Now approaching the middle of December, week fifteen finds me at school for an evaluation meeting. Classes are still remote, but many teachers do their lessons from the classroom at this point so the building is not empty:
Sitting in Principal Sam’s office things look a bit different. The desk that once sat in the middle of the room is now turned facing the windows so that I can see the computer screen that sits upon in. This change was school gossip a few weeks ago…
Supposedly the Director made a comment: “It seems suspicious that students walking the hallways cannot see teacher’s computers.” All teachers were then told by Principal Sam to reorganize their rooms so that their computers were visible to students. Everyone was annoyed by this but rallied around our principal in order to “stick it to the Director.”
None of this affected me because I did not have a classroom of my own, but the whole thing annoyed me. I saw similar behavior in the corporate world of finance: no one trusting one another and everyone thinking someone was out to get them—so they’d get the other person first. It was a game everyone seemed to be playing in order to justify their importance and someone else’s irrelevance.
I watch the clock on the computer in front of me turn to 9:11 AM. The building is cold and I am warming my hands by rubbing them together when the principal walks in.
Principal Sam puts a folder on the desk, sits down, and then turns to talk to me. “I owe you an apology…” she begins.
Grabbing the straps behind her ears she removes her mask so that I can see her face. Throwing the mask on the desk, she continues; sounding relaxed. “I’m a tiny, frosty-haired, old lesbian. I think that makes me a little rough around the edges sometimes.” She smiles at this comment about herself and then gazes at me solemnly. “Regardless, I know I haven’t been real nice to you since you’ve been working here,” she adds.
Taking off my own mask, I continue listening to the principal (Samantha) talk.
“Your students love you. I don’t pretend to understand everything you are doing with them, but I was motivated the other day to go and read your curriculum proposal… you know, that thing that got you this grant in the first place, whatever you call it. A lot of what you wrote about entertainment’s role in education makes a lot of sense.”
After saying this, Principal Sam reaches in her drawer, grabs her electronic cigarette, and then takes a drag right in front of me. She then slides it back in the drawer like it’s no big deal. Seeing this reminds me that this school is just a bit different.
“Thank you,” I say to the compliment. “I can’t even remember everything I wrote in that. Did Mr. Bernard give it to you?”
“He had emailed it to me a long time ago, but I never actually read it.” The tiny, frosty-haired, old lesbian chuckles to herself. “I know I often sound like a broken record Jose but getting these kids to graduate is my number one priority. I believe in rigorous standards-based education—it’s how I was trained, but maybe that’s not the most important thing for these students…” She coughs loudly, then adds, “If you tell anyone I ever said that though I’d deny it completely.”
I appreciate her confiding in me. Feeling comfortable, I ask the question that is weighing on me. “Have you heard anything about my funding yet?”
Principal Sam spins around and grabs a piece of paper off her desk. Turning back to me she stretches out her hand. I grab the piece of paper from her; not sure if I should be excited by this or worried.
It is a printout of an email correspondence between Principal Sam and someone that I do not know. I do not need to know who it is to understand what I have just read.
Once Principal Sam sees that I have finished reading, she says, “Your last day is January 22nd… the last day of term 2.”
There is a place below my heart and just above my stomach, it is where the anxiety lives that can make me physically ill at times; it is where I fight that empty feeling, that thing—whatever it is—begins to gasp for air at Principal Sam’s words.
I knew the chances were slim my program would see additional funding. Between the Candace tragedy, and bouncing back and forth between remote and in-person-learning, the year has been just too chaotic for my program to gain any traction. I have not heard from Mr. Bernard either, so what the principal has just told me is not too surprising…still it hurts.
After the shovel incident with my dad, and that adventure my mind had while snow-blowing, I was inspired to prove to the world that I was a writer and spent my nights manically putting together this vision of mine into words. I’d write for a few hours once Sirena fell asleep. I found this the best time to really focus without life’s distractions.
Each night I would take a hit of weed and drink an energy shot to keep myself awake and motivated to finish what I had started. When I finally did go to bed I’d listen to Book Author Success Affirmations through my headphones as I drifted off to sleep:
I have a story to tell. It is a story that needs to be told. And it is a story that will be told…. I write in pursuit of the truth. And I tell that truth through fiction…. I can be a force for good in the world. I make a difference through the stories that I write….
Somewhere down the road a doctor will say to me, “Thinking one’s work is so important is often a prequel to a nervous breakdown.” I had never heard that before. But they were right.
What I ended up writing was just the introduction and first chapter to a story. I remember thinking that the the beginning of a story is the most important part and convinced myself that I had a damn good one. I figured that if I could get people interested in this story, I’d invite them to follow me as I finished writing it—chapter by chapter.
As a business minded individual, I thought readers could pay me a little for each chapter and that would be how I’d make a living. Could you imagine if J.K. Rowling had done this with her Harry Potter books? I reasoned.
When I was done writing this introduction and first chapter, I purchased a website domain that I’d use to present my story to the world. In my mind there were people out there that needed it—FAST—before it was too late, so I was in a rush to get it to them as soon as possible and figured that this was the most efficient way to make that happen.
Once I had the site looking good, I then looked up every major newspaper email address I could find across the country; every news channel; every magazine; every talk-show on television and radio; anyone and anything I could think of that had an email publicly available. The logic behind this maneuver was simple: If I send this email to enough people, someone will discover my story.
The title of the email I constructed read: “There Is A Problem.” Knowing I’d send it out on April Fool’s Day I wrote “THIS IS NO JOKE!” in the contents of the email in big capital letters next to a quote that read, “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.”
That quote was from a show called The Newsroom. The email contained just these words and a link to my website. That was it…This was how I would get discovered.
Over the course of one long night, I sent this email out to all those email addresses I had gathered. Once I was done, I decided I’d send it to family and friends asking for their help getting my story some attention—A GIGANTIC MISTAKE!
“Jose everyone is calling worried about you.”
Rather than calling me, most of the people that got my email contacted Sirena. To this day I still don’t know what my friends and family read or did not read, as it is a chapter of my life no one talks about; they do me the favor of pretending like it never happened.
While I thank them now for not reminding me of this event, back then I was furious no one took me seriously. Everyone was concerned for my well-being and my mental health—But had they read what I wrote? … Did they understand the potential of this?
These questions drove me crazy back then. Literally crazy. And that email quickly became the new most embarrassing moment of my life. But that would not be the case for long. (Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.)
No one responded to my email. Literally no one. Two days after I sent it Sirena and I get into an argument over a family event we are supposed to go to: “You should go so that everyone knows you’re okay!” she yelled.
I refused to go and then walked out of the house with Sirena shouting behind me.
If I was Forest Gump, this is when I would have simply started running. Because if life was really like a box of chocolates—like Mama said—I definitely got the shit one. But I wasn’t Forest Gump, so instead I simply jumped in our family minivan and started driving; not certain of what I was doing at first.
Our minivan had grey leather seats. It was freezing out that day and I remember them being cold against my back and thighs. As those seats started to warm up, so did my frustration with this life…and with myself.
Realizing I had left my phone on the counter before storming out of the house, an opportunity presented itself: I would hide from the world for a bit—Run Forest, Run!
***End of Breaking Knews***
After leaving Principal Sam’s office I go straight to Lily.
“How’d it go?” she says; knowing that I had just come from my meeting.
I shut the door behind me. “Good and bad,” I begin, sitting down beside her. “She was really nice to me, but funding for the program didn’t come through. My last day is January 22nd.”
Without delay, Lily responds. “Listen—I figured that would happen. I have a few ideas on how to get you funding that I’ve started working on already. Don’t give up on me, I got you.”
She smiles confidently but does not elaborate. “Did you talk to Sirens yet?” she says; quickly changing the subject.
Sirena had sold her house—our house. It became official two weeks ago when she closed on the deal. The housing market is still surprisingly high even with the pandemic; in fact, prices are even higher than when it began. Sirena made an absolute fortune on the house.
Lily had begun calling Sirena ‘Sirens’ in reference to a story I told her about when I was staying at the halfway house. The guys at the house jokingly began calling her this whenever they saw me on the phone. They claimed that if I did not leave her alone, she’d call the cops and have a restraining order put on me. Hence the nickname: Sirens.
In selling the house, Sirena had secretly made plans to move in with a boyfriend I didn’t even know she had. I can’t deny the two of them make for a cute couple but keeping their relationship and plans to move in together secret really stung. If Sirena would have just told me about what she was doing, coping with all of it would have been much easier on me. Unfortunately, Sirena no longer seems interested in what will make things easier on me.
Over the last two months—while all this was going on—Lily was who I vented to. So, I answer her question. “Yes, I did talk to her. She gave me a check for the tax credit like she promised.”
Sitting up, both of Lily’s hands slap against the desk in front of her. “That’s it!?” she shouts, her eyes bulging.
“Yup,” I reply calmly.
We’d been debating whether or not Sirena would give me any money from the sale of the house. Honestly, I really thought she’d give me something.
“She realizes you lost everything in that fire too right?” Lily says loudly. “And that you’re taking care of her son?”
I don’t respond to the question as Lily lets out a sigh of annoyance. “Did you at least ask if she was gonna put money in an account for him?”
“Why would I ask her that?” I say, dispiritedly. “I don’t ask her anything anymore. She is literally incapable of being honest with me right now.”
“I just can’t believe she didn’t give you anything for all the work you and your dad did building that house.” The anger fades from her eyes and Lily now looks disappointed. “What did she say…exactly?”
“That she didn’t owe me anything for all I put her through…” I picture Sirena saying the words. “And that I’d forgotten all she’s done for me—oh—and that giving someone like me a lot of money is not a smart thing to do.”
“What a cunt…”
“I’m sorry but I can’t believe she gave you nothing—sorry—not nothing—she gave you that tax money for the kid you have all the time.” She frowns at me. “Did you at least stand up for yourself?”
This is a loaded question. I am awful at handling confrontation. My heart beats fast and I can’t think straight. In early recovery it was one of my biggest triggers and I’ve learned to avoid it whenever possible. Lily knows all about this….
That conversation about money between Sirena and I occurred outside of her Jeep in my parent’s driveway; a brand-new black Jeep that she had just purchased for herself. Sitting in that Jeep was Sirena’s daughter; who was the same age as my twins. Sirena had been married previously also. This girl had been in my life for a long time and I still love her. She will forever be a part of my story whether she realizes it or not. While I did not argue over money because of my own issues with confrontation, seeing this girl kept my frustration in check that day. She had seen her mother and I argue enough already. A reality that weighed on me as I looked at her watching the two of us from inside that Jeep.
“Jose—” starts Lily.
I interrupt. “Can we just drop it? I’ve fed you a lot of crap over these past few weeks about Sirena, and that’s on me, but I did really put her through hell. It’s just money…I’ll get over it.”
Lily is many things, but her ability to be understanding is what I respect about her most. I watch her take a deep breath after I speak; sucking in the words she wants to say.
Lily then slowly interlocks her hands and places them gently on the desk in front of her. Straightening up, she turns her frown into a big smile, looks at me, and agrees to my demands. “Alright, I’ll drop it,” she says. “But karmas not a bitch Jose, it’s a mirror. Just remember that. But I will do as you wish—” she leans back and speaks a little louder, “I will not talk about cuntface again!”
Week 15: Friday, December 18th, 2020
“The ‘D’ Words”
I’d like to start today by asking you this: What makes a story compelling? What makes us want to keep watching? What do most all good stories/movies/shows need?
In literary circles, it’s called an Antagonists. An antagonist is an adversary and most often the bad guy. Let’s just keep it simple and call them bullies.
Our obsession with entertainment over the last one-hundred years, or more, has fueled the subconcious belief of ours that bullies are everywhere. Following this line of thinking, if everyone is a bully, then we are all bullies. And it appears that all of us have been humping like rabbits resulting in a world full of bully rabbits.
Are you a Bully Rabbit?
Now, before you go and fight me on this, let’s assume you are right: Bad guys are everywhere—The world is full of Bully Rabbits.
Even if this is true, good people are everywhere too. So, let’s just agree to disagree and move on here.
Today, there are millions of people standing on a ledge. They are about to fall, but no one is pushing them. Do some research. Find out how many people a year die by suicide and compare it to the number of deaths caused by crime. I’m not going to do it for you. If you don’t believe me, Nel, prove me wrong. But if you’re going to keep reading then you need to trust me when I say this: We are more likely to die by our own doing than at the hands of a “Bad Guy.”
My argument today is this: Entertainment is the purest type of Magic on the planet. I’ve made this argument in this class of ours already, yet I’m going to continue to argue it until you finally accept it as truth.
For as long as humans have walked this Earth, the ability to tells stories that inspire people, that give people hope, that teach people, that motivate people, that transcend the way we think, is Magic: pure and simple. That being said, the ability to tell stories that scare people, that give people anxiety, that make people worry, that frighten people, that corrupt the way we think, is also Magic: pure and simple.
Entertainment is a wonderful thing. It distracts us from the mundane and can transform us into the unknown. Ironically, entertainment has in fact been found to act like a drug on the brain. With the internet today, our entire lives revolve around entertainment. No matter who you are, or where you are, entertainment connects us.
As proof, let us consider Carl Icahn; a multi-billionaire financier now in his mid-eighties. A man many of you probably don’t even know, yet a man that has control over your lives in ways you could not imagine. What in the world could you have in common with such a person?
In a documentary I recently watched, I saw Carl Icahn casually refer to himself as “being like Ray Donovan.” Ray Donovan is a character in a show many of us have seen or at least heard of: he’s a good guy doing bad things. I bring this up because—just like Carl Icahn—many of us compare ourselves to the characters we see on tv. In that, Carl Icahn is more like us and we are more like him than we may realize.
(Just in case you’re wondering, if I could be a vigilante character from the screen, I’d be Denzel Washington’s character in The Equalizer: a dude that speaks soft but can kick ass strategically if absolutely necessary.)
Let me offer a short history lesson for you.
Superman, the character, was created in the 1930’s by two teenage Jewish immigrants; Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (who I reference as evidence that great artists can come from anywhere and also out of respect since the two men were screwed financially on their creation). The first issue highlighting this man in tights was released on April 18th, 1938. The Great Depression began in 1929 and lasted until around 1939. Was it a coincidence that this hero showed up right when the depression was ending?
That depression was much different than the psychological depression some people think humanity is facing at the moment. I’ve read many books to try and understand these times but still feel as if I can’t possibly comprehend what it was like to live back then. After that the World War began. It was a time we have a hard time relating to. A world with limited resources fighting in wars that seemed so far away. Children had to practice wearing gas masks in schools back then—just in case. Can you imagine?
Many stories I’ve read find people confused about what is really going on then—scared—not knowing who or what to believe. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
One of the things that made Superman a hero in 1939 was his ability to help anyone on the planet by flying at super speed through the clouds. Whether a high-tech missile was headed your way, or you were in an intense battle against some secret-agent Russian boogeyman, he could be there in an instant. There was not a threat he couldn’t handle and not a place he couldn’t be.
Back then, the ability we have today to communicate with one another instantaneously from anywhere would have been considered science-fiction. The internet would have been a superpower beyond comprehension. It would have been like seeing a man drop down to Earth from a cloud above. (Kinda ironic we call the internet The Cloud isn’t it?)
Here is what I’ve come to believe: Entertainment is a superpower, the internet is a form of entertainment, therefore, we all have superpowers.
So, what can we do?
Sometimes the world around us is not what we want it to be. But we have the power to change it. If you are up to this challenge then I advise you to remember The D Words: Destination, Determination, and Deliberation.
J.K. Rawlings taught me this. In her Harry Potter books she was describing the ability to Disapparate: to magically disappear from one place and reappear in another.
In the fictional stories, Harry and his classmates had to learn from their teachers how to do this. In the real world, people pay a lot of money to attend trainings where they teach you just like Harry’s teachers did. These are motivational seminars intended to make your dreams a reality (think of Tony Robbins).
These amazing people will teach you how to transform the life you are living into the one you deserve. According to Wilkie Twycross; Ministry of Magic official and Apparition Instructor in the Harry Potter books, one had to recall The Three Ds to successfully Disapparate: “One had to be completely Determined to reach one’s Destination, and move without haste, but with Deliberation.”
Did this author accidentally include this lesson in her stories? —Or—Was she perhaps trying to teach YOU something? Did she maybe hope that her story would someday inspire people in the real world?
I think she did—That’s some real Magic shit right there!
Before we end here, I’d like you to think of another superhero for a moment: Batman.
If you look at the story of this character shown on screen over the years you will see that his character exists in a darker and darker world. Is it a coincidence that this character’s world gets darker right along with our own?
The latest Batman movie; set to be released in 2022, has a new trailer for it that I just watched with my boys the other day. The end of it features this hero of ours smashing in some guys face and referring to himself as “Vengeance”. The movie looks like it’s gonna be awesome and is yet another example of how feeding anger is a profitable endeavor. But what if these movies are bleeding into our reality?
I don’t mean to be a party pooper as I know this alarming to consider. And maybe I’m just acting like a dorky dad by bringing it up. But I truly believe this is something we all need to start looking into more. In fact, I think our future depends on it.
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
“Feeding anger is a profitable endeavor.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not.
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“We must engage and rearrange and turn this planet back to one.”
—Are You Gonna Go My Way by Lenny Kravitz