(Spring) Break from the Norm

Hey there folks,

Foremost, happy Good Friday (regardless of your religious beliefs), and may you get to spend this time with loved ones and the like.

Spring Break draws to an uncomfortable, yet welcome, end; by Monday morn, my charges will once more be at my pedantic mercy. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I do look forward to returning to my classroom. Only two more months of formal schooling afore Summer break reaches us in earnest. Frankly, I wish to keep the indomitable pace going and work hard for these next few weeks, all the better to savor what Summer brings to us mere mortals.

If Summer is anything like this past break, well, I’ve much to look forward to, comrades.

Spring Break began with a spot of welcome news from my bosom comrade, Stephanie, of Camino fame. “We bookended the newsletter,” she snapped me. Indeed, it was as she said; my article was emblazoned proudly upon the very first page of the La Concha newsletter whilst Stephanie’s wonderful review rounded off the entire manuscript. Not a bad bit of news to wake up to on your first day of a week-long respite.

Not pictured: My horrendously cracked screen

Goaded by my incurable desire to perpetually wander (and equally bolstered by the humble pride my published writings evoked), I set course for Duke City. Armed with a rather plump bag of clothes and toiletries, a slew of essays in need of grading, and a score of plastic army men, I began my Spring sojourn by visiting my nieces in Albuquerque.

I suppose my brother and my sister-in-law were there too, but, come on! Babies!

For several days, I lounged about in abject laziness, earning myself a few points toward Slothfulness on the Greatest Sin Scale; fret not, for Pride and Arrogance remain my Greatest Sins (not sure I should be proud of that, but the irony isn’t lost upon me either). Alongside my nieces, I must have watched Boss Baby a half-dozen times; add in repeated viewings of Frozen, Trolls, Story-Bots, and a slew of other kid-friendly shows for the bulk of my stay. When one sits down and actually analyzes Boss Baby, it really is a horrifying concept: best not to think of such things. My rhetorical sentiments were lost upon my nieces, all the cooing and babbling failing to satisfy my desire for a genuine, philosophical discussion.

Whilst lounging about in Albuquerque, provided schedules lined up, I did manage to visit a few old comrades for victuals. My dear comrade, Roxann, (yes, the wedding one) and I dined over shish kebabs and gyros, regaling one another with anecdotes of teaching and cat ownership, all the while lamenting the fact we are growing older in body. The couple of hours we spent together over good food and better conversation, comrades, made me realize a few things:

She’s right; I’m not getting any younger. The recurring pain I’ve in my left shoulder won’t abate with time; indeed, it is liable to become worse as the joints and sinews holding my body together begin their slow process of degradation;

The world yet remains unconquered. My trip to the Holy Land may be postponed for now, a tenure in the Peace Corps currently on standby, and my delusional plans of grandeur may be a tad unrealistic, but the fact remains that the globe still has much to offer;

Do it, she urged. Stop lollygagging and making excuses, comrade. Simply do it.

From the lovely novel “The Sultan’s Seal”

I dined with Camino comrades – a lovely couple I met at the Gathering of past years – and we swapped tales (both old and new) about our Camino experiences. After complaining of thick, sucking mud, the constant deluge of southern France, bed bugs, joint pain, inscrutable pilgrims, the oppressive heat, and the ever-present language barriers, we all shared a good laugh. “Who would want to do such things again,” we chortled. “One must be nuts to go back on Camino.”

They leave next month for France.

I leave July for Spain.

The Way, comrades, is inscrutable, and the allure – the pull – it has upon me is hypnotic. There, walking amidst strangers in a foreign land, with but a few belongings upon my back; that is where I feel most alive.

Yes, my classroom offers me a very excellent manner of achieving immortality. Working with my budding scholars brings me great joy, one I have never felt before in any of my various lines of work. But the hardships of the classroom are not quite the hardships I’m endeared to on the Way.

Yes, certain individuals can make me feel alive, but I am exceptionally good at keeping them to a distance. “What are you running from,” I’m oft told. Whenever one comes too close, I prick myself upon their thorns – a Rose bloodied by negligence and lax stupidity. The Way reminds me that Life isn’t about me: it’s about other people. It would be good to have a refresher.

In short, comrades, I aim to return to the Way. A respite on the dusty trails is just what my soul needs in order to maintain balance for the coming year.

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A Call to Arms

Today I stayed at school until a little after 6PM, getting some (much needed) grading done and generally enjoying the solitude an empty classroom affords a weary soul. There is something to be said about a room – once previously filled with abounding energy – now derelict and silent as a still night. Upon switching off my lava lamp and taking final notes in my journal, I sauntered through the grounds to rev up the Green Manalishi (the Jeep for you newcomers) before heading home to some much needed and well-earned respite.

This lava lamp

Blaring Sir Elton John with the e’er present cigarette dangling from my parched lips, I casually drove back to my digs to set about my evening rituals. The sun had already set by the time I made it home, a friendly reminder that perhaps I might have been at the school a bit too long. Just shy of 12 hours today.

No matter, I reasoned, for today was a good day. And comrades, any day I wake up is a good day.

Lately I have been feeling as if my calling was misguided; that my brief tenure as a teacher was not the thread of my skein I needed to be following. After all, as I’ve written times afore (nominally whilst on the Way), I am oft unsure of what path I need be pursuing. Indeed, at my age, it is typically frowned upon to be job hopping and taking sabbatical as I am wont to do. Events beyond my control, and a select few wholly of my own doing, attempt to lead me astray from time to time.

But these kids – these magnificent little fuckers – without e’er realizing it, bring me back to grounded reality, coolly reminding me that, yes, my skein has led me here. And, Odin dammit, I am doing good things. They are doing better things.

Like taking charge of their education

As I write this from the confines of my meager kitchen, graced by the presence of Soviet propaganda and other curiosities, I am reminded of my charges’ impact upon my well-being.

A poetry book given as a Christmas gift lies atop the table. A new leather journal sits comfortably in my old school bag. Brilliant words and honest thoughts my charges have shared with me – the hallmark of trust – are strewn about my bachelor quarters, ranging from barely legible chicken scratch to assiduously constructed characters. My classroom is adorned in hand-drawn sentiments, gaudy poetry projects, and private letters and keepsakes gifted to me by my goombas. And the words my charges speak to me when greeting one another at the door or passing by in the hall, ah, comrades! Those words shall e’er provide me succor when in my darkest depths of self-pity and loathing.

This morning as I was readying my classroom in a fatigued stupor (a wedding having taken the bulk of my weekend’s productivity), I was greeted at the door by one of my charges who wished to share her creative writing piece in privacy and solitude. As I read her tale of heartbreak and youthful understanding, I asked her why she felt it necessary to share this groundbreaking revelation with me first. She had sought me out afore her friends – even her best friend with whom she’s always chitchatting during class – to seek my input and advice. It appears, comrades, I might have become an adult after all, damndest thing. We talked over her piece and swapped ideas and tales about how best to capture the emotion and really bring the story to Life. A budding writer, a strong one at that, and one who ensured my week was off to an amazing start by seeking my assistance.

Last week I was greeted by one of my Dungeons and Dragons charges (he is an upper classman and not in my direct tutelage) and he juxtaposed himself on the wall I was currently leaning upon. “Sir,” he started, “I have read your Thing We Do Not Speak Of.” It is a running joke amongst my charges that this blog does not exist and has nothing to do with me – deny deny deny. He told me how he read the previous posts, how he read it aloud to his mother, and how the bits about public education made him lament the state of education within New Mexico, but he still got a good laugh out of it. “The stuff you say about us means a lot,” he confided, as I casually shrugged my no-nothing shoulders, a grin emblazoned upon my stupid face. “You’re doing God’s work,” he said in closing, jaunting off to class afore the bell could ring him tardy.

Instances like this, comrades, these passing words and idle chitchats, keep me motivated in my darkest of days. How easy it is to lose sight of the task at hand, to become embroiled in the petty politics and administrative autocracies public education is renowned for, to sink low amidst the refuse and rubbish of standardized tests, misinformation, and power struggles teachers oft find themselves corralled in.

Yet here, in that instant, the manacles of deprivation had been cast off by the kind and honest remarks uttered by a charming goomba, and no amount of adult flak or administrative tyranny could drag me low. Ah, kids, you haven’t any idea what you mean to your “bat shit insane” instructor. And yes, that’s an actual quote from one of my promising writers. The very same from this morning.

“…what he thinks he knows.”

I have worn a great many hats throughout my tenure on Earth: salesman, security guard, student, wanderer, farmer, volunteer, journalist. No profession gives me greater joy than being a teacher. Really and truly, comrades, this is my calling. At times it is wholly taxing and I find the effort needed to survive in this trepidatious world to be almost too great; how the kids provide nectar! The pay is terrible, the administration is aloof and out of touch, the state has it out for us, the bulk of the public is unaware, but these little fuckers make it all worth the while.

I’m a teacher. It took me decades to arrive here, but sweet Christ, I’m a teacher.

Still a jerk, however. Accurate.

Now finish your essays (and stop reading my blog).

1500 Words of Pompous Arrogance (And Teaching)

Smoke. How I love watching it curl into the night air. Gray against the blackness of the dim night. Stars peeking out from behind the somber clouds, their faint light further obscured by the emanating ember of my fingertips, by the plumes I exhale upon vodka-tainted breath.

Ah, if only the kids knew what I was really like outside the classroom.

Mostly accurate

It has been a spell, certainly, dear reader(s), and I can run through my numerous excuses as to why I haven’t put finger to keyboard in some time. Certainly, my personal journal is stained in all manner of mad scribbles (courtesy of a sexy, new fountain pen), but I find myself lacking – wanting – when it comes time to pen things for my poor, beleaguered blog.

Inspiration; when did she desert me?

Teaching, I suppose, has consumed my day-to-day Life, as I find myself in a constant battle to keep ahead of grading (like the Germans in world wars, I consistently lose) and I oft struggle to present new information in an interesting, and engaging, manner. Wearing a bathrobe to work helps, but woe to the new teacher forced into a dull curriculum that focuses on teaching-for-the-test and not on critical thinking.

To which I respond: fuck that.

Continue reading “1500 Words of Pompous Arrogance (And Teaching)”

Lest You Become a Monster Yourself

Hey there folks,

Here’s where I make a typical excuse about how I’m pressed for time due to being a tired teacher with no recourse from grading an e’er growing mound of papers and spending all my free hours volunteering about the school. How difficult it is, then, to be a poor, beleaguered teacher beset on all side by obligations.

Hot damn; I love my job.

Continue reading “Lest You Become a Monster Yourself”

On Influential Teachers and the Ever-Influential Richard Cory

Hey there folks,

My favorite teachers were those men and women who treated their students like humans. Not as little sponges ready to absorb information and be able to recite it at some future date, but those educators who put themselves on our level so that we might better be able to understand and perform to their exacting standards. Those teachers who worked us like dogs, but treated us as people. Those instructors who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the subject you couldn’t help but become infected by their enthusiasm. Those beacons of Hope in the endless sea that is public education; those foundations for achieving greatness; those brilliant souls who worked tirelessly, never complained, and pushed you ever onward on the path to self-enlightenment.

I attended New Mexico Military Institute for my high school years, skipping out on my hometown, not out of malice or for discipline reasons, but for a jumpstart to something different. Here, I thought, I can achieve greatness.

I certainly didn’t achieve greatness (though I did attain a certain level of infamy in the English department for my brazen shenanigans), but I was put on the straight and narrow by a number of my instructors.

Continue reading “On Influential Teachers and the Ever-Influential Richard Cory”

Ultreia

or,

Embracing Change for the better

As a new teacher, I promised myself I wouldn’t return to my classroom throughout the bulk of summer, only entering those magnificent halls once August rolled around. This promise was made to preserve what little sanity I have left, and, as any teacher will attest, it’s simply bad juju for the nerves to visit school during the off-season. Who the hell wants to work during vacation, right?

The Brunos celebrating Swiss National Day

August First being a holiday, and the second being designated Wine Recovery Day, it wasn’t until the third I finally ventured to those quiet grounds consecrated in the name of furthering erudition. I set about the laborious task of cleaning off the walls (to make room for future pupils’ artwork) and rifling through stacks of papers (who left those about?) to get the classroom back in working order. The likes of Marx, Plato, and Socrates watched in complete silence as I set about my task, never once complaining that my weird fascination with Finnish metal was maybe a bit too loud.

In the middle of my favorite part of a particular piece, the solemnity of my room was invaded by the likes of the head custodian, who proceeded to lecture me for transgressions months old. How was I supposed to know marking on the floor with semi-permanent marker was verboeten? Nobody tells me nu’fink, guv.

After her lovely list of DON’T’S and DEFINITELY DON’T’S, she left me to my 12 Labors. As I set about returning to my task, my principal entered with a sad smile: clearly someone had died.

Well, no, not really.

But she was visibly upset as she relayed the news: I had been transferred to the 10th grade and placed in charge of every. single. honors. class.

She had me sit as she explained the full scoop. No longer was I Mr. Bruelhart, Crusher of 9th Grade Dreams and Draconian Disciplinarian with a Penchant for Fun; no. Now I was Mr. Bruelhart, Upended First Year Teacher with 12 Days to Rewrite My Summer’s Work for a 10th Grade Audience.

The title is a bit long, I’ll admit, but orders are orders and the title stays.

I have oft joked that schooling is an awful lot like the military: your superiors are fighting to prevent being outflanked and outgunned by their superiors, boots on the ground catch all the flak, no one of any rank has any idea what is going on outside their immediate vicinity, departments don’t communicate with other departments, logistics is a nightmare, orders are consistently countermanded (at least thrice), and the uniform regulations are constantly changing because fuck you that’s why.

Oh, and the pay sucks.

Seriously? 14 years just to make $50,000?

In that moment as she relayed my transfer/promotion/maybe we can make him quit by playing musical teachers/reassignment, I was one part confused, one part upset, and one part elated.

Confused, because, hell, why me? I’ve only been doing this gig for a single semester. How can these people trust me to teach Honors English? For you out-of-state types, Honors is the Advanced Placement equivalent without all the fluff and nifty upper level guidelines. Thankfully I attended two Advanced Placement workshops this summer – time to put that book learnin’ to use!

Reading, and beer, makes you look cool.

Upset, because I found out about this rather significant plot development less than two weeks before school starts. Surely someone in the know could have contacted me about the transfer when orders came down from higher. And unlike a normal job, I cannot barter for more pay or privileges when a transfer is possible – not in the teacher world! Now I have to take all of my summer’s labors and tweak them for upper level, (theoretically) motivated kids who are far past the realms of Romeo and Juliet. Pain in the bottom, to be sure, but nothing that will kill me. The grinding of the teeth ended hours ago, I assure you.

Elated, because, Hell. Yeah. I get to teach Honors! And 10th grade! Imagine the look on those kids’ faces as they receive their schedules, thinking they are rid of me for good as I wallow in Freshman English, only to see ENGLISH II: BRUELHART. Ha! Fate, you magnificent bitch; this is comedic gold. What’s more, Honors is supposed to be a more strenuous and difficult classroom environment – no more telegraphing or pulling punches. These kids gon’ learn today. And Julius Caesar. I get to teach Julius Caesar! Strength and honor, comrades.

There are many times throughout our lives where we are presented with a vast change that dictates the ebb and flow of things to come. Going from 9th to 10th grade with only a semester’s experience isn’t exactly ideal, but it isn’t the worst thing to have suddenly arrived from out of the blue. On the contrary, this seems minor, all things considered. A change, most certainly, and one that shall be met head on with gusto.

That’s the least we can do, no? Rather than whimper as a beaten hound, or find a craven way out, we must keep moving forward. This isn’t the time for complaining; no, far from it. This is the time to seize the day and make something better through adversity.

Ultreia, then, is apt. We keep moving forward. 9th, 10th, whatever. This setback is going to be the catalyst of progress and change – and how I relish chaos.

Cheers. Thanks for reading.

Writer’s Block

or How I learned to Abhor the Dollar

(This post is best read to the tune of Rage Against the Machine.)

Damnable thing, that; just when you think you’ve got yourself a brilliant idea to write about, you sit your pathetic ass down and try to hammer out something worthwhile in the vain hope that maybe, just maybe, if you throw enough proverbial shit at the wall some of it will stick in a coherent enough pattern to justify calling it writing.

Christ, no wonder writers end up starving or blowing their brains out.

Trying to monetize my mad ramblings – who would pay money for this shit anyway? – is perhaps my greatest Sisyphean task, and one I frequently and mistakenly indulge with all-nighters of booze and tobacco, thinking that this one is the one to catapult me to success.

And after sobering up the following morning afternoon, I give it a laugh. Oh, how I am a creature of predictable habit!

“You think too much,” I’ve oft been told; and how damningly true is the accusation leveled! What did Bukowski have to say about writing?

“Don’t try.” And these are words to live by.

My on-again off-again editor (and using that term loosely here) said it best when I asked him to review some of my latest poems I was peddling for submission. “Artistic integrity,” he laughingly said. “Die in obscurity; that’s the only way to preserve it.” He struck a chord of clarity with that remark: why bother chasing dollar signs when I should be writing for writing’s sake?

After much introspection, booze, tobacco, fatigue, and ink upon the page, it is decided he’s absolutely right. Maxwell, you wonderful kike, you’ve nailed it like Christ to the Cross.

Let’s be clear: I’m no professional and don’t plan on achieving such status. I’m not half bad with a pen (so I’m told) and the hacked state of most publications these days indicates I probably could achieve some sort of fame as a professional writer.

Provided I sell myself out, of course, to the Almighty Dollar. People tend to like vulgarity in their blog posts, paving the way for a book deal, which leads to a movie deal, which leads to death by selling out and cocaine. And if there’s one thing you can take away from Ozzy, let it be that money ain’t success: the truth is inconvenient.

Rock on, Portland.

Be a travel writer! they say. You go on so many adventures, surely someone would pay you to write about it!

Perhaps, but that profession is bought and sold like cattle at auction. You want to write whilst on the move and make a buck doing so? Well fuckin’ a right! You certainly can provided you advertise featured products. I do love traveling, as we all know, but I’d rather starve than shoehorn in an article about how fantastic these Hiking Shoes™ are when doing so.

And I’m pretty fucking good at starving.

It’s no secret that the majority of published material these days is written with an ulterior motive: for the piece of rubbish to end up on the big screen as a giant shit show of a poor adaptation for the sole purpose of raking in the dough of suckers who ever after debate which medium expressed the author’s intent best.

That’s why we have “literature” like Fifty Shades of Gray, Twilight, and the shit clinging to the arid ass cheeks of Nicholas Sparks defining our generation’s literary contributions. Again, I’m no professional, but come on folks: if this shit continues to be published and publicized what happens to the real authors who are actually trying to make the world a better place with their words?

Sellouts are rolling around in their Scrooge McDuck money piles whilst the genuine artists are faced with a horrid decision: keep up the good fight and die in obscurity, or join the herd and feed yourself exotic sushi off an even more exotic Asian babe.

And lemme tell you folks, after having almost married an exotic Asian babe, it ain’t worth it.

Comrades, keep up the fight. Die in obscurity whilst sticking to your morals and guns. Write for writing’s sake and let no one persuade you to give it all up because “this could be a blockbuster.” You’re better than that. We’re better than that.

Fuck you; I won’t do what you tell me.