new and more interesting episodes with Nibsy, just like I had invented his name.
So I submitted a Nibsy script and guess what? Nibsy was one of the stories selected!
Terrific, right? But I began to think: What if I run out of ideas? What if I can’t come up with more stories? What if…what if…what if?
So I told Dr. Roberts I had changed my mind. I threw away my chance to be a young writer, to be an artist of ideas and a painter with words. Just because I was scared to try.
I carried that story with me a long time. It was a story of failure, of being chicken, of imagining bad things would happen before they ever did. If they ever did.
Now I don’t want you to think I ended up doing poorly. After I graduated New Rochelle High School and our family moved back to Chicago, I got college degrees from the University of Illinois and Loyola University.
I worked in newspapers for 10 years and went on to work for big companies, always writing – stories, articles, scripts, speeches. And now I write for another newspaper, in my hometown of Evanston. But until recently I never wrote fictional stories, like The Adventures of Nibsy. Writing fiction, stories that you make up, was still scary to me, even though I longed to be a creative writer. That changed only recently.
Reading was my first passion. Creative writing would become my second passion, but it took a very long time to get over Nibsy’s misadventure.
So I’m here to tell you one thing. Don’t be afraid to tell your Nibsy story. If you’re afraid you can’t do something – something creative or scientific or academic – because you might fail, just remember there’s no such thing as failure, except if you don’t try.
Always, always, always try.