a day in the life of a former teacher

I have received messages from former students regularly but yesterday I got two about the same topic: writing. I miss being a teacher. And my former students mean a lot to me, so I take it seriously when they reach out. They wouldn’t if they didn’t need me, and it means a lot that they thought of me as someone to reach out to. I am a firm believer that we don’t make it through anything on our own. It’s always hard to ask for help so who am I to deny it?

Both of them had questions about how to write. One wanted to know what was the point of writing if no one reads it, the other had style and structure questions. Both excellent questions, as well as the kinds of things you want people with a certain writerly disposition to be asking.

To the former, for which an answer would potentially be a much more nebulous proposition, I answered that the act of publishing itself IS the reward. You can say that you have done this thing. Slayed the dragon, and so on. Of course the hope is that you realize you have been neglecting a part of yourself for years and use that burst of galvanizing energy to continue writing. And maybe one day you get that rare combination of luck and skill and preparation, and you actually get paid.

The latter was as I said, easier to address: how do we indicate internal dialogue in narrative. That student said she had used italics, which is of course what I think most of us do. But it got me thinking. Are there other ways that would be just as effective?

I am writing a novel right now where I have three recurring figures, each of which I use specific text markers for whenever they speak. Internal monologue occurs in two ways in my book: the poetry that is a state of poetic communication between one character and the godhood present in the novel, and one that is an internal musing. They both are treated the same – by setting the text into the body with two tabs. Is it easy to ascertain which is happening at what point? Not necessarily, but that is what I am exploring with the relationship, since the internal communication going on is in fact an interplay between the two characters. One of them is a god aspect, after all – and who knows what all they get up to in their spare time?

So, am I worried about who will read what I write? Not particularly. I plan to self-publish with Amazon and “put myself out there.” It’s been a lifetime goal of mine to have my work published in physical form, and I intend to see it happen. Having said that, who knows if anyone will read it. Or having read it, think it’s worthwhile.

I left my crystal ball in the Bat Cave so I can’t answer that. But it’s a thing I must do, so I am doing it. I hope you feel the same way about whatever your “it” is…

Hemingway wasn’t Hemingway until he was Hemingway…

This is what I want to say when you ask me.

and there he sits. the old man alone. late in inky

blackness, the light shrunken to a stale pool of

defiant solidity nightbirds mock. he cannot hear

the barrage of inanity; his internal temperature

is too high for that, the war raging behind his

weary skin too fraught with flames and shrapnel,

the screams of the dying thoughts he had no time

to capture. what does it do, you ask. what does it

even do?

as if entering the world in this way was a process

mechanical in nature, understandable and concrete.

the dialect one spoken by all, the dialectic a puzzle

worth three hours, a key that fits many doors, a clock

full of sentimentality and beauty whether it functions

or not. as if I had something to give you, wrapped in

the aura of a far-off land or some fleshy mystery.

instead of meaning and purpose we have a misery

both comfortable and complacent in its recurrence,

the agreement made that we would not step out of

our space. a thing unspoken, the better part of an

evil, social wisdom. pull up hard on that strap.

what can I say. pointing to my own efforts does nothing

they are few and silent. would you fail your children, or

someone else’s? remaining silent we know, speaking out

we do not. should you risk it all on the dream of burning

wings, an apartment overlooking the Seine with its boats

a father’s furrowed brows?

how to begin. you’ve already done it. the question itself an

open door your hand upon the frame. some things cannot be

avoided. the story of the man in the cafe is all our stories, the

being and unbeing at once, the metastasized mythos we carry

around like the heart we earned on our way home. it is yours

already, like your name.

Trauma Informed Response

I feel the need to say something, both as a parent and as a teacher. The latest personal news from DC involves the sharing of lived trauma. This sharing has drawn both support and ire, as is usual within the American political landscape.

I feel for what those people lived through, AOC in particular. She’s illustrated her bravery by coming forward. She has made a practice of speaking truth to power and it is serving her well. I wish that we all could do so with the expectation that we would be supported. In my experience, though, speaking out often has repercussions. I can only hope that she weathers this particular storm with style and it doesn’t harm her or her peers further.

I don’t wish any harm to anyone, most of the time. And when I do, I feel guilty about it. I think this might be a normal emotional arc; it certainly is my normal.

I have to say though: where has the righteous indignation and emotional support been for the children our nation has traumatized since Columbine?

It’s national news when these things happen, and it should be. It’s right for us to question why we allow these kinds of things to occur. In broad daylight, in a country whose most noble ideal is freedom. From tyranny. From oppression.

What else would you call this kind of trauma?

I remember vividly when my twins were in second grade. They came home one day, and breathlessly related their schoolwide lockdown drill. They told my wife and I that they “would be ready WHEN [emphasis mine] it was [their] turn.” Not IF. WHEN.

Please explain to me in rational argument how this is a normal expectation for a child to have. That there would be a time when a shooter would break into their school and quite possibly take their lives for no reason whatsoever. I’ll wait.

And I will keep waiting because you can have no answer to this. It is unacceptable.

Some things are more valuable than money.

So yes, this angers me. The way that her revelations and personal reflections from January 6th have inspired raw hatred from so many. But mostly, the fact that it took lawmakers’ and representatives’ lives being at stake to raise the issue again.

We need a reality check. We need a priority check.

There is a phrase thrown around in educational circles a lot these days, and it’s the title of this piece of writing. I would like to put forth the notion that our trauma informed response should be to eliminate or mitigate as best we can the environmental factors that produce said trauma. We need to start helping those with mental illness in a way that is substantive and comes from a place of genuine care. We need to have character education back in schools, alongside appropriate levels of emotional support. It’s not normal to be traumatized. You don’t need to grow a thicker skin. The burden is solely on the shoulders of those who cause the harm, whether they be individuals in need of care, or systems in need of serious revision and revitalization. Trauma cannot be normalized. Not anymore.

I want to live in a place where I don’t have to worry about a job loss destroying my life, or a serious illness dragging my family into bankruptcy or worse. I want to live in a place that values the individual as an individual, not as a cog in a money making machine. I want to not be afraid of this rapacious appetite for death, money, and sensationalism.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

So, yes. I do respect AOC for coming forward. But I think the conversation is wrongly focused on that one experience. Pull back and see the whole picture. Hold our governmental structures accountable. Demand change. As the saying goes, one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Let’s do something different.


the thing sat there. the raven outside on the wall watched it. not even the fine mist falling this morning made an impact. I too watched, albeit for different reasons.

I felt no threat from the object, the thing, the previously-not-there that had appeared some time over night, while it snowed. I was curious though.

what is it about animals? humans included. when left to our own devices, we might very well just observe. the moment there is competition for discovery, though – or the casual contemplative approaches a breaking point – then… then, the race is on.

from where I sat, it appeared approximately three feet in length, appended to the ground in some way. was it stabbed earthward like an errant spear? expelled? a regurgitant catharsis, like New Orleans’ coffins after a flood?

the snow started to melt a couple of hours later and still both the raven and I watched. I began to feel that I was an extra in a Norse saga – that the raven was Raven, either Huginn or Muninn, and some grand unfolding was to begin. the anticipation was pleasant.

a gleaming sceptre of some kind, a silvery metal hue. there were patterns across its length like filigree, lace. it glowed in the damp daylight.

from the front of the house a loud crash. the bird startled a bit, lifting above the wall in reflex and settling back down. the sound of an incipient car crash wasn’t enough to stir either of us, far.

and then, static discharge, the skies gray but untroubled by defined storm; the bolt itself so vividly white that the afterimage scored my vision for a full minute. a rod of white light stabbing downward into the mechanism, which began a slow shift at its pivot point from 45 degrees facing away from me to 45 degrees facing me.

there was a clangorous boom.

the raven was no longer there.

I didn’t see it leave, it just wasn’t there any more.

After Seuss

We struggle with reading sometimes. It’s okay, really – even though I am an English teacher and an Anglophile of the highest order – I get it. My children are fully immersed in French-speaking classrooms, they are doing well and working very hard. I still want them to be kids, something that wasn’t necessarily happening with any success where they were last year.

It has fallen to me, the stay-at-home writerdadguy who can barely cook, to get a lot of the dailies done while the kids are in school and my wife is at work. I am not complaining. I get to write again, and explore creative options that have sat stifled under piles of guilt and regret for decades. I can follow a recipe, so we’re not starving. I am beginning to enjoy cooking, though I am not sure that I want my wife to know that just yet. She is amazing where I am passable.

There is some reluctance with our youngest to read Chapter Books, which she is certainly ready for. I am not sure what the deal is, although she has said that she wants to stay little. I think she fears growing up because she thinks the way that she is treated will change.

We try to treat our children equally. They all aid in cleaning up, doing laundry, things like that. They can make themselves eggs and routinely pack their own lunches. Things are pretty great. Two ten year olds and a seven year old…

About that seven year old:

She loves Dr. Seuss books, and has read every one we own aloud to me. So I decided to write in the Seussian mode to encourage her. She read it, and now I am trying to get her to write her own. Mine is below. If I have any success having her create her own, I will post it here.

One day we were home and the doorbell did ring.

One day we were home, at the cold end of Spring.

“Who is it?”

“What’s there?”

“Let me see, let me see!”

And when we cried out, our father agreed.

It seemed that he was of terrible mood,

he wasn’t his usual super cool dude…

but we kept on crying our super loud shouts,

we kept on crying, ‘til he let us out.

And what do you know, would you just look at that!

Underneath a giant blue horseradish hat,

there stood a thing so sweet and so cuddly:

Upon the doorstep, so small and so fuzzly,

a poodle, a pink one, and strangest of all,

this little pink poodle was three inches tall!

“Oh my gosh, dad, please look!” we called back through the door,

our hearts growing bigger than they’d grown before.

“Oh my gosh, dad, please look!



“Look, look, look!”

We carried her in, right there, through the door

and we each saw something we’d not seen before:

her eyes were of different colors you see

and atop of her sweet little head grew a tree!

Not a big tree, not gnarly… but tiny, petite:

her tree like a daisy made the whole look complete.

Our father just stood in the room once again

while we danced around, singing and circling our friend.

“I think I have seen one of those things before,”

our father said quietly from the floor.

“A long time ago, yes, I’m suddenly sure.”

I repaired a stuffed animal this morning

Well, it was a shirt on a stuffed animal. A green shirt on a little panda that my daughter calls Pandy. We picked the critter up in London in the long-gone and much lamented pre-COVID19 days… I don’t know why they make these things so fragile (read: I do, but it’s not acceptable), and I am not a seamster/sewer/machine needle man. But because she was on the verge of tears over her beloved object, I did what any caring father would do and I picked up a damn needle and thread and started winging it (thanks, Amelie, for finding the needle and thread…).

So this little project got me thinking. It was out of my comfort zone, so I would never have naturally chosen it for myself – but isn’t that the nature of things that make us grow? I thought, this is a metaphor for what we need to be doing. Scale it up, and this is the problem – we are specifically and unequivocally bad at stewardship. I am not suggesting that we need to look at our elected officials as parents. Nor am I suggesting that we pursue the outsourcing of our responsibilities in such a fashion. But a few conversations over the last few days have led to this idea. And I realize it’s not new, or even particularly exciting. It requires effort on our part and a great galloping horde of us are apparently so lazy and entitled that we think showing up to a rally and holding a sign is the extent of our social and representative , civil obligation. Or worse yet, reposting memes into a vacuum channel like the social media outlets that won’t be named here…

Don’t get me wrong, protest is invaluable. I have protested and will continue to in order to spur myself onward and illustrate my understanding of civic responsibility. As well as to demonstrate that importance to my children. I mean, I get it. I am lazy also. But at some point we have to care enough about each other to actually do something… more active. Yes, get rid of politicians who would rather use their positions to line their pockets by conceding to the wishes of wealthy individuals and transnational corporations; yes, hold accountable the publicly elected officials who are selling us out in the name of holding us up; yes, use your purchases to drive a better and more ethical world. Isn’t there more, though?

I feel like there is, or there should be. The space occupied by this ephemeral agenda – it’s like looking for the surface of the water from inside the boat while you’re buried in a dense fog. You know it’s there, you can hear it, but what if there’s a water moccasin?

We are disconnected. From each other, from our own society.

We tend to have small enclaves of like-minded individuals that we cozily inhabit, because it’s safe and warm there. But over the last five years, some of us have heard the wild outside, and have turned to face the doorway. Do we step out and confront what haunts us, or do we wait for it to enter our spaces?

Two or three days ago, a friend posted a meme on Facebook. It doesn’t matter what the meme was, just that this friend and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of political ideology. I responded to the meme with a reasonably well-considered bit of analysis and posted some links that I had found that addressed the topic. No, it didn’t spin out of control. I thought it might, hoped it didn’t. It’s thanks to the character of the person posting that possibility did not occur. But it got me thinking, as did my conversation with my wife this morning about ethics.

When we were kids, so-called character education was largely gone from the American classroom. Along with many other hallmarks of traditional or classical education, as it turns out. It was a typical baby-with-the-bathwater, knee-jerk reaction. The same kind of thing that has invited massive corporations to commence the strip-mining of our educational system, wherein you have to buy our products to get better results, and then “assess” using our “testing instruments” in order to measure those results. Having trouble? Hire our consultants to come fix it. One silver bullet in the right spot…

Of course that doesn’t work. You know what does? Letting the people who teach all day decide what works. And supporting them when they say we aren’t doing enough to guarantee or support the social/emotional growth of our young people. That we aren’t providing mental health resources at appropriate levels. That we aren’t teaching level-appropriate content. That we aren’t consciously encouraging an active discussion about right and wrong that allows children to think for themselves and read consequences for both positive and negative behaviors.

But we’re afraid. We are afraid to speak truth to power because we have an awful history of paying very steep fines for that truth.

If it’s your kids, maybe you will speak up. I hope so. We certainly have. But it gets mixed results: anything from outright disdain to refutation to receiving the label most parents dread… being THAT PARENT.

Look, I know. I taught for ten years. I have three kids and they have been in a wide variety of educational environments. I know what works for my people may not be one size fits all, but the teaching of ethics is the foundation of civilization itself. And no, I do not believe that we should have prayer in the classroom or “bring the Bible back.” It’s not gone anywhere, folks. That is a deeply personal decision and you decide for your own family. You don’t get to enforce it on everyone else. It’s perfectly acceptable to embrace all philosophies when having a constructive conversation. Why can’t we do this with children?

You have to let go of the idea that your way is the only way. That causes vastly more problems than it provides solutions. I stitched a green shirt with blue thread. The seam is lumpy. It looks like someone who has no idea what they were doing conducted the repair, as in fact was the case. But I made the attempt. And I learned something while doing it. And I thought about how it related to a bunch of other things, so I think it was worthwhile for all of us.

Take a moment to repair something you can, even if the result is a bit dodgy.

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