(9) Common Sense

Week nine finds us sitting in class. We are at school for some live teaching and All FOUR students are present. Miss Lily is joining us in class this week as well:

Rising from her slumber—like a sleeping soul rising from the dead, Candace spoke, “I can’t believe you made me a character in one of your stories.”  

No longer wearing the hoody that covered her blonde hair, I could see her brown eyes looking back at me and hoped that under her mask was a smile. 

“Well, if you weren’t gonna talk in my class then I decided I’d make you talk in my story,” I said to her; unapologetic for making her the hero in last week’s article.

It was Monday and we were in school discussing the story I shared with them prior to the weekend. It had been a fun discussion but was now coming to a close. Pras jumped in with one final question, “Mr. J, was the article your own sneaky attempt to get us to go out and vote?”

Tomorrow was election day in the United States, and the fact it would be the first time many of our seniors in the school were old enough to vote was a hot topic; amongst other things. 

Excited for them, but in no way letting myself get involved in the drama surrounding this election, I deflected Pras’s question the best I could, “Common sense might have you think that, but, no, that was not my intention when I wrote the article Pras.”

Seeing an opportunity to change the subject, I took it; knowing that Pras would love nothing more than to spend the entire class time talking politics. 

“Hey—that reminds me, do you guys want to know a sure-fire way to piss someone off before we start our class today?” I asked. 

“Well, der, look who you’re talking to Mr. J,” said Lauryn, from in front of me.

“Alight then, I’ll tell you three words to say that will piss off almost anyone. I’ve seen it work on wives—On husbands—On friends—On Co-workers—On bosses—On CHILDREN…just like all of you.” They hated being called children, “…Can you guess what those three words might be?”  

“Go-F***-Yourself?” Lauryn said loudly.  

From the back of the room, Lily choked on the sip of water that was in her mouth. She, along with the entire class found Lauryn’s punchline hilarious. Yes, it might have been inappropriate, but her timing was impeccable.  

Nel stood up from his seat and gave his girlfriend a high five across the desks they were sitting at. Once the laughter had died down, I offered Lauren a small congratulatory bow, and then said forcefully, “IT’S COMMON SENSE.”  

“What is?” asked Candace, still snickering.

“Those are the three words you can say to piss someone off!” I responded, while writing it on the board to make myself clearer. “It’s the equivalent to saying, ‘You’re Dumb.’”

When I was young, a history teacher had once made me read Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense.’ I loved the phrase and remember being amazed by how one person could inspire such a following by picking at the heartstrings of a beaten nation. Today however, I have learned to dislike it; as using it can belittle a person.  

Maybe I’ve become too sensitive, too soft, but I have seen these three words start more arguments than I wish to remember. And let’s be real, in our world nothing is truly common sense anyway.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

When I started my little business; JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services, my intentions were to go after high-end homeowners. With my experience over the years I felt that I was just as good as anyone out there; and I could do practically anything. 

In order to get a decent client however, I would need to impress. I spent what little money I had creating some knockout flyers and went to work. So much for avoiding sales…but hey—I was back in the game! 

…And this time I was the one in charge? 

***End Of Breaking Knews***

After Lauren’s little impromptu lesson on the power of the ‘F-Word’, I gave the class a quick explanation of why I disliked the phrase “Common Sense.”  

Once I was done my little rant, I made a mental note to myself; “Common Sense was going to be the title to the article I would be giving them at the end of the week.” 

Eventually, the time to introduce this week’s topic had arrived; “Deciphering Text.”  

Lily and I had put a lot of work into this and were both excited to see how things would go. We had created a slideshow that outlined the days ahead:

Slide #1: Tuesday: Students will be introduced to the “Sarcasm Meter.” Using this meter students will read texts provided and give scores based on “Intended Sarcasm” and “Perceived Sarcasm.” This ten-point scale will be further explained using examples.

Slide #2: Wednesday: Students will be separated into groups of two and be given pre-written text conversations. Students will be asked to rate each text using the scale practiced on the day prior from two separate perspectives: (1) As the one sending the text; and (2) As the one receiving the text. 

Slide #3: Thursday: Students will role play conversations from previous day. Each group will work with the other and discuss differences in their ratings after reading text conversations aloud to one another (This should be funny; remember to PLAY NICE!).

Slide #4: Friday: Students will discuss the following question: What have you learned about “Deciphering Text Conversations;” and how is it relevant to your life? After open floor discussion, this one-page report (done individually) will be due on the following Monday. 

Slide #5: TODAY: Students will analyze the following text: “How are you doing?”

Once I had shown the students the slideshow, I shut down the projector and walked towards the blank white board. On the middle of the board, in big capital letters, I wrote the text just referenced: “HOW ARE YOU DOING?”

I then stepped aside and handed the class over to Lily…

“This text on the board seems rather straightforward,” began Lilly, “If I walked up to you and asked you this question how would you respond?”

Lilly walked up to Pras, and asked the question, “How are you doing?”

Prior to this day Lily and I had discussed this introduction and how the whole thing was going to be a bit more difficult with having to wear masks and having to socially distance ourselves from the students; but watching her, she was making it work just fine. Looking a little embarrassed, Pras responded, “I’m good,” and nervously smiled beneath his mask while he looked at everyone else in the class; avoiding Lily’s eyes.

Lily could appear intimidating when she wanted: A skill she was using at that moment: She had chosen Pras on purpose. 

“Psychologically speaking, when I walk up to you and ask you this question your mind is doing many things.” Lilly began talking to the class, “Pras subconsciously processed the tone in which I asked the question. His eyes attempted to perceive the mood I was in when I said it to him. And then, after he responded, Pras looked around the room in order to figure out if his response was acceptable.”  

It did not seem that Pras was uncomfortable with Lily’s analyses as he and everyone else just continued to listen, “We all do this in one way or another when someone comes up to us and asks us a question like this. But remember, I’m a teacher and Pras is my student, me asking this question is considered being polite. But what if I was his girlfriend? How would that change the question I asked him?… Lauren… What do you think?”

“Did he do something wrong?” asked Lauren to Lily; in an attempt to further understand Lily’s question.

“Exactly!” said Lily to the class. “Our relationship immediately makes you think that there is more to the question than what it seems. If I was his girlfriend, maybe I would ask him the question differently….”  

Lily walked up to Pras again, “How are you doing?” This time she asked it in a clearly hostile tone.  

Pras responded, “Fine.” In a more nervous tone than earlier.

Lily did it again, “How are you doing?” This time she asked Pras in a concerned tone.

Pras chuckled, “I’m okay.”

Lily turned, “Nel, what was different about how I asked Pras that question the first time compared to the second?” 

Nel sat up in his seat, “The first time you were mad. The second time it looked like maybe something was wrong with Pras.”

“Do you get where I’m going with this Candace?” asked Lily.

Candace spoke confidently, “You’re trying to show us how this one question can be interpreted by different people based on circumstances.”

“Yes,” concluded Lily before turning towards the whiteboard in the room. “On the whiteboard is this question. As a class we are going to assume that it is a text message that someone has received. Our objective today is simple: Fill this whiteboard with as many interpretations as possible. Do not explain why someone interpretated it this way or that, just write the interpretation that a person might have.” 

Lily walked to the board, grabbed the marker, and said, “For example,” then wrote: “Did I do something wrong?”

Having moved slightly to the side, so that the class could see what she had written, she then turned again, “Or,” she said before writing: “Does this person think something is wrong?”

The room was quiet while Lily prepared to give them one last example. The example she was about to write was the reason her and I decided that she should be the one to setup this day’s activity. Turning to the board this last time, Lily spoke a little more loudly, “OR,” and wrote: “Is this person trying to get in my pants?”

Seeing what she had written the students did not laugh. They stayed quiet, but barely. I could see the humor of this interpretation tickling the back of their throats. If I had written it, perhaps the reaction would have been different.  

Lily acknowledged the students, “We are all adults here,” capping her marker, she continued, “There are obviously things that could be interpreted that are not PG rated. Mr. J and I have anticipated this and came up with some doosies ourselves. That being said, you are allowed to write whatever interpretations that those little immature minds can think of.” Turning towards Nell, who had just giggled, she finished, “But if we see you taking advantage of us treating you like adults there will be consequences. And with that invitation, slash warning: The board is now yours…”

She was good. There were clearly many reasons we chose to have her be the one to begin this lesson and not me.  

The students did a great job during that class period coming up with interpretations. At first it started a bit slow, but soon there was no stopping them. The writing on the board began to get smaller and smaller as the kids tried to fit more and more.  

It was fun. It was enlightening. It was educational. It was a great start to the week!

Lily and I worked together the rest of that week and were thrilled with how well the students did with the lessons we had created. Before we knew it, the week was over.  

Each Friday I had been giving them these articles of mine (as you know by now), but that week I wanted to do it a bit different, “I’m going to send this week’s article to you all by email on Saturday night,” I told them.

“Be warned: This one deserves a prime-time slot in your schedule!” (Insert Mischievous Smile Here) 

Week 9 (11.6.20): 

“Common Sense”

My mission this week was simple: Convince my students that a well-crafted piece of entertainment is the purest type of magic on the planet; capable of manipulating the mind into seeing things in the world around us in a completely different light.  

Pretty profound wouldn’t you say.

To accomplish this, I knew I’d have to write something that would both entertain and awaken you simultaneously. There was a story I intended to tell; which had given me this idea in the first place, but I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to make it into something truly memorable. In the midst of working on it last Wednesday afternoon, feeling stressed, I found myself with a bad case of writer’s block. 

Earlier that morning, on the radio, I heard the host mention that a certain song had hit one billion downloads that week. In my mind, this accomplishment highlighted the importance of entertainment in our world today. However, rather than simply telling you this, I wanted to try and show you. I had learned that showing is much more powerful than telling when teaching a lesson. 

But trying to incorporate this trivial achievement by a band none of you probably ever heard of had me stuck.  

Unable to figure it out, I chose to stop fighting with it for a bit. Sometimes just stopping and taking a break is the best thing you can do. “I’d have a quick ham sandwich,” I thought. It was lunchtime and I needed to clear my head anyway, so, “Why Not?” 

In order to really be alone with myself for a bit I decided to leave my cellphone on the kitchen counter and went to my bedroom to enjoy my ham sandwich in silence for once. Technology, while useful, can really make it hard to focus on yourself. 

Closing the bedroom door, I found myself feeling a little naked in the silence that filled the room. 

The bedroom walls around me were covered with posters. At that moment I could not help but feel like they were all looking at me. Sitting on the large bed in the center of the room my feet dangled off its edge. Making sure I was truly alone, I glanced over to my left at the empty bunkbeds. Seeing them, I remembered that the twins would be coming over for dinner later that night. This made me happy.  

The boys and I all slept in this one bedroom together. It was big, with high ceilings, so it fit us all comfortably. We called this room our ‘Dorm Room.’ When we were all together it was like a frat party; so the name was fitting. Earlier in the week a poster I ordered was delivered that had our last name printed on it. They loved when I got new posters for us and I was excited to give it to them later in the day.

I have a strange obsession for posters. On the walls around me hung posters from a wide range of movies and shows. We only allowed ourselves to hang up posters of people, or characters, that we found uplifting in some way or another. That was a rule I had created in a secret attempt at adulting; something I’m not really great at. I had implemented this rule of mine as it was my personal mission in life to find my kids role-models.

And also, because I personally believe what we watch molds our minds in ways that humanity has yet to fully grasp.  

Gazing at this wall of ours, my eyes locked with those of Emma Watson. Holding a single red rose in her hand, she wore a semi-smile and a beautiful yellow dress. In the background was a magical, stary lit sky; with a bright moon lighting up the entire frame. The poster was from the movie, “Beauty and the Beast.” 

This actress, however, was so much more than just a character in a movie to me.  

I had admired her from afar for a very long time. I hung this poster hoping my boys would appreciate the person she was in the real world someday just like I did.  (Yeah, you might say I had a little crush on her or something…WHATEVER…I’m allowed…this was my alone time…so…leave me alone why don’t you!)

Looking up at Emma I thought of “The Move.”

A best friend of mine always had fun telling people about “The Move” I had taught him when were clumsy teenage boys. This was “The Move” a person should use when kissing someone for the first time. For some reason I was just then being reminded of it….

“Holding both her hands, look her in the eyes,” I showed him. “Don’t talk, but smile lightly—no teeth Alec, this isn’t a class photo…and wait….”

Illustrating the move on my friend, Alec, I continued, “Look for a smile. How she smiles back at you is going to tell you everything. You go forward, or turn and run, based on that smile Alec—You got that?”

His puppy dog eyes looked at me and confirmed his understanding wordlessly; eager for more instruction.

“When she smiles back; ASSUMING she does, slowly bring one hand up to her cheek—Like this…. Don’t break eye contact….”

We were standing atop a hill as I gave him this lesson. As I spoke, my friend Alec gazed into my eyes with not a hint of embarrassment.  

“Now…softly…hold her face in your hand and move your thumb just a little bit….”  

I remember it was cold that night; you could feel it on his face. This was man-touching at its finest; and we both felt comfortable enough with one another to be unashamed.  

In the dark of night, I finished my instructions, “Now…move your hand up along the side—like this…. near her eye—like this…and then…brush her hair behind her ear—like this…. Finally….” 

Softly holding the side of my friend’s face, I demonstrated how to gently go in for that first kiss…. 

“Under the light of the moon—It was dreamlike I tell you!” Alec would announce to people reflecting on this lesson of mine.

This friend, Alec, would tell this story to people whenever he got the chance. “Remember, ‘The Move’ you taught me Jose!” he would say. And then he’d act it out like I just did for you now.  

This embarrassed the crap out of me every time; and he’d done it more times than I can count. He talked about it like I had turned him into some Vagina Sorcerer that night. In truth, were really just two dorks. But he was hilarious, and I loved him for it. 

Sitting alone in my room, enjoying my ham sandwich, I laughed to myself remembering all this; but never broke eye contact with the Emma Watson on the wall…

What would it be like to kiss her; I wondered?

What would I ever say if I met her in real life; “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how…” I’d start. 

I mean, seriously, how else could this dream conversation of ours begin?

After explaining how hard I had worked to simply meet her, I would have to say something smooth without sounding too desperate: Maybe, “I don’t believe anybody feels the way I do about you right now….”

This would be mystical enough, I figured. Perhaps this would get me in, I thought; now completely lost in this fantasy world of mine while enjoying my ham sandwich….

That is when it hit me—The Breakthrough I Needed—I figured out how to include the song in my story!!! 

I rushed to finish my sandwich; cleaned up after myself; then jumped to my feet excited to get back to my writing. 

Walking up to Emma’s poster, I looked into her eyes and whispered aloud in the quiet bedroom, “Thanks Emma.” 

Then, kissing my three fingers of my right hand I used them to softly touch Emma’s face; which felt solid from the wall behind it, “Until we meet again beautiful.”

After this intimate moment with my poster I grabbed the paper towels off my bed and headed towards the door. Stopping suddenly—I deliberated for a moment…. “Are you sure you are ready for the real world that waits outside this door?” 

So many times in the past I would get excited to run out a door like this with ideas that I thought were exciting. Or fun. Or meaningful. Or funny. Or life changing. Or inspirational. Or ironic. Or…So Many Different Things.  

My mind often did this to me. It gave birth to these ideas that I would convince myself were great. I’d want to share them with everyone. I’d want to change the world with them.  

But often, I’d simply get myself in trouble.

“Was this going to get me in trouble?” I stopped to mentally ask myself.  

On the other side of that door was the real world. Full of anxiety and fear. Full of judgement and ridicule. It was not the world that existed in my mind. I needed to continually remind myself of this: “Don’t let them into your mind,” I’d say.  (This had become my mantra when I had found myself super-excited by an idea like this one.)

Debating whether or not I should do it, I again laughed at myself…and the idea. 

It was too good I thought. It’s going to be hilarious: “Just do it—What’s the worst that could happen?” I finally said out loud.

Grabbing the handle of my bedroom door, I turned it, ready for the real world that waited for me on the other side….   

In that moment I was grateful for the friend that came up with that codeThat code would announce to others that we were enjoying some alone time. We would use those words, that code, with our parents and laugh at them unknowingly. Those words, ‘Ham Sandwich,’ that we used to secretly tell one another that we were masturbating.  

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

If you discovered a pill to cure hopelessness would you sell it or give it away for free?  Explain your reasoning.

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“There are many things that I would like to say to you.”

— Wonderwall by Oasis

(Click here to continue to next chapter)

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