(15) The ‘D’ Words

Now approaching the middle of December, week fifteen finds me at school for an evaluation meeting. Classes were still remote, but many teachers did their lessons from the classroom at this point, so the building was not empty: 

Sitting in the Principal’s office for the third time, my anxiety was kicking in as I waited for this meeting of ours to begin. The interior of the office in front of me looked different. The desk that once sat in the middle of the room was now turned facing the windows so that I could see the computer screen that sat upon in. 

This change was school gossip a few weeks ago. Supposedly the Director had made a comment to the Principal on one of her visits: “It seems suspicious that students walking the hallways cannot see teacher’s computers.” 

As a result of this comment all teachers were told by the Principal to reorganize their rooms so that their computers were visible to students at our last staff meeting. Everyone was annoyed by this but rallied around our Principal in order to stick it the Director. None of it affected me because I did not have a classroom, but the whole thing annoyed me. 

I had seen the same behavior in my time in the corporate world: No one trusting one another and everyone thinking someone was out to get them, so they’d get them first. It was a game everyone seemed to be playing in order to justify their importance and someone else’s irrelevance. I found it exhausting.

The clock on the computer flashed “7:00 AM.” It was early in the morning and the building was still cold. I was warming my hands by blowing on them when the Principal walked in. I got goosebumps…

Principal Sam put a few papers on the desk, sat down, and turned to talk to me, “I owe you an apology.”

Removing her mask; in what I perceived as sign of softening, the Principal continued, “I’m a tiny, frosty-haired, old lesbian. I think that makes me a little rough around the edges sometimes. Regardless, I haven’t been really nice to you while you’ve been here. I’m not making excuses, just stating the facts.”

Taking off my own mask, I smiled, and continued to listen 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.”

“Thank you,” I said, “Honestly though, I can’t even remember everything I wrote in that. I’m a little nervous knowing you read it. Did Mr. Bernard give it to you?”

“Actually, yes. He emailed it to me a long time ago but I had never actually read it,” she laughed to herself, then continued, “By the way, I was there the other day when you suggested to Mr. Henry that advanced mathematics should be an elective in higher grades. Even though I can see a lot of valid arguments in your vision for education, his heated response to that suggestion should tell you the world probably isn’t ready for all your ideas quite yet. I only bring it up so that you may be more careful with your words in the future.”  

Remembering that conversation, a feeling of shame came over me. Even though Mr. Henry and I had become more friendly, that altercation had reminded me why I still did not really like him very much. In my opinion he took himself too seriously. This was something I thought of a lot of people; whether or not this was real or simply a figment of my own insecurity is unknown. 

Whenever people talked down to me like Mr. Henry did that day, I felt like Matilda being yelled at by her father in her movie; “I’m smart, you’re dumb. I’m big, you’re little. I’m right, you’re wrong—And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

I had learned to avoid letting people make me feel stupid like this by avoiding the temptation to assert my opinions whenever possible. On that day however, I had clearly slipped. Not telling the principle any of what was going on in my head, I responded, “You’re right, I beat myself up for saying that. I’m usually really good at editing what I say. I’ve had a lot of practice.”

Looking like she understood what I meant, the tiny, frosty-haired, old lesbian continued to open up to me, “I know that I often sound like a broken record Jose, but getting these kids to graduate has been my number one priority since I began working here. I believe in rigorous standards-based education. This is how I have been trained….” Stopping to think about something, she paused, then added, “Maybe it’s not the most important thing.”

No one spoke for a moment as we both considered the words that escaped her mouth.

“If you tell anyone I said that I will deny it completely!” she said loudly, smirking at me.  

I appreciated her confiding in me at that moment, and decided that this was as good a time as any to ask the question that was drilling away at me, “Have you heard anything about funding yet?”

Grabbing some papers off the printer, she threw them in my direction. I reached down to see what they were. It was a printout of an email correspondence between Principal Sam and someone that I did not recognize. I did not need to know who it was to understand what I had just read.

“Your last day is January 22nd, the last day of term 2,” she said; as she had seen that I had completed my reading.

My heart sank. 

I knew that the chances were slim that my program would see additional funding. Between the Candace tragedy, and bouncing back and forth between remote and in-person learning, the year was just too chaotic for my program to gain any traction. Still, I had held out some hope for a miracle. But by this point I had not heard from Mr. Bernard either, so, what the principle had just told me was not too surprising.  

***BREAKING KNEWS***

Alright My Friends, this part of the story will be interactive as I am going to be asking you some questions, so pay attention. My Readers, I am talking to you by the way. If you have made it this far in my story, I am hoping that we are friends, because there is no way I would be telling you the rest of this story otherwise. In fact, I do not even tell friends this part of my story—So buckle up!

Welp, here goes nothing, there’s no turning back now….

After the shovel incident with my dad, and that ‘revelation’ I had while snow-blowing, I was inspired to prove to the world that I was a writer: With a story and a vision of the future people needed to hear. 

For a month I spent my nights manically putting together this vision of mine into words. During this time, I would smoke my weed and drink 5-hour energy shots to keep myself awake and motivated to finish what I had started. Once I was done with my writing, I purchased a domain name: JourneyToJoJo.com. 

On that site I placed the short manifesto that you have heard me reference (The one Sirena complimented me on and the one that subsequently got me fired from that tile job) and also a separate link to a short story that I had newly written, titled; “The Octagon of P.A.I.N” (It was just the beginning of a story I proposed completing at a later date).

Once I had the site looking good, I created an email. The title of the email read: “There Is A Problem.”

Inside that email was a quote I pirated from a show called The Newsroom; it read: “The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one.” 

The email contained this one quote and a link to my website. That was it.

Alright Dear Readers (I mean friends), if you were me back then, who would you have sent this email to? 

“NO ONE!?!” 

Alright smart ass…pretend you’re an idiot like I was…who did I send it to???

Before you answer, you need remember that at this time I was a carpenter, a teacher, a numbers guy, a husband, a father; and then an aspiring writer. I knew very little about social media then. And in my mind at the time, there were people that I wanted to save with this vision of mine. Therefore, I was in a rush and could not take the time to figure out how to use any of those platforms to help with my mission. 

I didn’t even have a Facebook account back then. Sirena didn’t let me. With that said, email was how I was going to announce to the world that I was a writer…  

What I did was look up every major newspaper email address I could find across the country; every news channel; every talk-show on television and radio; anything I could think of that had an email publicly available. The logic behind this maneuver of mine was simple: “If I send this email to enough people, someone will discover me.” 

Oh—And I sent it to family and friends: Asking for their help getting my website some attention.

Damnit!

Just telling you about this is giving me anxiety. (I may or may not have just thrown up in my mouth.) To anyone that ever got that email back then…I’m sorry…. 

“Jose, everyone is calling worried about you.” 

Poor Sirena; rather than calling me, most of the people that got my email contacted her. To this day I do not know what they read or did not read. This is a chapter of my life no one talks about. My family and friends do me the favor of pretending like it never happened. 

But back then I was furious no one took the time to actually read what I had created. Everyone was concerned for my well-being and my mental health—But had they heard what I was saying—Did they take time to read what I had created—DID THEY REALIZE WHAT I WROTE WAS GENIUS???

These questions drove me crazy back then…literally: Crazy.  

THAT event then became the 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.  

It was the day after I sent it that Sirena and I got into an argument over a family thing we were supposed to go to. 

“You should go so that everyone knows you’re okay,” she yelled.  

I refused to go, and it led to a loud fight. 

I simply wanted to run away from my problems—So, I did. 

Leaving my phone on the counter so that no one could contact me, I jumped in our family minivan and started driving…

***End Of Breaking Knews***

After leaving the Principal’s office I went to see Lilly.  

“How’d it go?” she asked; knowing where I had come from.

I shut the door behind me, “Good and bad,” I began, “The Principal was really nice to me, but funding for the program did not come through. My last day is January 22nd.”

Without delay, Lily responded, “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 Jose—I got you.” She smiled confidently but did not elaborate, in fact she purposely changed the subject, “So, did you talk to Sirens yet?”

Sirena had sold her house (our house). It had become official the week before when she closed on the deal. It was hard to believe the housing market was still as high as it was since the pandemic began, but it was; if not higher: Sirena made an absolute fortune on the sale of the house.  

By the way, Lily had begun calling Sirena, ‘Sirens.’ This was a 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 reason they called her “Sirens.”

Selling the house, Sirena had secretly made plans to move in with a boyfriend that I did not even know she had at the time. He was a tall, handsome, older man that was actually a local football coach of mine back in the day. Despite my lingering feelings for Sirena, I really had nothing against the guy—Alright, let’s be real, I did think he was a bit of a SAP at first, but that was just my pride talking. 

Once people learned about the two of them most agreed they made a great pair. Keeping everything super secretive made this relationship of theirs much more scandalous than it had to be. In reality, if she would have just told me about it, coping with it would have been much easier on me. Unfortunately, Sirena no longer seemed interested in what would make things easier on me. 

Over the last two months; while all this was going on, Lily was who I vented to. So, I answered her question, “Yes, I did talk to her. She gave me a check for the tax credit like she promised.” 

“That’s it!” she said surprised. “Not a dollar from the house?! What did she say…exactly?”

“A lot that I don’t want to remember. Things like…I’d forgotten all she’s done for me…that she owed me nothing for all that I put her through…that I spent all her money…that she took care of me and my kids…that I’m f***ing crazy—Oh, and that I’m an addict and giving someone like me a lot of money was not a smart thing to do.”

“What a cunt.” 

“Lily!” 

“I’m sorry but I can’t believe she gave you nothing—sorry, not nothing…tax money for the kid you have all the time!” She frowned, “Did you at least stand up for yourself?”

“I’ve told you, every time I try to, she just raises her voice and threatens to take my son from me. When she does that I just shut down and quiver like a little bitch,” I said truthfully. “It’s not worth the fight anyway. I’m fine. She can keep the money. I think I just really wanted to believe she’s a nicer person than she is.”

“But Jose—” started Lily.

I interrupted, “Can we just drop it? I’ve fed you a lot of crap over these past few weeks about her; and that’s on me, but she really did go through hell for me. I just want to leave it in the past. I’ll get over it.”

Lily is many things, but her ability to be understanding is what I like about her most. I watched her take a deep breath after I spoke: sucking in the words she wanted to say. She then slowly interlocked her hands and placed them gently on the desk in front of her and sat up straight. Turning her frown into a big teethy smile, she looked at me and agreed to my demands, “Alright Jose, I’ll drop it. I will not talk about cuntface again.”

“Thank you,” I smiled back.

Week 15 (12.18.20):

“The ‘D’ Words”

Before we begin today’s lesson, you are gonna need to jump on those broomsticks of yours because I’m about to take you for a ride. If you are scared of heights simply grab a partner and close your eyes, because you are coming whether you like it or not!

This world needs saving. At this point I think we can all agree on that. In these United States the fallout from this pandemic and the turmoil over this election has many people theorizing that humanity is, in fact, in its final days. 

Religious groups, conspiracy theorists, bloggers, news networks, leaders of many kinds—and their followers, have their megaphones in hand making certain we all know….  “THIS WORLD IS F***ED!”

Well, I’m sorry kiddos, but I just don’t buy it.  

Do we need superheroes to save us? —Yes. 

But lucky for all of us, we have them. Plenty of them. And they are everywhere.  

Confused?  

It’s okay, it will all make sense in the end. Just keep holding on…

Here is a short history lesson for you. Superman, the character, was created in the 1930’s by two teenagers. The first issue highlighting this man in tights was released on April 18th, 1938. The Great Depression; which was a worldwide economic downturn for those that need reminding, began in 1929 and lasted until around 1939. Was it a coincidence that this superhero showed up right around the time the great depression was ending?

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the two teenage creators of Superman, were both born to Jewish immigrants. There was no way anyone back then would have predicted this superhero of theirs would bring such hope to a beaten down world. The story behind how they created this character and how they sold the rights to everything connected to him to Action Comics for a total of $130 is comic legend today. In truth, these two young men got screwed in this deal—BIG TIME. However, when someone forever attempts to discover who created this hero, their names will show up, which I argue is more valuable than all the money in the world.  

I once heard someone say that not just anyone can be great, but that someone great can come from anywhere. The story of these two young men validate this statement. Their ability to inspire others with a creation of their minds makes them the real superheroes in this little history lesson of mine: Not a man in blue tights, with a nice ass that can fly—Though the nice ass helps…just ask Captain America. (That’s a joke I know you’ll get Nel.)  

My argument today is this: Entertainment is the purest type of Magic on the planet. 

You’ve heard me say that to you before in this class of ours, and I’m going to say it over and over until you finally accept it as the 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.

Superman had super strength. The image in his first publication had him lifting a car above his head. This was only one of his special gifts, however. His most fascinating talent was the ability to fly at superspeed across the globe. This gave Superman the ability to save anyone, anywhere on this planet. Can you imagine being alive back then, reading this story about a man that could fly, then looking up into the sky and imagining him in his cape coming down to save you?

This hero was born into the world when many felt things were broken. The depression, back then, is something most of us cannot imagine today. It was a different time. But one where many probably believed like we do today: That the world was F***ed! (Though they probably did not use this language back then Miss Lauren.)

Today we can watch superheroes on our screens anytime we wish. Nevertheless, the thought that they will pop out through the screen and actually save us in the real world has become laughable. There are no superheroes that can save this world of ours. Nowadays, most of us would rather watch the Kardashians than flying men in tights (Isn’t that right, Pras?).

In a world this fake: We are now truly F***ed! 

—But are we, really?

What made Superman a hero in 1939 was his ability to help anyone, anywhere on the planet. Whether a high-tech missile was headed your way, or you were in an intense battle against some secret-agent Russian spy, he could be there. There was not a threat he could not handle and not a place he could not be.  

Today, millions of people are on a ledge. They are about to fall, but there is no one pushing them. Their toes are slowly creeping forward. They are getting closer and closer to just doing it. These people are sick of fighting against fake enemies and are simply scared of this world in general. Without some miracle, too many of these people will jump…and they cannot fly, nor are they on broomsticks. 

I know I just went really dark on you there, but I’m speaking truth. The fact is, there are more people standing on a ledge contemplating suicide today than there are people in actual danger of a missile will being dropped on their head. 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, 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.”

With that said, think about this…

What makes a story compelling—What makes us want to keep watching—What do most all good stories need???

In literary circles, it’s called an “Antagonists.” Also known as a “Bad Guy.”  

The point I’m trying to make is that entertainment over the last one-hundred years has fueled the belief of ours that “Bad guys are everywhere.” Let me make it plainer: “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?

Sorry Kiddos, my broom got a bit out of control on me there for a second. Give me a moment to gather myself and let’s finish this class strong.

There is no stronger weapon in the world than entertainment. It distracts us from the mundane and molds us into the unknown. With the internet today, our entire lives revolve around entertainment. We are utterly consumed by it. 

In 1939, this ability we have to communicate with one another instantaneously from anywhere would have been considered science-fiction. The internet would have been a superpower beyond comprehension; like seeing a man lifting a car above his head.  

Here is what I’ve come to believe: Our world needs saving, entertainment is a superpower, the internet is a form of entertainment; therefore, we are all superheroes.

So, what can we do?

We must train our future entertainers to be super-heroes. We must train you. We must empower you and make you responsible. 

That’s right, Lauren, if you ever write that book what type of role model will you be? Nel, when your band takes off, how will you use your ability to bring joy to people? Pras, when you become that famous politician, how will people know you are truly the person you say you are?

With these questions rattling around in those brains, let us prepare to land those broomsticks.  

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.  

Do you want to know who told me this?

It was J.K. Rawlings. (Her real name is Joanne in case you were wondering)

In her Harry Potter books she was describing the ability to “Disapparate.” Meaning: 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. When they were practicing, they were told to think of the three D’s that I just shared with you.

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. They 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!

****

Dear Squad,

Earlier I told you that the Great Depression ended in 1939. With all the theories people throw around nowadays I do my best to try and stay quiet, but for you, I’m going to break my own rule and tell you my own personal theory right now.

I believe all of us have been living in a depression era ourselves. Not a financial one, but a mental one. One where ignorance and cynicism has resulted in a period of time where true progress has been put on hold.

I believe for those in the United States this period began on September 11th in 2001; when people saw the Twin Towers fall. If my theory is true, then that means we have been struggling with this psychological depression for almost twenty years; which has been your entire life.

Well, all depressions end; even psychological ones if you are patient enough. Which makes me wonder: How this one will end—Who is going to be Our Superman—Could it be YOU?

I really, really, really hope it is…. Because I think you’d look amazing in tights!

You may now land your broomsticks. (A true wizard learns to fly without them anyway.)

I hope you all have A Great Weekend!

—With Love, Mr. J

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

Can you fly?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“People say I’m crazy…”

—Watching the Wheels by John Lennon

(Click here to continue to next chapter)

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Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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