Audio for The Real GOOD Loser: Episode 3- An Introduction and Setting The Stage
(For audio: play music to Starz television series Black Sails during episode intro)
The following is a written for audio presentation of
The Real GOOD Loser
A Story That Could…
Start of Episode Three:
—An Introduction and Setting The Stage—
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”
—A quote credited to Mary Oliver posted on Facebook by Poetry Matters.
At Recoveryhighschool.com, the entertainment used for educational purposes is sited in what we hope to be a mutually beneficial way for all.
Welcome Listener to the world of The Real Good Loser….
(End entrance music)
All of us have secrets that make us who we are. Sometimes a person must lie to keep those secrets. Some do this more than others and are attacked for being “fake.” And some of us might not be able to avoid imagining a person that fits such a description. Well…I am one of those people. I keep secrets and often rationalize my lies. I tell myself that it is simply a defense mechanism I use to survive in this painful, cruel, critical, and judgmental world.
I am attempting to help people learn about this Recovery High School I teach at, but unfortunately, to do that, I am going to have to tell you some of my secrets. I am going to have to come out of hiding. Just a bit.
Most people have never heard of a Recovery High School. To help change that I’d like to tell you the story of how I became a teacher at one. To do this, I must first bring you back to May 27th, 2016.
At three a.m. on that morning, I stood outside watching a fire engulf my family’s home. Holding my chin up to look at the smoke swirly high into the sky, my heart was buried beneath my feet, deep underground. The flames of shame and fear and hopelessness rose like the sparkling fire that reflected in my eyes. Those emotions live inside me—some place just above my stomach—and they are as real as that house I watched burn. They are the same feelings and emotions one battles to get sober.
Reflecting on the pain I felt at that moment of my life hurts, yet it might be considered just another day for someone like me. When I close my eyes today, I can vividly recall being huddled under that fire-lit sky. Believing that at thirty-three years old I would forever be defined by my struggles.
As those flames danced their way through the roof—entertaining the audience that had gathered outside—the strange beauty of that scene mocked me. The endless failed attempts to put my life back together danced with those flames, and right then my dream of achieving some sense of redemption—just like my house—went up in smoke.
An hour or so before that fire started, I was staring up at the moon and reflecting on my journey as I had a cigarette on my back porch. Battling insomnia in recovery is common and I didn’t sleep much, so this was something I’d often do throughout the night. I remember wanting so badly to be proud of how far I had come as I stared off into space. There was an even a moment I remember I think I was feeling hopeful. But looking at that house burn all I felt was…well…hopeless. Again.
That fire I watched burn that morning in 2016—the fire that would leave my family homeless—was my fault. I caused it. There, I said it. I’m not hiding anymore. Not completely.
Reflecting on that moment in my life I must simply accept it and own it. As it was this event—and dealing with the consequences of my actions—that put me on the path that got me here today.
“Losing everything one thinks is important to them can be a freeing experience.”
I would have hated for someone to say this to me back then. But the truth is once you’ve experienced such loss—and you swallow that pain day after painful day—you can go about your life without the fears a privileged life can sometimes create. This does not mean I suggest a person go out and lose everything. Because failure at that level often makes a person quit on life completely. Yes, everyone loves a redemption story. The problem is most people don’t get them. They just keep falling. Trust me. I know.
At this school I’d like to think I’m not here to catch anyone. Instead, I’m here to help someone off the ground once they are ready to get back up on their own. Because not often can one stop a person from falling. An individual, much more often than not, must do that on their own.
Who was I before that fire?
Back in my glory days, I was “That Kid:” An All-Star athlete—Honor roll student—Class treasurer—Homecoming King. I do not list these things to brag, instead I list them to illustrate that addiction and mental illness can affect anyone. I am living proof of this and can honestly say that I am prouder today of surviving my failures than I am reminiscing over any of those past accolades.
Before I go on, let me make one thing perfectly clear: People with addictive personalities, or emotional instability, can struggle with any type of substance: from alcohol and weed, to heroin, cocaine, and everything in between. Some among us might even know that addiction does not end or begin with just substances. Because of this, what I used is irrelevant. Though I bet you’re itching to know.
As I write this, I am thirty-seven years old and must say that I’ve lost more than I want to try and explain due to my substance use. I have slept days, weeks, and months away battling depression. I have been a chronic failure and spent a lot of time hating myself. Regretting bad decisions and punishing myself more than anyone else could ever wish to punish me because of the personal anguish introduced by life naturally.
My struggles and the destruction I have caused is difficult to overlook. Too often I forget that in my time on this planet I have also done some very good things. While it may seem that I am eager to give myself this little pat on the back, the thought of “my good deeds” has never been enough to grant myself forgiveness. If you have ever dealt with severe guilt and regret, I am sure you can relate.
Getting healthy for me meant reinventing myself. I needed to find my purpose. To accomplish this, I needed a fresh start. A nice idea but a very tough thing to do when you carry so much baggage. Lucky for me, I found Lakay Recovery High School in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Or maybe this school found me?
In ‘The Program’ (that’s AA and NA for those of you trying to learn) I heard people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Could this really be true? Did I have to struggle myself to understand how to be a useful asset to these kids?
At this school I will be suggesting to my students that they write editorials so that people can learn about what goes on here, but I anticipate they will be hesitant when I present this idea of mine. This left me in a dilemma. Any adult knows that it is hard to make a child go out on a limb and do something uncomfortable. Most of the time we as the adults must show them first by doing that uncomfortable thing ourselves. So, I had to ask myself, do I put myself out there?
I am not a fool—not completely. The ‘Stigma’ does still exist. The truth is some people reading this will judge and ridicule me for my candidness. After much debate however, I have decided that it is worth the risk and wrote this editorial. To prove to my students that the fear is merely in our minds. That the world is not as scary as we think it is. And that there are people out there that will support us.
I have done this for these students because I have seen first-hand that these young minds are determined to live a life where substances do not derail their dreams. Lives that are focused on making this world a better place. For them, their families, and everyone’s future. We need them to succeed.
If thinking this makes me crazy, then so be it. But I don’t think it does. I think you love them just as much as I do. Am I right?
One last thing. Did I mention that the fire I caused was an accident? Because it definitely was. I hope I didn’t give you the wrong perception of me. For it’s like I’ll be telling my students: Perception can be a killer.
(For audio: play Believer by Imagine Dragons featuring Lil Wayne during transition; length 1:19)
(For audio: The following is to be read by The Narrator)
Dear Listener, that introduction you just experienced came from an article Jose Julian wrote for a local newspaper. In an attempt to gain support for that school he was teaching at.
Jose will fail for many reasons with this story of his, but he was extremely close to making all his dreams a reality. And so, let his failure serve as a reminder to those chasing their dreams now. Do not quit on the five-yard line, instead, let each failure serve as a learning experience pushing you forward. You’re growing don’t forget.
Life can’t be serious all the time, to survive, one must find ways to enjoy themselves. This is an especially true statement for drug addicts in recovery and something Jose understood well. Unfortunately, as you will discover throughout his story, Jose often struggled with the world he was associated with and so doing something like “enjoying oneself” was often easier said than done for him. Which leads us to this question: What happens when a person believes that they have lost their ability to enjoy life?
Surviving what lies ahead will take patience and persistence, but your time and effort will be worth it in the end. As we are here for those people that have lost their ability to enjoy this life. They need us and we need them. But telling them that is no longer enough. We must change this world for them. Is this something you are willing to do Dear Listener?
A writer uses metaphors and things to bring people into a story. Jose imagined referencing entertainment in his story would work like a metaphor; to help readers remember and reflect on their past. We have taken this concept a step further by incorporating entertainment into the story Jose wrote that we finished for him.
Going forward, we will continue to bring outside entertainment into this story—like how we are playing music between transitions in each episode. In the experiment ahead each song you hear serves a greater purpose. Now, before we use this invention of repurposing entertainment to go all Dark Knight Joker serious on you, we would like to have some fun with this invention of ours and make you listen to a song before we get to Jose’s Setting the Stage.
We apologize for the language used in this next song we will play for you here ahead of time. We, ourselves, won’t say many bad words in this story—keeping it PG-13 rated mostly—but we can’t control what everyone says.
“What the hell is going on here?”
That is what many of you will be wondering when this song is playing.
“Are they glorifying drug use?”
Like always, have your opinions but be adults and don’t stop listening. You want to understand the kids, right? Well, you have homework yourself too. It won’t be that bad. You’ll survive. Just think of all the silly songs you’ve been entertained by over the years.
At this moment I feel like some insecure man heading to bed with a lady for the first time. Heart pounding. Palms sweaty. All nervous. And stiff—but not in the places I want. Talking too much and trying to prepare my new lover, you Dear Listener, for some not awful experience ahead. Acting suspicious too. Like I’m keeping some terrible secret from you as I try to overcompensate with witty, stupid, chatter.
For those that might be interested in writing when this is all over, that was all an example of how a writer might use metaphors by the way. The word “like” usually gives it away. Enough foreplay though. None of this will be that bad. And if it is, it’s only gonna last a minute or two. Have you heard that one before?
Don’t act like a baby fighting a shot their doctor needs to give them. I’ll hold your hand. Don’t worry. And I’ll even give you one of those lollypops to suck on when it’s all over.
I enjoy giving candy to children. Does that make me creepy?
“Yes Mr., it does.”
The next song you will hear tells a story. Did the story happen? Most likely not. But it’s a fun song and we need to promote art. And then strive on making art better. Simple really.
We have said this already and will say to you again: there is a purpose to everything we are doing here. Adults and children want to understand one other. To do so, one must get inside the other’s mind. Try and enjoy it. And remember, you deserve this.
The song we play during our transition into Setting The Stage is called Faded With a Stranger by Chris Webby. To repurpose this song, hope will be the drug and we will be the stranger. Are you ready to get faded?
(For audio: Play song Faded With a Stranger by Chris Webby released in 2022; length 1:19)
—Setting The Stage—
When the time is right, life will teach you more than any classroom ever could. The date today is Thursday, March 19th. The year is 2020.
In my hand I hold the book titled Ready Player One. A review of which read, “This book is proof geeks will one day inherit the Earth.” As a wannabe geek myself—and someone that wants to believe that thinkers still rule the world—this was a book I just had to read after seeing that review. And watching the movie that was based on it of course.
I believe a book finds a person. As many have found me over the years and spoken to me in ways I needed at the time. I’m only on the fifth chapter of this one but it’s awesome. The whole concept of this Easter Egg Hunt has me obsessed: “Creating an entirely new reality that provided an escape for most of humanity.” I mean—how cool would that be in real life?
Before the school day begins, I am normally attempting to occupy my brain by getting lost in a story, but on this day, I am instead lost in my own thoughts. Trying to imagine a world different than this one. Trying to put together a picture of the future different than the one I think is in front of us. Trying to think of what to say to her….
There has to be something I can say to you… Something to wake you up… A way to give you some hope. See, secretly, I kind of think this world sucks too—but I can’t tell you that. Things do seem broken. But I’d need a time machine to go back and fix everything… When would I go back and start changing things anyway?
Waiting at the door, I cannot stop thinking about what I read on my student’s Facebook page last night. That’s what I get for being nosey, I say to myself as I continue to worry about what this student had written.
The day ahead promises to be anything but normal. Our entire staff has been told to pack up our classes and prepare to educate students “remotely” for a bit. No one really knows exactly what that means yet.
All the real teachers are in line at the copy machine preparing packets to send home with their students, while I stand in the quiet cafeteria waiting for the kids to arrive. Principal Sam just finished telling me that since I have no “real curriculum” to cover it will be my job to “babysit” for the day “so that the other teachers can scramble to send sufficient work home with the students.” Principal Sam tells me that the students may be home for a while. I don’t believe it.
I can hear cafeteria staff moving in a room behind me preparing the morning meal—smells like those French Toast sticks again. From out the door I see the bus pull in. I watch the students exit the bus and walk towards me. One can expect high school kids to be moody, but today they appear a little extra miserable.
Opening the door, I welcome the students into the building. “Good morning Lauryn,” I say, in the most cheerful voice I can muster so early in the day.
Nudging her way through the door Lauryn barks a sharp f at me. “F*** you,” she says—though Lauryn doesn’t edit herself.
Well…that was fast.
Normally I don’t get the f word from Lauryn so quick, but today is obviously a special day. Nel— Lauryn’s boyfriend—holds her bag and gives me a small smile as he walks through the door I’m holding open.
Everyone has already heard that schools are closing Friday—that’s tomorrow. This virus is spreading and for safety reasons schools are closing to prevent a spike in cases: an attempt to “Flatten the Curve” they are calling it. This morning I watched the news trying my best to understand it all, but as I pulled on my pants to leave, I still hadn’t grasped exactly what is happening.
Things got real when I showed up to school today and watched a teacher complaining about allergies immediately sent home. My principal is also wearing a physician’s surgical mask…which I find very strange. You’d think we are preparing for the apocalypse. Some think we are.
The students had questions for me as they first walked in but now most of them stare into their phones and appear to have more information than I do. I look to Lauryn and see that she has her regular collection of students around her. At this school they call her Mama. She’s only a junior, but even the seniors consider her the boss around here.
This school most definitely isn’t like a traditional school I’m accustomed to. Really, it’s just a Program and it shares a building with another Special Needs Program in the district. A “Behavioral Program” to be exact.
Placing kids with behavioral issues with ones identified as having issues with substances makes for an interesting atmosphere to say the least. I’m not yet sure how many students we have enrolled in our Program as I’ve only been working here for two months, and attendance is rather spiritic—but there can’t be more than thirty students enrolled so the cafeteria I sit in now is rather empty.
While someone might think I was offended by Lauryn’s response to me as she walked in, nothing could be further from the truth. I have a certain affection for the f word. As it is a word that can offend everyone and no one at the same time. A difficult task in our world today.
I’m not often a fan of the angry use of the f word though. You know…the way it’s used on t-shirts and flags and bumper stickers today. But like I tell my own children whenever we see it used that way: “There’s worst things those people could be doing, be happy they’re trying to use their words.”
Since Lauryn uses the f word often, she knows how I feel about it. Just a few weeks back I told her about an old Limp Bizkit song that was popular when I was a kid. A song I remember jamming out to in my car and at parties when I was just Lauryn’s age myself. The song I was telling her about is titled Hot Dog, but everyone knows it as The F Song. Unedited of course.
That day with Lauryn I had found a YouTube video of this band performing at Woodstock 99 and watched it with her. “If you’re ever wondering why I turned out the way I did,” I said to Lauryn, watching this event and the riot it turned into, “that’s my generation right there. These are the people you call adults today, Lauryn. And this was only twenty years ago. Before social media and cell phones. Because of what we did here Lauryn your generation will never experience a Woodstock Festival.”
“Never say never Mr. J!” Lauryn replied to that assertion of mine.
Lauryn is a lot nicer than how she just appeared. The day she told me to “Never say never” was the Lauryn we like. “The person I wish I was all the time,” Lauryn confided in me once.
Since I started back in January, this girl Lauryn—the girl who just started the day by telling me to f-off—has been the only person to make me feel welcome in this place. As it didn’t take me long to start feeling like my uncomfortable self here…
“So, you’re this new E.I. teacher we’ve been given?” Mr. Henrie said to me my first day.
Mr. Henrie is the math teacher here and we talked that first morning I showed up to work. I had given a letter to all the teachers explaining what I hoped to accomplish with their students.
The Emotional Intelligence Class has a broad spectrum of goals, but ultimately, I’m here to build relationships between students, and teach them tools that will hopefully help them become more stable people in what we all know is a very unstable world.
In that letter to Mr. Henrie and the other teachers I told them they could refer to me as an “E.I.” teacher. The school only has a few teachers and with Mr. Henrie being the only male, I secretly hoped he and I would become friends.
“Your name is Jose, right?” Mr. Henrie added that morning, while cleaning his white board before school.
I watched as Mr. Henrie licked two fingers and attack an especially stubborn smudge. Without any time to respond Mr. Henrie quickly threw in a third question that seemed to just float into his head and fall out of his mouth without much consideration. “I thought you’d be Spanish?”
Not knowing what question to answer first, I said the simplest thing I could think of. “Yes, I’m J, nice to meet you.”
Mr. Henrie is an attractive man. Every day he wears a shirt and tie to school. Something I refuse to do myself ever since my time working in the corporate world. It makes him look very impressive though. And he always smells good. But he also comes across as extremely arrogant. One of those guys that I might privately tell you: Sure as shit, loves himself some HIM.
Mr. Henrie’s assumption about me being Spanish was not that out of the ordinary though, as its something I’ve been dealing with my entire life. I am very much your standard Caucasian, but my name, Jose Julian, suggests differently. Growing up, many people read my name and figured I was Spanish—or Puerto-Rican—or Portuguese—or whatever, before meeting me face to face.
I am a bit Portuguese, but that name Jose came from the back of some boy’s sweatshirt the year I was to be born. My mother says that when she was pregnant with me a boy wearing a sweatshirt with my name on its back crossed her path and she took it as some sort of “sign”. This sign resulted in one of the two major decisions my mother made for me that has made my life a little bit more uncomfortable than it could have been.
“Like just the letter J?” Mr. Henrie had responded to me that first day.
He stopped wiping his board at this question. I remember this because the look Mr. Henrie gave me attempted to wipe any confidence off my face instead—something I’d never allow him to think he could do to me. I can play tough when I need to. Yup…I still know how to play the game.
“Yes,” I replied to Mr. Henrie, “People have called me ‘J’ ever since I was a kid.”
“Wow…Just a letter.” Mr. Henrie responded sarcastically. “I thought only celebrities could pull that off. You’re not a celebrity, Jose…are you?”
That was my introduction to Mr. Henrie when I first started at this school. I remember him asking me that last question with an annoyingly superior look on his face. His condescending tone pretty much squashed any illusions I had of us becoming good friends.
For a while now, life has done a fine job of kicking my ass. It’s been like that scene in The Avengers movies when The Hulk takes Loki by one foot and smashes him back and forth—side to side like a little ragdoll. Yeah…life has treated me a lot like that recently.
As a result of this reality, I’ve become a little sensitive at times. I am aware of this weakness, and I fight against it the best I can, yet I still can’t stop it from getting the best of me at times. I also know that for some reason people still see me as a confident looking person on the outside. Something I invite, since I’ve found that success in this world often requires one to make people think they’re someone they’re not.
The truth, however, is that it is very easy for people to scare me off nowadays. Something Mr. Henrie succeeded at that first morning. He even made fun of the shirt I was wearing that day. “Showing us a little skin I see,” he said to me a little later, “very cute.”
When I got the job at this school, I was told by the principal that things are different here. “We focus on making the kids comfortable,” I was told, “so dress is casual for teachers.”
After that conversation I went out and bought myself a few fancy looking V-neck t-shirts. They looked dressy enough—and honestly, I thought I looked pretty good in them. Mr. Henrie teasing me for “showing skin” made me immediately feel uncomfortable…just like that secret of mine did when I was a kid.
Since I’ve been here, Mr. Henrie and the rest of the staff have barely talked to me except to say, “Good morning!” and “Have a good night!” Common courtesies, but not conversation starters.
Although being ignored has made me feel alone I’m used to it and honestly might not want it any other way. I have also observed that none of the other teachers talk to each other much either. Which, strange enough, gives me some hope—Maybe it’s not just me?
Even though she sometimes tells me to go f myself, Lauryn genuinely likes me. Which has helped a lot with the other students at the school. Putting aside the ugly language, Lauryn is a wonderful girl. While she has her struggles, I have seen her spark and the effect it has on people when she chooses to point it in the right direction—something that I have made my personal mission to see her do. Which is why the post I read on her Facebook page last night is troubling me so much: “What’s the point of this thing we call life?” she wrote.
I have my issues with social media just like everyone else, and Lauryn’s post may have annoyed me if it were made by another person. It’s one of those attention seeking posts—a post that makes you question something—but because this was Lauryn, I couldn’t help but be concerned.
Lauryn had made that post around nine o’clock and it was past midnight when I saw it. Worried she was crying out for help, I looked for comments on the post. I saw that a few friends offered some hearts—I still don’t understand what all the different colored hearts mean—and one friend wrote, “Everything okay Lauryn?” To which Lauryn replied, “Always!” with an exclamation mark. A comment that answered absolutely nothing and made me question what was going on even more.
Is she in serious danger? I couldn’t help but consider it … Or maybe I’m just misinterpreting this … Perhaps she’s referencing something that I’m just not cool enough to know about? … I do tend to read into things too much … Maybe I’m just creating something out of nothing?
I figured that I probably was. Who knows what these kids are thinking nowadays when they post stuff. I’m sure she’s fine— But what if she’s not?
It is not professional to snoop on students using social media, so how was I to get Lauryn to tell me what she meant by that post?
Sitting in the cafeteria—troubleshooting this dilemma—a lightbulb goes off in my mind as I think of how to respond to Lauryn’s not so nice “good morning” from a few minutes earlier. I reach for my school bag beside me and unzip it.
Inside my bag is a white envelope filled with index cards I have been carrying around since I began working here. On each card is a quote I had written. Most of the quotes on the cards I flip through are inspirational. A few are funny. And others are just things I thought the students would find interesting.
It was an idea of mine to hand these out to students and have them write reflections on the back as part of our class together. Since nothing has gone to plan however, I haven’t even used them yet. Honestly, the thought of handing them out makes me feel kinda stupid. I fear that I might be too old—or too young—or just too…well…just too me…to get the respect I imagined I’d have here.
Shuffling through the cards, I find the one I am in search of. Flipping it over, I write my message on the back with a black fine tip magic marker I had taken from my bag. Once I’ve completed writing my note, I get Nel’s attention.
Showing Nel the card, I watch him read the quote on the front and then what I wrote on the back. “Bring that to Lauryn for me Nel,” I say to him once I see he’s finished reading.
“Yo,” he replies with a look of shock on his face, “do you have a death wish?”
“She’ll think it’s funny Nel,” I tell him, “just bring it to her please.”
“Okay,” he replies, “your funeral dude. But someone’s gonna be calling 9-1-1 for you when she snaps.”
“Just bring it to her please.”
Nel turns around and I watch him step across the cafeteria towards Lauryn with that walk of his. Lauryn looks at him, and I see him say a few words to her before handing her the card. Lauryn takes a quick glance at me, then begins reading that card in her hand.
“Language is a weapon. Swearing is its sword. Truth is its shotgun.”
(Over) You should write a book! “The Art of the F-Word.” When you’re famous, I expect some recognition for the idea! :0)
Once Lauryn finishes reading my note, she lowers the card and looks at me. From across the cafeteria, she silently mouths those two words…. F***—You.
Whether Lauryn edits herself I’m not sure, but I see her million-dollar smile blossom on her face and rise up her cheeks. Whatever Lauryn was upset about earlier seems to be forgotten for a second. It won’t last long. I know. But it’s nice to see.
After lunch everyone is attempting to kill time waiting for the end of the day to arrive. In Mr. Henrie’s room the students are taking posters off the wall. Staff were told to leave nothing out so that the school could be “completely decontaminated.” Making it a mathematical exercise—also known as keeping the kids busy—Mr. Henrie has required the students draw a scale model of his classroom. So that when we come back everything can be placed exactly how it was before.
In the room I see students at work while Mr. Henrie packs up his desk. He is currently putting a picture of his family away in a drawer for safe keeping. Sitting on the steps of a beautiful suburban home, his wife and three boys are very impressive looking in that picture. The picture is all smiles and fancy clothes. And happiness shouts through the expensive looking silver frame that has “#1 Dad” etched at its base.
I have seen this photo many times and have used it to validate my assumption that Mr. Henrie has a picture-perfect life. Being a father to three boys myself, I have many times contemplated bringing up this similarity, but I know that beginning that conversation would open me up to questions that I would rather not answer. So, instead, I’ve done what I do best and have kept my mouth shut: knowing that a picture of my life is not that pretty.
Mentally whipping myself for my inadequacies, I look around; hoping to avoid any conversation with the only other adult in the room. To my appreciation, Lauryn calls out to me. “Mr. J,” she says, “do you want to take this home? Mr. Henrie said you can.”
In her hand is a poster I know all too well. It is a poster Lauryn had made our first week together. The fact that Mama—Lauryn—made it is the only reason it’s hanging up. It reads: “Everyone should own a G.U.N.”
I can feel my face get red as Lauryn holds up the poster. Mr. Henrie smiles big, and I can see his thoughts as they dance across the room criticizing me. Lauryn still finds this poster genius and is super proud of it—I can never let her know how much it embarrasses me.
I walk across the room and take it from her. “Sure Lauryn,” I say with a smile, “I’ll hang it up at my place somewhere.”
G.U.N. stands for: Good—Underlying—Need. It was part of a lesson I had created: Take a simple word and create an acronym out of it so that when used changes the meaning of the word completely.
I’ve had multiple careers over the years, and I swear people are using acronyms for everything. They frustrate me because I often have no clue what people are talking about when they use them.
When I was putting lessons together, I thought it would be interesting to have my students create some of their own. While many were entertaining, Lauryn’s created the greatest noise within the school as she made sure everyone knew what she had come up with. Principal Sam was then put in an awkward position when Lauryn demanded that the poster she made be placed on the walls of the school.
“It has such a powerful message!” Lauryn argued. “Everyone should have a purpose to what they are doing in life. Why are you doing something— Why do you want something— What is the ‘Good-Underlying-Need’? … Get it!?”
Confusing and a little tacky perhaps, but Lauryn thought it was brilliant and at the time I was in no place to discourage her excitement over creating something so original.
I was then forced into being her advocate as she faced off against other teachers over the poster. In the end, Lauryn won, because, well…she was Mama, and Mr. Henrie took the bullet for the rest of the staff by letting her hang the poster up in his room.
I am sure Mr. Henrie is secretly thrilled to get rid of this today. “It only took a global pandemic, but I’ll take a win any way I can,” is what I imagine him thinking as I am now the owner of this infamous poster in my hand.
To change the subject, I ask Lauryn a question. “What do you know of Nelson Mandela?”
Lauryn is taking a poster of this man off of the wall with a quote from him that reads: I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
“I don’t know…” Lauryn replies to my question, “that he changed the world.”
I can see in Lauryn’s face that she does not know much about this man. “Is that a question or a statement?” I ask her.
I am not big on lectures—and trying to explain what this man did is not something I am prepared to discuss anyway—so, I decide to just agree with her after I see her unable to come up with a response to my question.
“You’re actually right Lauryn,” I say, “he did change the world. When do you think someone will come along and change the world again?”
Lauryn replies to my question while continuing to remove posters from this wall. “They won’t Mr. J,” she says. “Our world is f****d….no changing that.”
Lauryn says this with such authority that I almost believe her. But struggling with feelings like this of my own in the past I know I cannot for a second let her think I agree with such an assessment of things. So, I fight against her negativity.
“It’s happened many times over the course of history Lauryn,” I say, as she hands me the poster she’s removed from the wall. “It’s destined to happen again.”
“Someone will come along and destroy the world before someone changes it in the way you’re thinking Mr. J.” —Lauryn stops what she is doing to look at me— “I mean, seriously. Think of the damage someone could do with the internet today.”
Lauryn just nailed it. She is right. I know that what she says is how many people in this world think today. The internet has made any piece of news a conspiracy, any lie a fact, any story a legend, any character real. How can anyone expect someone to use the internet for good? Good doesn’t get clicks. Gossip sells…everyone knows that. The world hungers for entertainment and the internet offers a never-ending buffet of it.
A cloud of doubt begins to darken my mind. Aware of what was happening, I battle back as I have practiced so often in the past.
“What if I told you that someone would come along and use the internet to unite people in a way never before considered possible Lauryn?”
“I’d say that you are right,” she replies. “Someone will come along and destroy it. Like I said.”
Broken slightly by her confidence in this doomsday prophecy, but understanding it far too well, I slide my own chess piece into position.
“Lauryn,” I say, looking directly into those confident eyes of hers, “I truly believe that someone with the right message will come along and use the internet and other technology to change this world for the better.”
Lauryn stares back at me—thinking—but does not respond to this statement. Not often is she lost for words, but something in what I have just said hit home because I see Lauryn make a conscious choice not to fight me on it any further. For a moment I feel like the adult and not the child. Maybe she wants to believe me? A hopeful voice inside my head wonders….
I never ended up finding out what Lauryn’s post from the night before meant but I could see that she was not in danger which made me feel better as we all left school that day. Our conversation that afternoon troubled me however, as I secretly found myself agreeing with her assessment of things.
I might have silenced Lauryn in that moment, but her words make me question myself like I often do. And I find myself tiptoeing around the questions in my head on my drive home: What’s the point of this thing called life? … What if no one can make this world better?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
Song title: Not Afraid by Eminem
“Come take my hand.”
(For audio: play 1:19 of the song from The Teacher’s Playlist to end episode.)
This concludes episode three of The Real GOOD Loser Experiment. In our next episode we’ll begin to hear about how the 2020 school year went for Jose and this class of his. And also, we’ll begin to learn more about exactly who he really was.