Category Archives: Teaching

Wait? You Mean…It’s 2017?!

How have I not posted anything since July?! Well, there were a few abandoned posts that I just didn’t like the sound of before posting them, and the many ideas for posts I either didn’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to write and post. There were the posts about Star Wars, or politics, or the depression/anxiety I’ve been going through, or…. Well, you get the idea.

…A pause…

…Another…

Those pauses are as much for me as for you, because I realized as I was writing that last paragraph that I’m falling into a voice I employ on this blog which is usually fine but isn’t right now. It’s more chipper than I wish to sound. The fact is, I’ve been in a mental storm for over a year now. Closer to a-year-and-a-half now. I’ll be calling my doctor soon. When I checked a list of symptoms of depression, I’ve had almost all of these on a nearly constant basis since late-summer of 2015. Naturally, 2016 really helped with things. As my graduate studies progressed, and my grades have been superb, my personal writing and reading went down, down, down. Maybe this is part of it. But I don’t think it’s all of it. I found myself sitting around on the days my now-four-year-old was at daycare not writing, not doing homework, not doing anything. Toward the end of my summer vacation, I forced myself out of the apartment to get pizza. It was my birthday. Whee.

There was my oldest daughter graduating high school and moving on to college. I’m so proud of her. I worry about her, though, because I’m her Dad. I also worry for other reasons. But I’m proud of her and happy to see the young woman she is and the woman she is becoming.

There was work-related stresses. Some of those will hopefully be put to rest soon as I apply for a teaching license extension, but until it’s in my hands, I’ll be terrified worried.

In late October, doctors thought they found ovarian cancer in my mother. They did. They also found a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in her lung. They treated the clot and she had the cancer removed. They believe they got it all but she’s going to have to go through chemotherapy soon.

My wife has work-related stress.

Did I mention that I hardly have time to write my fiction as I write my papers, discussion posts, etc.? It’s not simple time management, either. There’s no energy or time. Not in my current life.

I won’t even mention the “election.”

All these could be factors. But….

Look, 2016 wasn’t all bad. There was a lot of good, even great. My family life is amazing. I’m relatively healthy. So are my daughters and my wife. I have a job I really enjoy. I still have the ability, up here in my head, and down here in my heart, to write my stuff. I’ve seen some good movies and read a few of my books, and have been exposed to a helluva lot of good books for my classes that I haven’t really been able to read because of time/energy. By next Monday, I’ll be halfway through grad school. I don’t quite see the light at the end of this tunnel, but I think I see something.

But this…depression? Anxiety? Both? Melancholy? It’s been bad. I’m trying my damnedest in public and with friends to hide it, more to keep myself from falling too far into the chasm, but it’s growing harder to keep it at bay. It really is.

So that’s why I haven’t posted since July. Time, energy, self-doubt, and this funk.

I hope 2017 will change that. I have my doubts. But I will do my best.

I’ve been called pessimistic by some people I know. I’m not pessimistic. If you saw how dark things are in my head, you’d know I was an optimist. I have to be.

So thanks to all who cared enough to show me this past year. Thanks to those who have made me feel like a good man, husband, father, teacher, even writer. I will try to do better in 2017. In these uncertain times, it’s all any of us can attempt.

 

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Wherein I Peek Out, Blink, & Weep, or What the Hell Is Going On, Anyway?

I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.

First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….

But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.

Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.

But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!

First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.

Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.

Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.

Kids These Days, or You’re Old, Shut Up

 

Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.

I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.

I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.

Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.

Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.

Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.

Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.

Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.

How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.

Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?

I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….

Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.

“When I was a kid…”, or Why Your Childhood Doesn’t Mean Much to the Matter At Hand

When I was a kid, my father would say, “When I was a kid…” and I’d roll my eyes, sigh, and be the snot that I was. I often reminded him that it was The Eighties, which is just about how I thought of them, capital- and italicized. I blame bad sitcoms and teen movies of the day that were all over HBO. When I was a teenager, I was only slightly less obnoxious. After all, it was the nineties. Most of the time, when Dad spoke of his childhood, it was to complain. He’d be complaining about the costs of things (he’ll still go into that spiel if you bring up costs of anything). He’d be complaining about how I behaved. He’d generally be complaining. My father was born in 1941 and basically grew up in the country, in a lower-to-mid-middle class family. Life wasn’t perfect, but when he talks about when he was a kid, you’d think it was.

This has been on my mind a lot lately because of the snow. Since January, eastern Massachusetts has received a lot of snow. Boston says it’s about 8 feet, or maybe 10. Down my way, not much better. We haven’t had a full week of school since the week before Martin Luther King, Jr Day. The last week of January, we had two days of school, Monday and Friday. The following Monday and Tuesday were no good. The Monday that followed was no good. Now it’s February vacation and, depending on how the weather goes this weekend, we may not have school again at the start of next week. I’ve had a lot of time to think, to stew.

And you’re annoying me.

Not you, you’re fine. But you, back there. The one standing on his/her own memories and ego. Yeah…you. You posted this on Facebook and/or Twitter:

When I was a kid, they didn’t cancel school until snow actually started.

Or:

When I was a kid, it took more than cold weather to stop me from ______.

Those aren’t the only things you’re posting either. From religion to politics to pop culture, everything was better when you were a kid. My response:

Bullshit.

This especially annoys me from people who are around my age (I was born in 1977). Look, I do think we played outside more, with less rules, than the kids of today have. We didn’t have play dates, we played. By ourselves. Meaning, no parental involvement. But I’m not here to talk about that today. I want to talk about the weather.

You’re right, you old fart. When you were a kid–when we were kids–school wasn’t canceled until the snow fell. There was a certain alarm to listen for at 5:30/6:00 AM, and a specific radio station to listen to. I spent many sleepless nights in elementary school gambling and losing on the chance that we would get walloped by snow and I’d have a snow day.

That’s gone because science.

Have you noticed that in the past…oh…ten years that weather reporting has been pretty goddamn accurate. Maybe not 7 or 10 days in advance, completely, but it’s gotten pretty good. Chances are, if the 7-Day says that snow is coming at the end of the week, by the fourth day in, they know for sure and it’s only the matter of how many inches we’re getting, which they’ve gotten pretty good at predicting, too. It simply makes more sense now to close school the night before than to chance it at 5:30 AM. It allows parents to make accommodations in advance.

Science isn’t the answer for everything, of course. Your insistence that kids were better when you were that age is just plain bullshit, because I was a kid at the same time, or know human nature better than you, and it’s simply not true.

Look, there are always things we long for and changes to culture and the world around us that take us away from the good. I’m not denying that. Republicans have systematically shot down regulations that gave us better things and replaced them with cheaper, crappier stuff. Democrats have been too nice to do what’s necessary to get those regulations back. And all sides have been bought off a little too much in the places that count.

For the most part, though, things aren’t any worse now than they were. They’re just bad in different ways. And there’s still a lot of good, if not great, out in the world.

So stop it.

The End is Nigh, or Summer Vacation is Almost Over. Damn! That Went Fast.

It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.

If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.

Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.

Wrong.

I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.

I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.

I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”

And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.

About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:

Photo Aug 18, 8 51 42 PM

I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.

So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….

You get the idea.

I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.

______________________________________
* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.

Who Am I?, or Harlan Ellison is 80 Tomorrow & I’m Just Coming to Age at 36

Something happened recently that made me question myself. I won’t go into specifics but it made me really question myself. I came out stronger, I think. And a better person, I think. It may have even been one of the last real steps to me becoming–gasp!–an adult.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sell my action figures or relinquish my love of comics books, superheroes, space fantasy, Muppets, or Mister Rogers anytime soon. But for the first time I feel…well…like a man.

Let me explain, if I can….

As a teacher, I began telling my students to grow up to be the kind of person they want to be. If they see themselves as a good person, then work their asses off to become a good person. Everything else will fall into place. Now, as I reread that, it looks a little hippie-dippy to me. The best way I can explain it is this….

When I was a kid, I hated to be asked the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated that question because I didn’t know. I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, fucking 10 years old! How the hell would I know?! (An aside: This is one question I will not ask children until they are teenagers. I’m more interested in what they want to be now. Childhood is such a short period of time, why sully it with a glimpse into the grown-up darkness that awaits?). So I’d give them some bullshit answer that would shut up the grown-up and get them off my back.

“A baseball player,” I’d say, though I never played Little League, didn’t watch any sports on TV, and generally despised competitive athletics (I still do).

“A police officer.”

“A weather man.”

“An actor.”

“An astronaut.”

In other words, I’d give the standard answers that adults expect. The only one that really came close to what, in my heart of hearts, I’d hoped to do was be an actor. I’ll explain why I think I never pursued it another time, perhaps.

But around the time I was 9 or 10, I began to get a glimmer of what I might want to do as an adult. Not a job or career, but a general way of being. I knew that I either wanted to help people or entertain them. Those were the two things that I decided I wanted to try to do.

Now, my choices were limiting, because even as a 10-year-old, I knew I couldn’t work in medicine. I’m too squeamish. And I knew I’d make a horrible police officer (although I think I’d make an excellent detective, but I could be full of shit). So that left…what?

For awhile, I thought I would be a comic book writer and artist, until I decided to focus solely on writing when I was 13.

Fast forward 23 years. I’ve had many bouts of wondering what was happening in my life in the last few years. Turning 36 last August was hard. In age, I was an adult. I could no longer blame my stupid actions on being young and naive. Maybe naive, but certainly not young. And I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had a job—a career—that I really liked, that I’m really good at, but…it wasn’t the career I wanted. But…I liked it. Loved it, even. Not the paperwork, and certainly not the politics, but the interaction with students. The knowledge that I’ve made a difference in lives. I mean, I have students who have given my cards and notes and vlogs telling me how much my classes, how much my work, has meant to them!

And yet…I was so sad. Because I wasn’t writing full-time. Or working on movies. Or comic books. Because I wanted, in my mind, more.

So one day I was talking to some students after school. This was about a year ago. The two were best friends and one was leaving to go to another school. And I told him that I would be there if he needed me. And then I said:

“One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, has said that his definition of success is ‘achieving in adult terms that which you longed for as a child.’ I’d add to that that if your childhood self met your adulthood self, would he be happy? Would he say, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind becoming him.’

“When I was a kid,” I continued, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to either entertain people or help them.”

And before I could go on to whatever I was about to say, one of the young men said, “And you do both every day right here.”

“Yeah,” said the other. “You’re a success, Mr. Gauthier!”

We laughed and talked a few minutes more before parting ways for the day, but it stuck with me.

This year, I began telling students not to worry about future careers. To have an idea and work toward it, but to decide what kind of person they wanted to be, and the career would present itself.

So I went through a little bit of a fire this year. It made me question myself, and the way I got out was by realizing who I wanted to be. I’ve known since I was a boy. Now it was time to actually be that man.

I’ve always wanted to help and entertain. I’m a teacher and a writer. In my classroom, I help and entertain. If I can make a student laugh, or cry, if I can make a student feel, then I can make them care enough to learn what I need them to learn. In my stories, I can help people escape their lives for a little while, make them laugh, cry, or frighten them. I may try stand-up comedy at some point. I may try acting. I know I’ll write a comic book. I may even try screenwriting. And while I’m still hungry to make the creative part of my life my sole profession, for the first time I’m truly happy with the part of my life that pays the bills.

As a result, I’m a better teacher. I’m a better writer. I’m a better father. I’m a better husband.

I’m a better man.

Harlan Ellison, one of my heroes, turns 80 tomorrow, 27 May 2014. I will leave my usual birthday greeting on his website, and go back to lurking. But I now lurk as the man I know I want to be, not the guy who’s unsure of himself.

It feels pretty great.

It’s a Beautiful Day In This Neighborhood, or Why Mr. Rogers Matters

This will be my second time writing about Fred Rogers, the first was back in September 2011 when I was still attempting to write my ill-fated MediaBio blog. The reason I’m returning to the man the world knew as Mr. Rogers is because of his importance.

My wife and I have introduced Genevieve to TV. More precisely, our TV. I mean, the shows we watched as children. She’s been on a Muppet Show kick (which kind of sucks because the 3rd and, so far, last DVD set came in yesterday, and while the show had five seasons, only three have been released) and via Amazon Prime my wife introduced her to classic Sesame Street  (being my daughter, she prefers The Muppet Show). Prime also has Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Now, I’ve known the power Fred Rogers had for a long time, but especially since the incident I related the last time I wrote about him:

It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”

I can’t explain it. I began weeping.

***

I remember that day nine years ago like it happened yesterday. It was exactly what I needed to hear at that time.

So now Genevieve will ask to watch it and she was sick for the last few days so we put it on. She’ll end up playing, but Pamela and I are good with that, because we’re really the ones watching. I’ve seen episodes from before I was born. I’ve seen episodes from long after I stopped watching. I don’t understand why I never had Courtney watch it. I’m ashamed of myself.

The thing I keep noticing is how actually good and kindhearted Fred Rogers was. His meticulousness is evident in the show and the fact that he kept it pretty much the same from 1968 through 2001 is astounding. While Sesame Street changes with the times, Mr. Rogers’s set didn’t change in all that time. Picture Picture didn’t suddenly become a flat screen TV. The Neighborhood of Make Believe never got more complicated puppets or 3D characters. Hell, the same actors worked with him throughout!

I’ve cried several times recently watching episodes. Here’s a for instance for you:

So today, we were working our way through his 5-episode arc about work called “Mister Rogers Talks About Work.” The next-to-last episode featured him going to Wagner’s Market to buy some groceries. We get to meet some neighbors and see how a grocery store worked in 1984. While walking down the cereal aisle, he comments on how when he was a little boy, he’d want to get one of everything in the aisle, and the rest of the store, but how his parents wouldn’t let him get one of everything and he learned that people couldn’t get everything they wanted.

After getting his items, which shows him being friendly to everyone, he returns “home” and puts everything away, explaining how as a parent, there were reasons he had to say no to his children and that children can’t get everything they want. Then he announced it was time for make-believe.

So Mr. Rogers goes over to the bench where he operates Trolley and there’s a top hat there, closed. He pops it open to show his Television Neighbor, and as he takes it off and sits down says, off-hand, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world.” And then he sits down and gets Trolley.

The main theme of this episode is that not everybody can have everything. That choices have to be made and it’s the grown-ups in a child’s life who makes the choice. Once the child grows up, s/he can make the choice. This isn’t said with a snarl, or a wagging finger, but with love and respect. And even though that should be enough, it was the off-hand comment made as he was sitting down, “All kinds of things you can think about and do in this world,” that got me.

And there are! You and I, as adults, don’t need Fred Rogers to tell us this…but we do! How often in the busy grind of our lives do we stop and really pay attention? How often do we let life beat us down? The human mind is nearly limitless with imagination yet we begin to kill it the moment a child goes to school and is told to stand in line. Lines are important, so is order, but, as Mr. Rogers states at the end of the episode, so is play.

Fred Rogers ended his show in 2001. In December 2002, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. On February 27th, 2003, he died.

There has been no one before his death or since that has been able to sit down and speak to a child through the television without talking down to him/her but still being the adult. Some critics say his message to children, that they special, is the wrong message to send. I disagree. We are all individuals, there is no one else like the person we know ourselves to be, yet Mr. Rogers also gave us a message of love, of helping one another, of tolerance. Of peace.

I feel, in this time when 24/7 news talking heads, Twitter and Facebook hate and shaming, and mass-violence and teenage suicide rates are through the roof, Mr. Rogers’s message is needed more than it ever has been before.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for the love you showed me. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for what you taught me when I was five, 28, and now 36. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, for being you. There is no one like you.

Friday Night Lights…Out

Friday. Friday. Friday. F.R.I.D.A.Y. Friday.

This has been a long, emotional week. My 15-year-old was here most of the week because her mother was on vacation and that was great. She was mostly on her computer, which is normal for teens, yes? But she also played with the baby and played along with us. It was great. Yesterday, she went back to her Mom’s until next weekend. My heart broke as she walked across the street to the house, her bags in her hands. I get to see her every day now, but it’s still difficult leaving her.

This week also saw my return to work-school for the 2013-2014 year. I was happy to see my students from previous years, and some co-workers. The week leading up to the new school year is always stressful for me, but this year was particularly bad. I’m in a new classroom and not everything is ready. And because I deal with a different set of freshmen every four-and-a-half days until January, and four days have already gone by, and I’m still not unpacked in my new room, and I have no time to do that or much of anything…stress. Oh, and I have more students than I ever had before. That’s fun, too. I won’t get into that. The older students are great, but I even messed up with them this week.

Oh, and I miss the baby during the day. I’ve jokingly called her the hostage-taker all summer, but this week I missed her bad.

I’m tired. Tired. T.I.R.E.D.

But there’s some good.

After a very enthusiastic recommendation by the teenager, and seeing how many people loved it, and finding the Vlogbrothers YouTube videos, I finally decided to read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Ho-ho-holy shit, it’s good! I’m about 80 pages from the end and am dreading it, but can’t stop. Green is a major talent and he’s made a fan of me. Which is weird because we’re the same age. I mean, the same exact age. I mean, we were born on the same day.

Which means our birthday was last Saturday. We turned 36. Yay, us. My birthday was laid back, nice.

Another great thing: The Harlan Ellison Channel on YouTube. I’ve written about discovering Ellison on Sci-Fi Buzz and now, thanks to his friend, Academy Award-nominee Josh Olson, the commentaries he did, as well as some new videos, are available online. Or are becoming available. Goddamn, I’m happy. The fact that it went up in time for my birthday was a great present. It has helped get me through this week.

So that’s that. I should go to bed. Later.

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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