Week 2: REMARKable

The students and I make it through the first week of remote learning. It is now Monday, the start of our second week, and we begin class by discussing the article I asked them to read and reflect on over the weekend: 

“You didn’t really think you were a descendent of a pirate Mr. J… did you?” says Nel through the computer screen. 

“Does it matter?” I reply.

F*** yeah it does!” declares Lauryn from her cube on the computer screen in front of me; appearing to the left of Nel. “—There’s no way that really happened,” she adds.  

The first lesson of this class is cued up, yet I respond simply and don’t make a big deal of it.

“All stories are sprinkled with truth Lauryn,” I say to her, “parts of this one included.” 

Not letting it go, Pras jumps into the conversation. “Did you really think someone could have Pirate genealogy though?” he says.

Pras is very intelligent. There are all types of intelligence, but here I’m referring to book smarts. I did not know much about him before last week but in just a few meetings I saw that he was bright, which means he is probably having a hard time believing that a teacher—me—could think that they were actually a pirate.    

“Well, why not?” I answer. “If someone had great-great-great-grandparents that were discovered to be pirates couldn’t that person say they were a descendant of pirates?”

I do not give Pras time to respond, instead I continue. “Growing up I was often called gullible by family and friends, Pras. No one thought I was stupid. But gullible—definitely. Many times over the years my gullibility made me look stupid though—” 

There is no way to explain to them how true this statement is. In fact, saying it out loud makes me a bit uncomfortable as a motion picture of dumb stuff from my past begins to play in my head. For some reason I am thinking of that time with the remote control….

Growing up, my grandparents would often have the entire family over for dinner on Sundays. We called them our Sunday Roasts as we would often have roast beef for dinner. At one of those dinners, at the age of nine, I remember showing off my ability to change the channel on the television—with my butt.  

As I remember it, the audience in the living room giggled as I placed the remote vertically between my cheeks. The comfy pair of MC-Hammer pants I was wearing enabled me to get a nice, secure grip on it. Once in position, I flexed. Amazingly, a button at random was pressed and on the television my butt brought us to a channel of its choosing. Enjoying the attention in the room, I did this over and over. Eventually I figured out how to move the channel up or down depending on a careful positioning of the remote. “Up!” I said…and flexed simultaneously; the channel moved up one. “Up! … Up!” I announced, flexing twice and it moved up two times. Speaking louder, I started showing off. “Up… down… up— up…down—down…up-up-up….UP!!!” On the last one I kept my butt-cheeks flexed and watched the television scroll through a bunch of channels. Eventually my cheeks ached and everyone in the room had to catch their breath as laughing so hard became exhausting. 

It was not until a few days later I found out that my dad was in a chair in the back of the room with a different remote. He had rushed off into another room to program this different remote once I had first begun my little show in the living room. Upon reflection, the thought that I was in control of changing those channels as a kid was rather foretelling, as believing I was in control of events in this world would continually embarrass me well into adulthood. 

Thinking back on this memory, I debate telling my students all this. Then, I think better of it; as trying to convince them of my stupidity is probably not a great career choice.

I decide to keep that a secret.

Clearing my throat, I finish my thought, “Let’s just say that for a period of time after my father said the pirate thing, I did really believe it Pras…because—why shouldn’t I have? But the whole Facebook thing was made up. I needed to entertain you all with a story to get your attention.”

***BREAKING KNEWS***

In the basement of the hallway house, long rectangular tables are pushed together to make one longer rectangular table in a narrow room with low ceilings. This is where our house meetings are held.

Sitting here on my first night I look around at the faces of the men I will be living with; they age from young twenties to sixty plus and I find myself wondering if calling them all men is an accurate assessment. My eyes hurt. They tell the strangers in the room around me details about myself that I don’t want them to know. Earlier; once I had put my stuff in my bedroom, the reality set it and the panic hit me. I quickly remind myself not to let anyone around me see who I really am. 

The men talk to one another as a piece of paper is passed around the table. When it gets to me, I realize it’s an attendance list. On it are the names of all the men in the house; next to each name is a place to sign. Glancing at the men around the table I try to put names to faces. Scrolling down the list I am at first unable to locate my name. 

“—Hey,” says the man next to me. He pulls the paper in front of himself. “Let me tell you a secret…” Raising my reddened eyes to look at him, he finishes. “Here you can be whoever the hell you want.”  

On the attendance sheet, next to the name ‘Jules Najio,’ this man does not sign his name like everyone else. Instead this man writes RON, in all capital letters. I immediately find myself liking Ron. 

We talk and he tells me about the house and whispers a few secrets about the men that surround us. A few minutes of this pass before a councilor walks into the room; bringing silence with him.

To start the meeting, all the men go around the table and introduce themselves in standard fashion. When it comes to be my turn, I follow suit. “Hello. My name is Jose and I’m an addict.”

This is how you introduce yourself in these meetings. The men in the room all greet me in unison by saying, “Welcome Jose.”  

I have arrived at this house on the same day as one other man. His name is Ethan. Ethan’s eyes are piercingly blue. In a previous life I would have said that they look like the eyes of a drug addict because of how much they look like Diego’s eyes in the movie Blow. When it gets to be Ethan’s turn to introduce himself, we all get a little more than we’re expecting. 

“Hello everyone! I am SOOO grateful to be here!” Ethan says, smiling magnificently to the group.

I watch him attempt to offer the men around the table a handshake with his eyes—a gesture that is met with awkward silence. Brushing his thin pretty hair to the side, Ethan continues undaunted. “As my first words here, I’d like to offer you this…” Ethan pauses, straightens his shoulders like he is giving some important speech, and only then resumes addressing the room. “Let me be the one to bring you a warning: If you are going to ask God for his help, be wary, because he will answer you, and that answer may beat you down like an anvil until He turns you into gold…With that said…you are all gold to me already.” Stopping to add a salesmen’s smile—and to maybe tell himself good-job—Ethan then finishes his speech. “And if no one has told you I love you lately…well…I LOVE YOU!”

Everyone takes to sobriety differently. Some people are very enthusiastic about it. In fact, I remember being that way myself once. This is obviously how you’d describe Ethan: Enthusiastic

Once Ethan finishes this little sermon of his, he is reminded by one of the men at the table that he has forgotten something; “Your name?” So, he adds. “Oh. I’m Ethan by the way. And I’m a grateful recovering alcoholic and drug addict!” The room responds, “Welcome Ethan.”  

At night, unable to sleep, Ethan’s words haunt me. I had recently taken up praying again so what Ethan said at this meeting echoes around in my head as I toss and turn uncomfortably.

When I was young, I would say the same prayer every night: “Dear God, thank you for another great day with friends, family, and loved ones. Please help me, my friends, my family, and my loved ones, and people all over the world, especially those less fortunate, to learn how to love and respect one another the way you love and respect each and every one of us. If we can do that there will be no more hate in this world, only love. Amen.” 

Growing up catholic, this longwinded prayer was created by a guiltless child; and one I hoped covered all my bases each night before I went to bed.

I’d say this prayer out loud, not sure if I was doing it because I really thought some God was listening, or because I had seen the movie Truman Show too many times and thought maybe a group of people were watching me and judging me. Regardless, as an adult, I had given up on this prayer—or any other—a lifetime ago.

But at the detox facility before coming to this house some man had pushed prayer as a way to stay sober. “Get on your knees and ask for help,” this man with years of recovery told us. Dedicated to getting it right this time around I began doing what I was told, so, I prayed. But now all I ever say is just four words: “Please God, help me.” That’s it. (I was told prayer could be simple.)

In the silence of my bedroom I lay and try to focus on my breathing—in—”Please God”—then out—”Help Me.”

I repeat this over and over in my mind.

On one of my out breaths I sigh a little louder than I intend and hear a man in the room move in his bed—I have roommates in my new home. His bed creaks and I feel his frustration deep in my soul. I remind myself that I am not alone in this strange place—that I am surrounded by strange men.

Quieting my body, I visualize Ethan’s warning from earlier and find myself questioning if asking for God’s help is a smart thing for me to do.

A year and a half ago I burnt my house down—accidently, I remind myself.

And before that, all that other stuff happened. 

I roll over and curl into a ball.

I can’t help but think about all I have been through already. And I can’t help but fear what anvil might be dropped on me next…

***End of Breaking Knews***

Back in class the students and I talk about the One Percent Pirate story a little while longer. Eventually, we begin talking about the value of humor in education.

Pras offers me a suggestion. “Mr. J,” he says, “You gotta watch Dave Chappelle.” Then adds excitedly. “He gets it, he’s a genius…Really!”

I can’t help but laugh at my student’s enthusiasm because to me the person he is referring to will always be a pothead from a funny movie he starred in earlier on in his career. But Chappelle’s stand-up act has been suggested to me many times and I promise Pras I’ll watch it.

Having done so, I then ask my students a question. “Does anyone here watch the news every day?” 

I ask them this in order to transition into this week’s topic.

Everyone in the class “gets the news every day”, but no one can say they, “watch the news every day.”

Watching the news is “Boring.” Also: Depressing—Upsetting—Sad—Scary—Stupid—Divisive—Manipulative ….  

This list describing the news becomes a separate document appearing on our computer screen. The list is their creation, not mine. Respecting the power of negativity, I do not let the students steer this class in the wrong direction. Once their suggestions for our list become exhausted, I take back control of the class by switching the screen over to a separate document. This document presents them with the outline for the week ahead. 

“This week we are going to discuss how fortunate we are to have so much news at our fingertips,” I say. “—And yes Lauryn—we will discuss the negative impacts of so much news as well….”

The rest of that Monday’s class went really well.

On Tuesday we discussed the HISTORY OF THE NEWS: An investigation into how societies got their news over time; The Untold History.

Wednesday’s topic was WORLD NEWS: An honest attempt to find reputable information about what is going on over there; The Dynamics of Distortion. 

Thursday’s topic was NEWS AND ENTERTAINMENT: Tips on recognizing the difference; The Filtering of Truth. 

And then, finally, on Friday, we had a class called NEWS TODAY: A conversation about the pros and cons of so much information; The Wealth of Knowledge?

This last class was simply an open discussion. I did very little talking that last day, instead I just listened, in a vain attempt to understand how they saw things. 

Overall the second week of the school year went great. By the end of class on Friday I am very excited by the progress we are making and provide another article for them to read and reflect on over the weekend.


Week 2: Friday, September 18th, 2020 

“REMARKable”

Last week’s article/story was unexpected, I know. “One Percent Pirate”— What an idiot!

Just because I am called a teacher please do not think I am any different than you. We are all lifelong learners as far as I am concerned. Try to remember this. 

With that being said, laughing at ourselves is going to be important if we are to survive this class together. In a world that takes itself so seriously I recognize that this is a big ask. But appreciating that we are all mistaken sometimes, and being able to acknowledge when we are, is going to be key to surviving what lies ahead.

For the record, there is no official nationality called Pirate. A lesson I learned but not something I initially dismissed as ridiculous like some may think I should have. I don’t know everything. Let last week’s pirate story be proof of that as we continue this journey together. 

Speaking of not knowing everything, as someone that is living in recovery, there is one question people always want to ask me: “What helps you stay sober?”

Personally, I very much dislike this question as there is no profound answer that I can give. 

Recovery is not a vacation. It is not always wonderful. It is not always fun. It is full of difficult times that cannot be overcome with a strong ‘work ethic’ or with an unbreakable sense of ‘dedication.’ None of this is a secret. Our brain chemistry has changed. Dopamine levels have been altered (please research this if you want more information). As many people will tell you, “The real world waiting for you after living in a mind altered state is not all sunshine and rainbows!” 

Life can feel boring and overwhelming at the same time. It may seem pointless and empty to some of us. Because of this, most of the time I have found that patience is the greatest asset one can have in recovery. Not only do I believe this to be true for someone living after struggling with drugs and alcohol, but for someone living after most traumas you can think of.

The problem is, in the world today where everything is ‘one-click-away’ and so much is expected of us right now, who can truly say they are allowed to be patient?

I’m not here to give you excuses however, so let’s hit ourselves with a little reality for a moment by asking ourselves the only logical question one would ask right now: Even if I was allowed to be patient, would I be able to?

As you think of how to answer that, allow me to move on.

We have a lot of challenges ahead of us in this class and there are many important things for us to discuss. This being the case, maybe you are thinking back to last week’s article—One Percent Pirate—and wondering why it was simply one long joke?

Well… the answer is simple: I needed to create something “REMARKable.”

Let me explain.

As you all know, the title of this class is EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. It is a class I had been working on putting together for quite some time. Early on I realized that this title was very intimidating to people. After many failed attempts to get public support I accepted that timing would be critical, so, I had to become patient. (NOT EASY TO DO!)

While I waited, I researched. I read. I listened. I watched. I thought. I dreamt.

The question that troubled me the most was this: With so many people vying for your attention—so many worthy voices wanting to be heard—how could I present something REMARKable?

Meaning: What could I do that would be worthy of someone making a remark about on social media?

Because, honestly, if people aren’t talking about you there, how much of a difference can you really make?

Doing my research, I came to the realization that what got people’s attention most today was Money, Power, and Sex. Unfortunately, I had little money. No power. And I understood clearly that no one would want to see me naked. So, I settled on the fifth best thing: Humor. (Drama/conspiracy/mystery was ranked fourth on my list by the way.) 

That is why I began this class by telling you a funny story.

Hopefully this approach worked. Hopefully you are still paying attention. 

But if I have failed, and I am on the verge of losing you, I now need to do something REMARKable to keep you engaged in this class of ours.

So, I’ve decided to tell you a secret about myself. Something that will make you say: “HOLY SHIT! Can you believe he just told us that?”

This secret is something I have tried to keep private my entire life. Close friends that know about it tease me as if it’s some sort of joke. It has made me their punching bag in a way. But truthfully, I’ve become a punching bag for many other reasons and have learned to take punches with a smile—it’s my gift. 

Growing up, this secret made me feel alienated and uncomfortable with who I am. It has caused me to be self-conscious, paranoid, and riddled with anxiety and shame. 

If I’m wrong about what is happening here, and my future is not what I expect it to be, telling you this secret will forever haunt me.

But life is not worth living unless we take risks… right?

So, here goes nothing. Here is my secret. I hope you are ready: “I am (BLANK).”

Dear Class,

Okay, so unfortunately, I have decided that right now I just cannot risk telling you my secret (Drama/conspiracy/mystery—CHECK!). If this class is a success, I promise to fill in the blank at the end. Let’s hope it’s the showstopper this class needs. 

And with that disappointing end, class here is dismissed for the day. I look forward to seeing you all next week. Have a great weekend.

Sincerely Yours—With Love, Mr. J

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

Do you agree with the statement that Money, Power, and Sex is what gets peoples’ attention most in our world today? Why do you think that is—or, why do you disagree?

The Teacher’s Playlist

“I must be looking for something.”

—The River of Dreams by Billy Joel

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 3: Life’s Puzzle is next)

Follow us on Facebook: @TheRealGoodLoser
Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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