Monthly Archives: September 2012

My Political Post

I’m a little weirded out by how things are going. I don’t remember things being so polarized when I was a kid. I mean, I know people had their favorites and everything, but I don’t remember the vitriol being so bad. I also don’t remember people being so…extreme. Ronald Reagan did some pretty terrifying, fucked-up shit, but he never let on that he would do so in public. But now we have Santorums and Palins and Ryans who say fucked-up shit and people actually say, “Right on!” He may be wishy-washy, but at least Romney is trying to be moderate in what he says, depending on who he’s talking to when.

A friend recently posted something on Facebook that said people of the opposite political views should “do their homework” and research before they cast a vote. That was two weeks ago. In the weeks since, this friend has posted several links to websites made by obviously racist, crazy people. Is this the homework this friend means? Am I offended because I hold diametrically opposite political views than this friend? I’m sure I have done the same but on the other side (except, the websites I post aren’t racist. Crazy maybe, but not racist).

I don’t know. I know who I’m voting for and I know why, so I’m pretty much trying to block the rest of what I see. I like to preach that we need to be more tolerant of other people’s beliefs, but I have trouble when I see things that are wrongheaded and derogatory toward people spewed by modern politicos and then see people actually rally behind that person (or the person who represents them).

The modern world frightens me, more than any of the horror novels or horror movies that I love so much.

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Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow

A memory came back to me last week. Let me share.

Growing up, I was my generation’s Dennis the Menace. Bart Simpson was a kindred spirit. I was the proverbial little shit. I was (too) smart (for my own good), I didn’t do what I was told, I was imaginative, and I had a temper. That said, it’s amazing how much I got bullied. But this isn’t about the bullies. At least, not straight up. This is about friends. Or one friend in particular. And his family.

There were several kids around my age in the neighborhood I grew up in, but it was rare that we all got together. There was Kurt (three-four years older than me), Scott (one year older), Eric (one year younger), Jimmy (one year younger), Chrissy (three-four years older), and several children who would be closer in age to my younger sister. Scott and Eric were brothers. Jimmy and Chrissy were siblings, too. I met Jimmy and Chrissy when I was about 6 and they were friends until they moved away when I was 12 or so. However, they weren’t around much. Eventually, Eric and I became best friends. Even though we’d known each other for nearly our entire lives, we really didn’t start being close until I was around 8. Eric and Scott’s mother was very by-the-book. She once told my mother that my overactive imagination was a bad thing that would probably get me in trouble one day. Anyway, once we were both able to go outside by ourselves, Eric and I became best friends.

I think Eric liked me because I always had something to do. We could play with action figures or, better yet, we could role play. That’s what I did a lot outside. I’d be Batman. Or Luke Skywalker. Or Axel Foley. Or Freddy Krueger. Or Marty McFly. Or—most likely—a character I’d made up. And when I played—just as I did with my action figures—I didn’t just play an endless stream of make-believe until I petered out, oh no, I played movies. I gave them titles, and ratings, and had a beginning, middle, and ending. I was also like Bart the Menace—I did what I wanted. I defied my parents. When there were no grown-ups around I swore.  I did what I wanted. And we had a good time. When I was 8 and 9 years old, Eric and I had a blast.

Except…Eric would sometimes take those bad habits home, I guess. Or at least, that’s what was always implied. Eric, who was the second child, Eric, who was the lesser child, was trouble, so said his mom. He wasn’t, really—he was just a typical little boy, into mischief, curious. Unlike his older brother (who would also be a close friend for a period of time in the years that followed), Eric wasn’t perfect (so sayeth his mom). So, Eric would get punished.

Eric, unlike me, couldn’t get out of punishments. Eric was rational and could be reasoned with. He became a scientist as an adult. It was there all along. So when Mom and Dad said he was punished, he was punished. And his mother’s favorite punishment for Eric? You can’t play outside with Billy.

He could go outside. He could play outside with his brother and Kurt (who became the closest friend of all of them, and for the longest period of time)—fuck, he could play outside with whole goddamn neighborhood, except if I came around. He couldn’t play with me.

At that time, I wasn’t friends with anyone else in the neighborhood. Or if I was, they weren’t around. So for Eric’s punishment, I would sit in the window and watch him laugh and play with Scott, and Kurt, and the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Fellowship of the Ring, and Cirque du Soleil, and…. That was some punishment he had. I wonder if he learned his lesson.

My mother was appalled and called his mother, who was (and still is) her friend, and asked how could this be punishment for Eric? Billy’s sitting in the window watching his best friend playing with everyone on the planet but isn’t allowed to play with him.

And Eric’s mother responded, “I read that to punish a child you should take away his favorite thing, so since his favorite thing to do is play with Billy, I took that away.”

As a kid I didn’t think that was fair. At 35, I still don’t see how that’s something a sane person would do. If we lived across town, okay. But to make it so Eric and I couldn’t hang out but Eric could still run around with everyone else—who at the time did not like me—is punishing the person she outright saw as the cause for her son’s insubordination.

The memory came to me out of nowhere last week. And it saddened me. And angered me. And made me shake my head. No wonder I am the way I am.

***

The senior girl has been coming to me during the day with her college essay and I’ve been helping her edit it. She’s really bright and she has the idealistic dreams a high school senior should have. Today she brought me the fourth draft. We went over it. I sent her away with instructions for draft five. She thanked me profusely.

Students stayed after school with me yesterday to talk about this year’s school magazine. Their ideas and ambition energized me.

A group of freshmen who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days crowded my desk and bombarded me with questions and listened to me.

I have three books published by small presses under my belt. Work of mine has appeared alongside work by bestselling writers. I’ve been contacted by other genre legends and writers I admire.

My 14-year-old is one of the most intelligent kids I’ve met. She amazes me constantly. Born to young parents with little money, the odds were against her. She’s not only surpassing those odds, but have blown the motherfuckers away.

My wife is amazing. We laugh all the time. In bed before sleep falls. In the morning. We have so many in-jokes it’s hard to keep track of them all. I’m extremely lucky.

***

Another daughter is due a month and a half from now.

I have more work to do and many, many stories to tell.

I have lives to help shape who have not come into mine yet.

I will continue to do things…my way.

School’s In Again, When’s Vacation?

That title sucks, but what can you expect from a teacher after the first week of school is over? I went from spending the day working on the novel, reading other people’s novels, watching movies, being a husband and father (and father-to-be-again) to being Mr. Gauthier. The week was pretty good. There were some issues, there always are the first few weeks of school, but I had a good time and I think the kids did, too. One of those kids is my 14-year-old daughter who started the high school I teach at this week. I decided to bring her to school and bring her home and so have seen her every day this week. We’ve talked more this week than we have for the whole summer. Part of that is that she went to Florida to visit my sister and her family for a month, part of that is that, at 14, when she comes over she sits on the computer. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if I were in her place. So the week has been good.

I never thought I’d be a teacher, when I fell into the whole education thing, I didn’t think I’d be good at it. I have found that I am good at it. I think it’s the natural storyteller in me, the entertainer.

This may shock some people who are of literary persuasion but I see writing and literature as a form of entertainment. I don’t just mean media tie-in novels and books written by or about celebrities, either, I’m talking all literature. My to-be-read pile (which somehow never diminishes) has novels by Proust, Pynchon, and Steinbeck next to (or underneath) a volume of the pulp The Shadow and two A Nightmare on Elm Street tie-ins written around 2004-2006. One pile has You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry: A Hulk Companion by Patrick A. Jankiewicz on top of Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, which sits atop 3 werewolf anthologies, a nonfiction book about Harlan Ellison I bought in 2003, and several books about Bruce Springsteen. Enterfuckingtainment, man! I think most people who read my blog feel the same way about literature. Most of my immediate colleagues probably do as well.

A good teacher, he says humbly, is a good entertainer. Don’t take this wrong. I do not feel that class has to be fun or that students should be coming to school to be entertained. Schools are places for learning and education is a serious thing–a look at the current Republican Party and the Tea Party movement shows what can happen when people aren’t well educated–but I do not believe that education needs to be boring. I will cop to education not always being fun, but I will not give in with the idea that you must be serious every minute of every hour of every day. If you ask me (and if you’re reading this, I’m going with the notion that you did), passing by a classroom with laughter coming through the door means you’re most likely passing a classroom where serious education is happening.

Humans learn best when their emotions are being played. You may not remember when the Magna Carta was issued (I had to look it up to even remember what it was!) but you remember the date a favorite song was written by a favorite artist because the song means so much to you, and so does the artist. Just as you remember where you were for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because the immensity of the event played your emotions. Or maybe you remember a key piece of history or historical figure because of a comedian’s passing reference (Robin Williams is great for this) or a comedy movie. How many people born in the late-1970s learned about Genghis Khan because of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Sure, we didn’t necessarily learn everything about him, but we learned the name and could then check it out.

So I find that my natural ability to tell stories, my sense of humor (which doesn’t get much play in my writing yet), and my enjoyment of entertaining people helps when I’m in a classroom. I have the ability to make students laugh when I want them to in order to help them understand something. I’ve made students cry by telling moving stories from the Civil Rights movement or even by telling them ways that movies and literature have moved me and made me who I am today (I teach a media class, which is why I can jump around to different subjects).

I hope I’m not coming off as conceited or arrogant. I’m basing this on student and colleague reaction. The best teacher I ever had, a woman who became my mentor, has called be a great teacher. From a writing perspective, that was like when Greg Gifune basically gave me a free writing seminar by helping me a shape my second published story, or finding out Tom Monteleone was going to write the introduction to Catalysts and then reading that intro a couple of years after he and his wife bought a story of mine for their Borderlands 5 anthology. Or doing a signing with Christopher Golden, or receiving complementary emails from John Little. Or the voicemails from Harlan Ellison (I never did call him back, out of fear, and now–six years later–it’s too late). Or various other cool things that have happened as a result of my writing. My former English teacher’s opinion of my teaching is validation that makes me nearly too happy to put into words.

I will try to keep the blog up as well as I did during the summer, and perhaps even better. At some point, I’d like to write about trying to keep my writing life and teaching life separate. Perhaps next time. Until then, happy learning. We never really stop being students, do we?

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