OCEAN PINES — Everyone has a story worth telling. The trick is to figure out how your experiences can edify others in a way that is both very personal and also engaging.
Edify is kind of a tricky word. Many people use it in place of “educate” or as a synonym for teaching someone something. It can suggest that but, at its core, edify goes beyond teaching.
It’s a word that used to mean “build up” coming from edifice rather than educate. Which is what makes it such a right word to describe “Jumping the Fence: A Journey from Darkness to Light” by local author Kurt Chavarie.
Chavarie’s story isn’t really educational, except for those people who want to know more about his personal history. But it is, from cover to cover, a testament to how one person can build another up and how that construction can become strong enough to support others in their rebuilding.
Alcohol dominated much of Chavarie’s life. His mother drank as he later came to do. His father was absent — Chavarie later discovered that his father was away working and sending the money back to his family — and that absence laid the foundation for a bitterness that would take 40 years to reconcile.
Chavarie cheated his way through school, pulling what others have called gentleman’s Cs and eventually went to work in a warehouse. It was the kind of warehouse where the foreman looks a man over, decides whether he has a strong enough back and hires him on the spot. It’s the kind of job that doesn’t require applying for, which is convenient for someone who can’t read. It’s also the kind of place that doesn’t care if you miss a bunch of days, which is good for a blackout drunk.
A series of exceptionally bad alcohol-related choices, followed by their almost necessary consequences that included some jail time, led Chavarie to clean up his act. He started showing up to work on time and was promoted rapidly enough that the fact that he couldn’t read caught up with him in a way he hadn’t anticipated.
As a manual laborer, his instructions were simple and delivered orally. As a member of management, his directions were more complex and delivered via memo. He could identify words, but not understand sentences. Chavarie didn’t last very long in his new job and couldn’t go back to the old one.
Moreover, in the intervening years, it became more difficult for an illiterate person to get a job. With encouragement from a friend — Ed Dunne — Chavarie signed up for basic reading and writing at the University of Maine.
He learned to read and to write. But maybe more critically than that, he discovered that given the time and the resources, he communicated better in writing than he did in person. When you write, you can go back and make changes in a way you obviously can’t do orally. You can take the kind of time to select the right word, to research it and its meanings, and to communicate as well as you’re willing to take the time to.
And that’s how Chavarie began, writing poetry to communicate with a woman to whom he couldn’t get his meanings across in person. He published a book of poetry but didn’t make too much of an effort to get out word about it.
From there he moved to short stories, recounting scenes from his life with the detail and access to meaning he couldn’t provide out loud. It was almost a purely therapeutic exercise, a way of getting a grip on what had happened to him and what had happened to others around him.
Before too long he realized that the stories formed the larger narrative of his life. Moreover the experiences, while they were uniquely his own, told a larger story about how people can tear themselves and others down and how, with a little effort, they can build themselves and others up.
Much of what he is able to say now — Chavarie is quite articulate — comes from his being able to take the time to fashion his story and from the vocabulary he has built over the last two decades.
What he had to say was this:
“I always felt like there was this fence around me, keeping me from communicating with other people. ‘Jumping the Fence’ is about getting over the fears and the inadequacies that keep you from communicating. Going from hopeless to hopeful is quite a journey.”
He’s begun doing signings and speaking publicly about his book, answering questions and giving, if not advice, direction to the many people who have already been touched by his book.
In fact, he’s trying to slow down. Chavarie worries that the book’s initial success and the number of speaking dates he is already scheduled for are a little overwhelming. Having the book released, he said, was his way of putting the past behind him.
Telling the story of what he experienced removed the possibility of the past coming back to haunt him. He owns his choices and his consequences and can do with them as he pleases. What he hopes to continue to do is use the stories as bricks to help build other people up.Local author Kurt Chavarie’s newest book Jumping the Fence: A Journey from Darkness to Light is available on e-book through Amazon.com, and other e-book distributors. Copies can be purchased at the Worship Center in West Ocean City or at any of his upcoming signings: 6-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday Aug. 12-13 at the Comfort Inn in Ocean City. He will read selection sections of Jumping the Fence 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 at the Comfort Inn as well. Chavarie can be reached via Facebook and at http://www.jumpingthefence.com