Week nine finds us sitting in class for some in-person-learning and all four of my students are in attendance; Lauryn, Nel, Pras, and CANDACE. Miss Lily is joining us for class this week as well:
Rising from her slumber—like a sleeping soul rising from the dead—Candace speaks. “I still can’t believe you made me a character in one of your stories Mr. J,” she says.
No longer wearing the hoody she always wears that covers her blonde hair, I can see her brown eyes looking back at me. Candace is that one shy student of mine. She has talked very little in my class and I have yet to really break through that shell of hers.
“Well,” I say unapologetically, “if you weren’t gonna talk in my class then I decided I’d make you talk in my story Candace.”
It is Monday and we are in school discussing the story about worry I shared with them prior to the weekend. It has been a good discussion but is now coming to a close. Pras jumps in with one last question. “Mr. J, was the story a sneaky attempt to get us to go out and vote?”
Tomorrow is election day, and the fact it will be the first time many of our seniors in the school are old enough to vote is a hot topic; amongst other things. I, however, refuse to get involved in the drama surrounding this election.
“Common sense might have you thinking that Pras, but no, that was not my intention when I wrote the story—”
Eyeing an opportunity to change the subject, I take it; knowing that Pras would love nothing more than to spend the entire class period talking politics.
“That reminds me of something,” I say with a little enthusiasm. “Do you guys want to know a sure-fire way to piss someone off before we start class today?”
“Der!” Lauryn says loudly from a few feet away. “Look who you’re talking to Mr. J!”
“Alight then, I’ll share with you three words that will make almost anyone angry… I’ve seen it work on friends, on co-workers, on bosses… even on children just like all of you…” (They hate being called children.) “Can you guess what those three words might be?”
“—Go F*** Yourself?” Lauryn says quickly.
In the back of the room I see Lily choke on a sip of her iced coffee and watch as Nel jumps up to give his girlfriend a high-five across the desks they are sitting at. The entire class finds Lauryn’s punchline hilarious.
I offer Lauryn a small congratulatory bow, and then say forcefully, “IT’S—COMMON—SENSE!”
“What is?” Candace says, still snickering.
“Those are the three words you can say to make someone angry,” I respond smiling.
Turning to my white board I write it out so that they can see it: It’s Common Sense.
“I have found that directing these three words at someone is the equivalent to saying, ‘you are dumb’…”
When I was young, a history teacher had once made me read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. I loved the phrase then 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 these three words as using them can often belittle a person.
Maybe I’ve become too sensitive, or too soft, but I have seen these three words start a lot of arguments. But honestly, in our world today—where everything seems to have a double meaning—nothing is truly common sense anyway…
When I started my business—JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services—my intentions were to go after high-end homeowners. While I had been struggling with Percocet for what seemed like forever, I quickly reminded myself that my resume was still very impressive, and that people would be lucky to have me work for them. In order to get a decent client however, I would need to impress, so I spent what little money I had creating some knockout flyers and went to work finding customers.
I chose to go back to construction to avoid “selling shit” after discussing my life with that councilor of mine; Mr. Miyage. With these crisp flyers in my hand I remember thinking: So much for avoiding sales.
But this thought was not going to slow me down. I had too much work to do and too much time to make up. I told myself that even if I was still selling shit that this time around things were different. This time: I’m in charge.
***End of Breaking Knews***
After Lauryn’s little impromptu lesson on the power of the F-word, I gave the class a quick explanation of why I disliked the phrase “It’s Common Sense”.
Once I am done my little rant, I make a mental note to myself: Common Sense will be the title to the article I give them at the end of the week. I had titled it “A Ham Sandwich,” but I think this new title is better.
Eventually, the time to introduce this week’s topic arrives: DECIPHERING TEXTS.
Lily and I put a lot of work into this and are both excited to see how things will go. We had created a slideshow that outlines 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 the 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 fun, but remember to PLAY NICE!).
Slide #4: Friday: Students will discuss the following questions: What have you learned about deciphering text conversations? And how is it relevant to your life? After class discussion, this one-page report—done individually—will be due the following week.
Slide #5: Monday—TODAY: Students will analyze the following text: “How you doin?”
Once I am done showing the students the slideshow, I shut down the projector and walk towards the white board. On the middle of the board, in big capital letters, I write the text just referenced: “HOW YOU DOIN?”
I then step aside and hand the class over to Lily.
Lily and I stole this phrase from a television show called Friends. A character in it, named Joey, would use it as a pickup line when talking to women. He’d say these three words with a sexy smile, an eyebrow lift, and a seductively hilarious nod. The show is too old for our students to recognize it and we don’t tell them where it comes from.
“This text on the board seems rather straightforward,” Lily begins. “If I walked up to you and asked you this question, how would you respond?”
Lily walks up to Pras. “How you doin?” she says.
We discussed this introduction and how the whole thing was going to be a bit more difficult with having to wear masks and socially distancing ourselves from the students, but watching Lily now, she is making it work just fine.
Looking uncomfortable, Pras responds to her question. “I’m good,” he says, while looking at everyone else in the class and avoiding Lily’s eyes.
Lily can appear intimidating when she wants. A skill I see her using now. She had chosen Pras on purpose. She begins talking to the entire class.
“Psychologically speaking, when I walk up to you and ask you this question your mind is doing many things. 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.”
Pras nods at Lily’s analyses as he and everyone else continues to listen.
“We all do this in one way or another, but remember, I’m a teacher and Pras is my student, me asking this question is considered being polite.” Lily walks over to Pras again. Pointing to him and then herself, she says, “But what if I was his girlfriend? How would that change the question I asked him?… Lauryn—What do you think?”
“Did he do something wrong?” Lauryn says, in an attempt to further understand the question.
“Exactly!” declares 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 turns to Pras again, “How you doin?” she says.
Pras responds, “I’m fine,” in a more nervous manner than earlier as Lily now sounds concerned.
Without delay, Lily says it again, “How you doin?”
This time she sounds angry.
“I’m okay,” Pras chuckles uncomfortably, while bringing both his hands up to his thighs under his desk.
Lily turns away from him. “Nel, what was different about how I asked Pras that question the first time compared to the second?”
Nel sits up in his seat to respond. “The first time it sounded like you thought something might be wrong with Pras. The second time it looked like maybe you were mad at him.”
“Do you get where I’m going with this Candace?” Lily says, turning to her.
Candace speaks confidently. “You’re trying to show us how this one question can be interpreted differently based on circumstances.”
“Yes,” Lily concedes. She then heads towards the whiteboard. “On the board is this question,” she says. “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 grabs a marker, and says, “For example,” then writes: Did I do something wrong? on the whiteboard.
Moving slightly to the side; so that the class can see what she has written, she then turns to the board again. “Or,” she says before writing: Does this person think something is wrong?
The room stays quiet while Lily prepares to give them one last example. The example she is 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 speaks louder. “—OR,” and then writes: Is this person trying to get in my pants?
Seeing what she wrote the students do not laugh. They stay quiet, but barely; I can see the humor of this interpretation tickle them. If I had written it perhaps their reaction would be different.
Lily acknowledges the students. “We are all adults here…” Capping her marker, she continues. “There are obviously things that could be interpreted that are not PG rated. Mr. J and I have anticipated this and have come up with some doosies ourselves. That being said, you are allowed to write whatever interpretations those immature minds can think of.”
Turning towards Nel—who had just giggled—she finishes, “But if we see you taking advantage of us treating you like adults there will be consequences.” —Nel stops smiling— “And with that 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 do a great job coming up with interpretations. At first it starts a bit slow, but soon there is no stopping them. The writing on the board begins to get smaller and smaller as they try to fit more and more.
It is fun. It is enlightening. It is educational. It is a great start to the week!
Lily and I work together the rest of the week and are thrilled with how well the students do with the lessons we had created. Before we know it, the week was over.
I had been posting these articles of mine on our website every Friday, but on this week, I decide to do it a bit different: “I’m going to post this week’s article on Saturday night as this one deserves a prime-time slot in your schedule!” I told them with a mischievous grin.
Week 9: Saturday, November 7th, 2020
One my objectives for this class of ours is to prove to you that a well-crafted piece of entertainment is capable of manipulating the mind into seeing things in the world around us in a completely different light. I was reminded of this the other day when I heard it mentioned that a certain song had recently hit one billion downloads. To me, this accomplishment highlighted the significance of entertainment in our world today. It was then I decided to try and incorporate this song into my story for you somehow. But how exactly I’d do that had me stuck. To clear my head, I’d have myself a ham sandwich. It was lunchtime anyway, so I figured:
In order to really be alone with myself for a bit, I leave my cellphone on the kitchen counter and head to my bedroom to enjoy my ham sandwich in silence for once. Technology—while useful—can really make it hard to focus on oneself.
Sitting on the large bed in the center of the room my feet dangle off its edge. The bedroom walls around me are covered with posters from a wide range of movies and shows. Since I share this room with my kids, we only hang up posters of people, or characters, that we find uplifting in some way. We call it our Wonderwall; because it makes us wonder what we ourselves could be someday.
Gazing around at these walls, my eyes stop at Emma Watson. In this poster from the Beauty and the Beast movie she is wearing a shy-smile and bright yellow dress. A lyric from a song in the movie fills the bottom half of the poster; it reads:
How does a moment last forever?
How can a story never die?
It is love we must hold on to…
Never easy but we try.
I’m the one that hung this poster up, not my kids. But I chose it more because of how much I admire Emma Watson and not so much because of the movie or this lyric.
My infatuation with this actress is rooted in the belief that she is a kind and humble person in real life; the two qualities I find most attractive in a person. And while she is certainly beautiful and very talented, I’ve also seen her appear honest and very wise as well. A rare combination that has made me such a fan of hers.
(Alright, you might say I have a little crush on her or something…WHATEVER, I’m allowed. This was my alone time—SO…leave me alone why don’t you!)
Continuing to look up at Emma I think of The Move. This is The Move a person should use when kissing someone for the first time. A good friend of mine always tells people about this move I taught him when were young. For some reason I am just now being reminded of it….
“Holding both her hands, look her in the eyes Tommy.”
I grab both his hands to show him how it’s done.
“Don’t talk Tommy, just smile lightly.” He smiles back at me. “—No teeth Tommy—this isn’t a class photo.”
My friend corrects his face.
“Look for a smile from her. How she smiles back at you will tell you everything. You go forward; or turn and run, based on that smile. Pay attention to it because you don’t want to get that part wrong. You got that Tommy?”
His big puppy dog eyes look at me and confirm his understanding wordlessly. I continue to hold both his hand and press on with my instruction.
“IF the smile is inviting, slowly bring one hand up to her cheek…Like this…don’t break eye contact Tommy.”
We are standing atop a hill as I give him this lesson. As I speak, my friend gazes 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.”
It is cold. I can feel it on Tommy’s face. Under a moonlit sky, I finish my lesson.
“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. Then…you slowly move in.”
Softly holding the side of my friend’s face, I demonstrate how to gently go in for that first kiss….
My friend Tommy is super-successful now and an absolute legend in the town I grew up in, but back then we were really just two high school dorks. At get togethers he’ll throw an arm around me after acting out this story like I just did and say, “If you want someone to love you get in their mind first, that’s where real intimacy lives;” mimicking some silly words I told him as kids.
Then—to end this little show of his—he says the same thing every time. Something that embarrasses the shit out of me, but something that always gets everyone listening to him to laugh: “I tell ya—” he says squeezing me tightly in one arm, “This sexy son of a bitch right here is a bona-fide Vagina Whisperer!”
Sitting alone in my room; enjoying my ham sandwich, I laugh to myself remembering all of this but never break eye contact with the Emma Watson on the wall.
All of a sudden, the idea hits me…
I know how to include that song in my story.
Thinking this, I rush to finish my ham sandwich. Clean up after myself. Then jump to my feet excited to get to my writing.
I am grateful for Emma Watson’s role in helping me solve this dilemma of mine. Walking up to her poster I look into her eyes and say, “Thanks Emma,” out loud in the quiet bedroom. Kissing the four fingertips of my left hand, I then use them to softly touch her face and hear myself whisper three more words to her poster: “All of me…”
After this uncomfortably intimate moment with Emma, I grab the dirty napkins off my bed and head towards the door. Stopping suddenly, I deliberate for a moment.
On the back side of my bedroom door are two questions I wrote and placed there a long time ago. I am now face to face with them: “Are you sure?” and “What am I doing?”
I had put these questions here in an attempt to practice mindfulness. It was a suggestion in some book I read to hang them in a place I would see each day. Looking at them now, a concerned voice from inside my head says: Are you really sure you wanna do this?
In the past I would get excited to run out a door like this with ideas I thought were exciting. Or fun. Or meaningful. Or funny. Or inspirational. 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, so, I’d want to share them with everyone. But very often, they’d simply get me in trouble.
Was this going to get me in trouble?
On the other side of this door is the real world. Full of anxiety and fear. Full of judgement and ridicule. It is not the world that exists in my mind—I need to continually remind myself of this.
Debating whether or not I should do it, I again laugh at myself…and the idea.
It’s too good, I think…it’s gonna to be hilarious.
“Just do it! What’s the worst that could happen?” I finally say out loud, staring at the door in front of me.
Grabbing the handle, I turn it, ready for the real world that waits for me on the other side….
In that moment I was grateful for the childhood friend that came up with That Code. That 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:
“The word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out.”
— Wonderwall by Oasis