Week nineteen has us on our computers again. Knowing that next week ends semester two, marking the end of my tenure at the school, there is one more lesson I want to share with my students before we run out of time. Lily is sitting in on this class, her face has its own cube on screen:
Yesterday I had given my students a short story at the end of class. I did not ask them to write anything, only to think about it overnight:
Thirteen-point-eight billion years ago, in a computer lab before time, two Engineers were in fierce competition with one another. One, named Alya, had a creation that far surpassed the others (though you’d call it more of a simulation than a creation). As the competition came to a close the other Engineer, named Lucifer, became overwhelmed with jealousy. Facing inevitable defeat, Lucifer snuck onto Alya’s computer and punched two buttons: X followed by the number 2. By pressing these keys in combination, ‘X2’, Lucifer added an element into Alya’s model of D-N-A. Undetectable to this Great Creator, Alya, the element added would infect the creation with something called DECEIT… forever sabotaging the experiment.
Throughout the year I have written articles and asked my students to answer a Question for Reflection. Besides wanting them to get in the practice of keeping a journal to chronical their personal development, one of the other purposes behind this was to increase their cognitive ability to interpret stories. Rather than simply watch and believe, I hoped to teach them to watch and decipher. In the outline for my curriculum I referred to this ability as an individual’s C.S.I. Score: Common Sense Intellect: One’s ability to separate truth from fiction when presented a piece of entertainment in the real world. As our time together is coming to an end, I was preparing to put my students’ ability to do this to the test.
“What are your thoughts on the story?” I say to the class.
Listening to them, I keep the conversation on track but barely speak. I watch as Lauryn gets offended by what Pras perceives this story to mean. As I have anticipated, religion has become a key discussion point. A topic not normally discussed at school but one I welcome on this day….
I made the decision to go forward with this controversial lesson the day I had pulled behind an SUV in a grocery store parking lot. This SUV had stickers on its back windshield. On the bottom left was a stick-figure illustration of a mom, a dad, and three children holding hands; beside them was a small dog. Directly to the side of this was a separate sticker with the letters WWJD (What Would Jesus Do). On the opposite side of this same window—less than five feet away—was another sticker: “Trump 2020: Make Liberals Cry Again.”
Later on that same day, while on a walk, I saw a similar scene. Draped over a porch railing was a large banner that read, “Jesus Is Lord and Savior to All Men.” Above this banner, to the right—less than five feet away—a flag flew: “Trump 2020: Keep America Great!”
Seeing these things that day truly irritated me. While I had avoided these conversations in my class I decided then that I could avoid it no longer. (“Separation of church and state?” — less than five feet away.)
When I wrote the short story I purposely intended to spark the debate Lauryn and Pras are now having. Watching them get annoyed with one another, I secretly congratulate myself at a job well done.
Knowing that time is short, I take back control of the class.
“—Alright my friends,” I interrupt. “Like all the stories you’ve read this year, I created this one also. And now I’ll tell you why I wrote it…”
Pausing, I take a mental picture of the faces I see on screen.
“You all know that I’ve been married and divorced twice correct?” I say to them.
“Third times the charm!” chirps Nel from his cube.
His audience; Pras and Lauryn, simply nod their heads in response to my question; clearly not in the mood to laugh at Nel’s comment. I can see in the faces of Pras and Lauryn that the two of them are still upset over their argument from a few seconds prior.
Focusing my attention on Lily, I can feel a smile turn up on the edges of my lips. I look at her eyes through the computer screen and speak to the irritated silence. “I wrote this short story so that one day the world might learn that my second ex-wife was a deceitful b—”
Heading into 2016, the inescapable idea of sharing my story with the world would not leave me alone. It is a scratch on my mind that is impossible to itch.
Even if I was suffering from delusional thinking, even if my vision broke from reality—even if I was crazy: Did that mean I was supposed to just throw the story I felt called to share in the trash and forget about it forever?
No one wants to hear me say it, but that is never going to happen.
Sirena and I use my small disability payment to help us make ends meet. While she goes to work teaching (a real job) I stay home and prepare to give my writing career another shot—without letting anyone know of course.
At this point I have accepted that people do not read and that I’ll have to get their attention before they dedicate the time to read what I’ve written. I decide that making a YouTube video will offer the most productive path forward.
In the basement of our house I spend time reading and studying up. I then begin making visuals and videotaping scenes from movies and television that I will use in this video. A video that will get people excited to read my story and eventually discover the world I envision or us.
I also decide to take some pictures of places around my town; hoping that any person or business I reference will benefit when I’m successful. My thinking is inspiringly delusional: I JUST WANT TO HELP PEOPLE!
This obsession with wanting to help people is an identifiable symptom of my diagnoses. This presents a problem for me as I do not want to accept my diagnoses. Nevertheless, I can’t stop myself—I need to prove to people that I’m right (another symptom of my diagnoses).
Despite being embarrassed of who I am, I press on and tell myself that I am not the crazy person that ran away anymore. Instead, I now think of myself as just a messenger: the one responsible for bringing those crazy yet relevant ideas into the world.
All of this is happening the first few months of 2016 and everyone is talking about the upcoming election. Donald Trump has now entered the scene and I am not a fan of his from day one. I, however, have been in the trenches and know first-hand how frustrated people are. I, therefore—unlike the rest of the country then—believe it entirely possible that he will win this election.
The election that year was like watching a real-life Game of Thrones. Where deceit and manipulation and belittling was rewarded with votes. Some of my fellow Americans—in love with their entertainment—imagined Donald Trump as Harrison Ford’s character in the movie Air Force One: A real man’s man sent to take control of a weak nation to save us from THEM. Others imagined him more like Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the movie Gladiator: A spoiled rich kid taking control of a corrupt nation to keep it for THEM.
At this point, people had been calling me crazy for a year, but the behavior I was watching on television appeared insane. I am on medicine at this time—I swear! —but clearly my dosage must be off as I believe that I can burst onto the scene and become a voice people can trust.
By May 27th, 2016, my entire basement is filled with visuals that I’ll use in my video. I will use this video to introduce myself to the world and then begin talking some sense into my fellow Americans.
The plan is simple…What could go wrong?
Around two in the morning I wake up and have a cigarette on my back porch. The moon is bright, and I look up at it hoping that this time around I get things right.
My feet are planted firmly on this big blue ball beneath me, yet my dreams float high above with those stars. Looking into the vast emptiness I reflect on how truly small and insignificant I really am. But I tell myself that I can still make a difference. That even a small person like me can cast a very large shadow. But I’m not sure I believe it.
Staring up into that void, it’s as if something was calling me. Like there was a place for me beyond all this.
Crawling back into bed with Sirena, I have just fallen back to sleep when the fire alarms begin going off. I snap to life and my heart pounds against my chest as I rush out of bed and race towards the kitchen.
Through the small window over the sink I see it… A glow that should not be there— The fire outside moving up the side of the house… What the hell have I done now? ….
***End of Breaking Knews***
“Yo, Mr. J!” explodes Nel, with a loud laugh.
I have been trying to limit the swears used in my class and calling my ex-wife the b word clearly broke from this, but strong words were necessary in order for this lesson to hit its mark… it was all part of the plan.
“You’re an ass,” Lauryn adds, not laughing.
Pras is quiet but I see him smile lightly. He is probably again wondering what exactly is wrong with me.
Lily has conveniently disappeared from her cube on screen in the midst of my students’ reactions. My phone lights up on the desk in front of me. Looking at it I see that she has sent me a message: A Cry-Laughing-Emoji—followed by a red heart—followed by two more Cry-Laughing-Emojis.
After looking at the message, I notice Lily sneak back into her cube on the computer screen in front of me. She tries hiding it, but her smiling face does not go unnoticed.
“Miss Lily—Don’t encourage him!” Lauryn says angrily.
It is not what I said about my ex-wife that Lauryn is upset about. She is mad I let her argue with Pras over something that now seems irrelevant. “You’re really an ass Mr. J,” Lauryn adds.
At this, Lily breaks her silence. “I’m sorry Lauryn, but that was funny. Are you really gonna call Mr. J an ass for making us laugh?”
“Yup!” Lauryn responds with a smirk, “I am.”
Knowing that I have gotten the message across successfully, I gather myself in order to present them with the lesson this class was designed to teach.
“How many of you want revenge?” I ask, rhetorically. “To get back at those that have wronged you. To show the world that you were right, and they were wrong. That they suck, and you don’t…”
Humans have a crippling desire to be heard. Virtual socialization has satisfied this desire of ours while at the same time creating a paradox: in a world where everyone can be heard, no one is. Nonetheless, it is still a useful tool. Though sometimes it is used as a weapon to start one’s own personal war-against-the-world. And like all weapons, this one can often hurt oneself more than others.
Keeping all of these opinions to myself, I continue speaking to my students.
“I wrote that story in my own personal journal in the middle of the night a few months ago. When I wrote it, I was sad and angry. A dangerous mix of emotions to bring online with you.” I stop and focus on Lily; her face appears encouraging. “My wife leaving hurt me a lot. When I was upset I wanted to scream…I wanted revenge…”
Saying this, I pause again. The word revenge is so powerful that just using it seems to wake something up inside me; and the students looking back at me seem to feel it too—their eyes are fully present.
“But here’s the thing,” I say to them, “If my wife never left I would not be here teaching you this class. It’s proof that losing often creates opportunities in life. Chances for us to become more productive losers. In fact, someone might even say I won the lottery the day she left…”
I am about to show them a piece of paper I have on my desk when Nel interrupts me from his cube on screen.
“I don’t mean to be a jerk Mr. J,” he says, “But that’s a load of crap. It’s just Teachers’-Talk. There’s nothing more important than winning…we aren’t stupid.”
Annoyed at the interruption; and his opinion, I consider where to take this discussion. Eyeing Pras; still looking quiet from his argument with Lauryn, I decide to manufacture some drama for him.
“Nel—” I begin, “did your President lose this year’s election?”
Nel does not hide his love for Donald Trump in our class. He is the loud and proud voice we’ve been listening to since the day he took office.
“That’s really nothing we know for certain Mr. J,” he replies diplomatically.
“Bullshit Nel! He lost. As far as votes are concerned, he did—I don’t care what that rabid-fox-blood coursing through your veins tells you otherwise…” I see Nel look unsure of how to respond to this verbal attack from a teacher. “But really, was losing a bad thing?” I ask him seriously.
Nel does not immediately respond to my question and I quickly find myself wondering if that attack was just a bit too real.
I decide to keep talking. “We are all fighting amongst ourselves,” I say, in a strong but less combative voice. “This pandemic will have financial implications in the coming years that no president can prevent. There is hate bubbling up and blame being cast in all directions. It’s an absolute shitshow. And there is certainly a collection of people out there preparing to capitalize on the division in this country…”
I take a deep breath and look solemnly at Nel through the screen. “Nel—I one thousand percent believe that your President won this election by losing…and honestly…I think a part of him knows it.”
Pras walks into the conversation before Nel can respond. “He’s a narcissist, Mr. J. He doesn’t think logically. He wants to win no matter what.”
“—Name calling Pras,” I interject.
I started this discussion and realize that I need to temper it before things get out of hand. I had planned on my students talking religion to start this class, but politics was not on the agenda. Separation of church and state…
“Even if he is what you say Pras, you don’t change someone like that with name calling. You create something they want, and then tell them that they are no longer needed. Make them change in order to be wanted again. Right now, there is nothing that is going to force Trump, or his supporters, to change. And that’s not Trump’s fault. I’m sorry Pras, but it’s not.”
Pras knows my feelings about Donald Trump, and I know he can handle what I am saying to him. Nel is different animal, however. I tread carefully in order to avoid creating a purgatory type chasm between him and I: This is politics.
Waiting for one of the boys to speak, Lauryn jumps in instead. “Then who’s fault is it Mr. J?” she says seriously.
God do I love this girl. Her speaking immediately puts the boys on a leash. They have no choice but to listen now; and I need to make sure that whatever I say at this moment leaves a mark.
“Well, really…” I answer, “I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault Lauryn. With the rise of the internet and social media, hate dividing us so loudly was bound to happen eventually. Perhaps one day we’ll be thanking Donald Trump for ripping off the band aid. Let’s just hope all this insanity forces us to build something—something better….”
Week 19: Friday, January 15th, 2021
“The Three Young Men”
Earlier this week we joked about what would happen if I ever became a successful author with the book I plan to write. While Lauryn claims I am “too old to make it big,” I have decided to play with your minds a little and imagine a world in which she has been proven shockingly wrong.
In this future world Tom Brady and I are great friends. Tommy has put me on his TB12 diet, I have stopped my midnight snacking, and the G.O.A.T. has set me up with his doctors—making my age irrelevant.
With that said, let me bring you all into a future where your teacher, Mr. J, has changed the world. I do this by telling you the story of The Three Young Men….
In a galaxy far-far away,
Three Young Men; The Joker, The Believer, and The Thinker,
Lay in front of their screens preparing to watch their favorite show:
“The Sunday Roast—A JoJo Enterprise Production.”
Sitting in a simple chair in front of a large window, the host begins his introduction.
“Hello everyone, my name is Brett Fever and today’s date is Friday, April 15th, 2050. Thank you all for joining us as we prepare for tonight’s big celebration… a night long anticipated. We promise you won’t regret it.”
The pony-tailed host crosses his legs and speaks through the screen.
“We wish to begin this show with a quote: ‘Retain even in opposition your capacity for astonishment’. On this day in history, in 1865, Abraham Lincoln died by assassination at the age of fifty-six years old. This quote was taken from a movie titled Lincoln that depicted his life and achievements. We use the quote to remind our viewers that: ‘Lives that inspire never expire’. This quote we have stolen from a different man. The man who will be our primary focus of our show today: The Teacher—Jose Julian.”
Pausing, the host pushes his glasses to the top of his head and finishes. “Now, before we begin, let us get The Disclaimers out of the way. Shall we?”
Out of all of the shows segments The Disclaimers is The Joker’s favorite part. He leans in mischievously to watch…
“The show you are about to watch has two primary objectives. One. To entertain you. And two. To sell you shit. With that in mind, please understand that what you will see and hear is extremely biased and influenced by our own selfish agendas. That being said, there are many things you will want to investigate individually. As always, we encourage this. With these disclaimers out of the way, today’s Sunday Roast is brought to you by The Extender: Encouraging you to stay the person you were meant to be.”
The Joker giggles louder than the other two young men as a commercial for The Extender plays on their screens.
After a short scene from an old Austin Power’s movie, the commercial is a cartoon skit depicting reality style ‘Where Are They Now?’ interview clips with some of the loudest anti-vacs critics from the early 2020’s. People had refused vaccines for many reasons then—both good and bad—but today the fighting over those personal choices has subsided. The commercial concludes with a mustached man painted red from head to toe attacking the camera filming him with a MyPillow while squealing the word “Traitors!” repeatedly.
The commercial ends and the words “Breaking Knews” fills the screen. A YouTube video begins to play. Its title is: Black Sails—True Victory.
This is The Believer’s favorite part of the show. He leans in excitedly to watch…
The three-minute video ends and is followed by a scene from the 1953 film, The War of the Worlds. The fear expressed by the actors on screen appears laughable to many viewers. To The Believer watching, however, this fear—though ancient looking—still speaks to him.
This Believer always worried about what was out in the vastness of space. The idea that a far-off civilization would one day come, and attack, makes perfect sense to this imaginative mind. Once the scene from the old movie comes to a close a montage of films displaying the end of the world appears as a rolodex on screen. As the pages of this rolodex turn, the viewer is taken through all of Hollywood’s attempts to make money by entertaining minds with the belief that a catastrophic end to the world was imminent.
The rolodex disappears and is replaced by a woman on screen: Dani Owen; the host of this segment.
“We humans use a lot of energy,” Dani begins. “Today’s guest is a foreign exchange student who is doing amazing work to make this energy clean.”
The screen splits. Dani is now on the left and a female guest is on her right. Below the guest is her name: Eveileb Htiaf—Student at JoJo University.
With the ocean in the background this guest explains how wave currents are being used to produce renewable energy.
Once this guest is done talking, Dani says, “Friend, could you please tell our audience what the word Apocalypse is taught to mean at your University?”
This guest is wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘Apocalypse’ written across its front. At this question she turns around so that the camera can film the back of the shirt: “An Awakening Period For ALL Humanity.”
A few more questions are asked by the host and a few more answers are given. The Believer watching smiles to himself; hoping that he has been wrong about what this word meant his entire life.
The segment ends and the viewer is magically transported to a beautiful modern-day city. In front of a tall building appears a makeshift living room set within a rock garden. Two comfy chairs sit a few feet apart from one another. Between the two chairs is a round table with two coffee cups on it; both coffee cups display a fancy-looking ‘J’ intentionally facing the camera.
In the chairs are the two hosts: Evelyn and Brodie. At Evelyn’s feet sits her adorable black dog: Winston.
This is the show’s main event, called Mind-Molders. During which these two hosts discuss how entertainment is shaping society. This day’s segment has been long anticipated, as today they will be discussing The Teacher—Jose Julian.
This is The Thinker’s favorite part of the show. He leans in attentively to watch…
Evelyn speaks into the camera. “Regardless of what you think about Jose Julian, the entertainment he has helped spark over the years has helped create our world and continues to shape society today.”
Brodie takes over. “As you can see, we are sitting in the heart of Detroit, Michigan for today’s show. The home of JoJo Enterprises.” A different camera shows Brodie from above. Waving up at the camera Brodie continues to speak; a little louder. “This place is beautiful, but not as beautiful as its people. Who will tell you this city was brought to life when it appeared in Jose Julian’s book that first surfaced back in the year 2022.”
The camera changes back and Evelyn takes over. “Offering his story to the world for free that year on his school’s website did eventually lead to a substantial book deal for Jose, but what truly catapulted this book of his into the stratosphere begin with a trip into space…”
A clip from the day Jeff Bezos brought Jose into space is shown on screen as Brodie speaks. “Mr. Bezos had begun giving away large donations just a few years prior; claiming ‘the world needed more unifiers not vilifiers’. When Mr. Bezos read Jose’s story, he decided that this unknown author understood this and wanted to help. The two of them made quit the spectacle of it by taking a trip into space together in order to promote unity.”
The video clip of that day ends and is replaced by another video showing a large boardroom meeting. Many of the faces sitting around the table are very well known by the viewers. It is a collection of people respected and admired by those watching.
Brodie’s voice continues to be heard. “Following Mr. Bezos example other wealthy individuals stepped up to help; including (enter names here)…. These great people flooded Jose with so much capital that the only limit to realizing his dream became his imagination.”
The clip ends and Evelyn’s face beams on screen. “For more than twenty years now this book has been given away to every high school graduate across the globe,” she says; holding the book up in her hand. “Along with a personal journal that includes words of wisdom from all the wealthy donors that make the gift possible each year.”
Brodie speaks again. “The book is great but it’s the show it inspired that most of us remember: The Teacher. A showed that proved that whatever humans can imagine they usually can create.”
“Entertainment was always used to tell stories, sometimes it tried to teach us lessons, but Jose challenged it to create a future.” Evelyn smiles at the idea and continues to speak. “Sprinkled with conflict and humor the show his book inspired entertained us year after year. Yet, what really kept us all addicted was the hope it pumped into our veins. Hope that became realized in the real world as the show on screen became real classes for students to participate in and experience themselves. This show is now legendary and is considered one of the most transformative pieces of entertainment ever created.”
Brodie takes over again; looking serious. “You know Jose. And you know of his book and this show. But today we will be introducing to you some of the first believers that helped bring it all to life…”
The Three Young Men continue to watch in amazement…
Inspired by how these people on screen changed the world they dream of what they can accomplish themselves. It is not just them dreaming about this. Each person seeing this on screen is now asking themselves the same question: “What if I could change the world?”
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
What would you need to change the world? Explain.
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“You could be the hero.”
—Hall of Fame (Feat. Will.i.am) by The Script