My digits are now tipped in these rather strange talons most people call fingernails as mine have been bitten off for some 30 odd years e’er since tooth discovered keratin. I find it strange – it makes typing far more haphazardous – and I’ve lost the oral fixation Freud hurr-hurred on about for psychopaths and Oedipusians.
After walking Camino for a third time, it seems the habit was left behind like a stone of ill-intentions at the Cruz de Ferro.
And after walking Camino, I find myself once more having that “Come to Jesus” moment about what is reality and where am I going with it.
I hear it. Those reverberating beats of guitar, drums, and keyboard before the onslaught of lyrics eviscerates my reality. That booming voice; a war god howling his rage and frustration. Deutschland. Again and again, repeated for emphasis, to show just how important it is for the listener to pay attention – to take fucking note. Ah, battle ne’er sounded so angrily beautiful. This euphoric assault upon the senses, bringing one to realization that the world is far vaster, far more important, than whate’er miniscule problems one might think they understand.
Oft one might wonder what their purpose is upon gods’ green earth – yours?
Me? I serve as a reminder.
Oh, as I told my kids this past week, I know exactly who I am and what I’m here for. I remember Dr. Toland – ah, so many years ago – relating how he found his purpose under the shade of a tree whilst attending college. Not dissimilar from the Buddha (and the man could give His Holiness a run for His money in the theological thinker department).
My purpose, yes, that niggling thought e’er at the back of my mind. Between booze and smokes, under the light of eternal Luna, who wouldn’t ponder their mere existence in the light of something greater?
Call her a close friend, a lover, something more, but tonight she implored as to why I personify myself with Grendel. The monster that wrecks Hart time and time again and causes no end of anguish to the beleaguered Hrothgar. It is not until Beowulf – that bastard Geat – rips his arm from his socket that peace is finally found. Blood spilling forth from his mortal wound, all of his warfare and violence for naught, yet finding peace in the tranquility of the Abyss. But in peace, comrades, do we truly find our calling? What is a peace without assiduously applied butchery?
Today I wrote a children’s book whilst death metal blared from my antiquated speakers as I slowly put off my getting ready for church. Here, just as liable to assist children as I am to indulge my lyrical fantasies for violence and guttural shouts. Christ on a stick; what sort of existence is that where one finds themselves in such a paradoxical predicament?
Yet, comrades, I must reiterate my nature as a beast of Paradox:
I do not want children; I love all 150 of my students
I cannot commit myself to any one person; I am married to elucidation
I love who I am as a free individual; I bemoan the existence I’ve implemented upon myself
I detest school as a formal institution; I am a teacher
I love every heart I’ve broken – the list is arduous
I want the best for my charges; I cannot be a role model in my current state
I want my charges to experience failure and disappointment; I want my charges to Live without interference
Comrades, hark! What sort of madness beguiles this maddened scribe? How can any individual wish only the best for their students while wanting them to experience the bittersweet unguent of failure? Am I not mad? Am I not human?
A friend – and a few students – commented on my lack of humanity; how I have sold myself to Diogenes the Cynic oh so long ago. Yet I ponder: is such a thing necessarily bad? The bastard philosopher wasn’t necessarily wrong in his arbitrations of human nature and disposition. Indeed, being treated like a dog is a pendulum that swings both ways; a cutting blade liable to spill blood and offer enlightenment whilst doing so.
Is it wrong to want loved ones to fail the better able to sup their eventual victory? To want the young to witness and experience the tribulations of youth to better prepare them for the glory of adulthood? Forsooth, I want my nephews and nieces to touch the hot oven, the better able to learn for themselves than from the guise of a drunken lout who merely chuckles and says, “I told you so.”
Scarcely, I say, is it wrong to want suffering to be a guiding light? Who, among you, reader(s), have not suffered in your own quest?
This past week I have bombarded my charges with philosophy, trying to drill it into their heads the importance of being able to think – critically – and learning from those great thinkers who have gone before us. Yet I find myself wondering (on the occasion), am I misguided in my intentions? After all, I reason, are these blokes not very much dead?
Who gives a shit about Averroes? Avicenna? Plato? Kierkegaard? Sartre? These are dead men -rotten beyond comprehension – with idle words and ideas far beyond 10th grade comprehension.
Fuck, me. They are dead. But the idea – the idea, comrades! – cannot be extinguished so swiftly.
I am a goddamned mess – a slew of vices corrupting my virtue – yet at least I am aware of my purpose. I am an example: of things to do and not to do; of things to emulate and things to ignore; of things to savor and things to revile; of things to witness and things to ignore.
To my charges reading this drivel: go to bed.
To my charges seeking enlightenment: cross the Dark Stream.
Trust me, comrades, the deeper you go, the more that makes sense.
Now then: we’re off to change the world. One cynical thought at a time. And to hell with the rest.
Best to read this one to Praise Abort on loop, comrades. The satire is not lost upon me – do enjoy. And be mindful of where you listen to this; not exactly a work-friendly song.
Now then, on to the meat and potatoes, a lovely descent into the darker aspects of self-reflection.
Always been fascinated by Wilde’s piece; are we not all Dorian Gray?
By this, comrades, I mean are we not all hiding something from those closest to us, hiding behind the paint brush and decorated façade of artwork?
Take, for instance, myself.
Few of my charges have seen me outside of school (thank God), and fewer still have read me (thank the gods). No, my goombas, this is not my blog. I will continue to deny the existence of this blog time and again: deny deny deny.
Dorian Gray. I recommend you go and read it. Short, but with a powerful message. Wilde, the tortured artist that he was, secured immortality with this piece. And, yes, comrades, immortality is within our grasp should we choose so – one merely must make the pen (or instrument of your fancy) ensure your mark upon the ages.
Dorian Gray. The melancholic tale of a young man lost to hedonism and vice, indulging narcissism at every opportune. Ah, Wilde; you master.
We are all guilty of being Dorian Gray. Richard Cory. Hank Moody. Grendel. We all have our masks and disguises we put on to deceive and mislead our friends and family. I, comrades, am no different.
The Bruno whom you meet in the hallways and classroom is a far cry from the midnight boozer and weekend rager we all know and love (and a few former lovers positively dislike). Yet it is not without necessity: scarcely can I be myself within the confines of the classroom lest I end up in the unemployment line.
This isn’t to say, comrades, that I’m a drug-fueled, chain smoking, alcoholic on a 24-hour bender, but that my work and personal personas are vastly different. Within the classroom, I do my utmost to ensure I am a paragon of erudition and banter – my charges must learn, after all, and their care is my utmost concern. Hell, my goombas are my raison d’être for without them, my Life would be honestly and completely meaningless – what point is there for me without the pursuit of Knowledge for Knowledge’s sake? Seeing as how I fail at love and relationships harder than a South American dictatorship seeking legitimacy, it stands to reason I put my energies and motivations into something worthwhile and progressive: the love, and sharing, of knowledge.
Granted I am no Dorian Gray, nor Oscar Wilde, but the analogy can be drawn nonetheless. Ah, how I thrive upon the sweet nectars of hops and wheat, how my lungs call out for further enlightment contained within puffs of embers, how the flesh incurs with each warm bed. I am mortal, after all, and though I’m a far cry from Dorian Gray, the indulgence here and there is a powerful motivator. Yet it is nothing without the classroom – to serve.
Are we – all of us – guilty of pleasures and secrets we keep from those we love and behold? Certainly, my Life is an open book (as evidenced by placing inner thoughts and ideas here for public scrutiny) but certainly some aspects must be restrained and reined in, lest those we serve get a distorted view of what is our personal Truth. One must merely be able to open the book and read the words in a sense.
The beauty, comrades, is keeping the two separate. School Bruno and Bruno are two vastly different beings, working in tandem, and giving one another a respectable breadth lest one impose upon the other. Yes, verily, I love my drinking, smoking, and fucking far more than is necessary (bless my liver, lungs, and heart), but that aspect of me bears no necessity in the classroom. No, on the contrary, the Me inside the classroom is the philosopher-king I espouse to my charges. Granted, that’s perhaps the most pompous thing I’ve ever said, but it stands to reason that an instructor must separate the private from the personal Life – the Dorian Gray of the classroom is not the Dorian Gray in the painting.
I am not entirely sure what prompted this writing. No doubt a bout of drink, smoke, and moon gazing is the culprit (as most of my writing is wont to follow), but I still cannot place a certainty upon it. Regardless, the point is thus: we are all Dorian Gray in some fashion or another. Do we not keep secrets? Do we not forgo details? Tell half-truths? Indeed, I wager we all do, ergo I am fine with comparing myself to Dorian Gray – that sad sack of hedonistic narcissism that ultimately proved a cataclysmic and self-destructive downfall.
I am acceptable to that. I am human. I am mortal. But without my vices, why, I’d be rather boring and ordinary – and that would be Hell.
Christ, how come sometimes it is so easy to write drivel that people might actually read, but when it comes time to pen something worth thinking about – pondering in a Socratic manner – I freeze up and nothing comes stumbling forth? I feel like one of my students, looking up at me with those forlorn, hopeless eyes that seem to say in a silent scream, “Why are you doing this to me? I can’t write.”
Fuck all; you think I can?
This is Where I Lose My Shit
I have some brilliant writers. Little fuckers who are going places with their written word. Youths who have captured that emotion so eloquently and powerfully that they’ve no choice but to succeed and excel. Sure, it is easy to dismiss much of what teenagers have to say as little more than angst, or hormones, or impotent rage, but a select few have transcended this stereotype for the better.
I mean, fuck, I read the things these kids share with me and I wonder how come I’m not capturing raw emotion like that. To be 15 or 16 and to write about the things going on in their lives – in their heads – so powerfully, with such gusto, how can I not be impressed? I cannot name names, obviously, but if any of you little bastards are reading this, you know who you are.
And you know I mean that with the utmost respect. From writer to writer.
And as I always tell them: don’t stop writing.
Oh, how easy is it to give in and call it a day. This is shit. Probably yes, but the important thing is you’ve written it. Not everything you pen will be golden – that’s part of the writing process – but the fact my young charges are out there trying to find their voice in the tempest that is high school, puberty, hormones, and problems at home, well, fuck, they are doing mighty fine enough.
Today I dressed up as Charles Bukowski. Basically I wore a bathrobe and had a small tumbler filled with Coke (I am told, under no circumstances, that I’m not actually allowed to drink on campus; so much for my margarita machine for the teacher’s lounge idea). We are working on poetry projects, and to model a good presentation (and wear a bathrobe to work), I showcased So You Want to be a Writer by that grumpy curmudgeon Bukowski. Frankly, I thought it went very well. One must have fun at work, right; otherwise, what’s the damned point?
My slideshow presentation ended with Bukowski’s mantra emblazoned upon the board for all to see. In huge, bold, obnoxious letters, it stated: Don’t try.
God. Damn. You’d think I shot someone in front of those kids with their stunned looks as they read those words.
Don’t try. Don’t try? A teacher is telling us to “don’t try?!” Indeed I am, my charges, for someone has to elucidate you with alternative opinions.
Let’s be real for a moment regarding public education. Foremost, I love my job. Little bastards keep me motivated and ready to kick ass every single day. Sure, some days are more taxing than others, but I reckon that is true for any job. But dealing with 150+ kids day in and day out, well, someone has to shake the foundation of lies they’ve been sacrificed upon.
Kids are taught from a very young age that a high score is the equivalent of excellence. An A+, a 100%, these are the things kids of all ages are taught – indoctrinated – to achieve because high scores equates to higher self-worth. If I achieve high scores on everything I do, so their understanding goes, then everything in Life will be easier and within my grasp.
Kids – especially teenagers – are not little automatons we can constantly shuffle toward the meat grinder that is standardized testing. Kids are not mindless beings who must be forced to learn by rote memorization and recalling such things weeks down the road. How many of you fuckers can remember who conquered the Incan Empire? And what was the last Incan emperor’s name?
Don’t Google it; just answer the goddamned question.
Why in the thousand seas of fucks of Hell are we having kindergartners writing paragraphs – fucking paragraphs – when they should be picking their noses and complaining about cooties whilst running about like wild Indians on the playground? Why can’t young men wear ball caps in class? Why can’t young ladies wear their summer hoochie shorts to class? Why did starting a chess club raise such a rumpus? Why are we singing the virtues of football and cheerleading over innovation and true excellence? Why, and this is the most important bit, why can’t we let our kids express themselves without fear of reprisals?
Yes, I admit, childhood is a product of the 19th century, but when did we decide to create little worker bees instead of human beings? What good does it serve when every child is taught to express themselves the same way, that an essay only has five paragraphs, that art is only what has been done before and must be copied, that school ultimately doesn’t matter because you’re going to college anyway and there you’ll really learn?
What, in the flying fuck of a shit tempest, are we doing to ourselves? We, as Americans, wonder why the Vikings continuously beat the shit out of us every year in international testing, but we fail to see the glaring answer looking us in our fat, capitalist faces: they innovate. They allow children to be children. They allow youths to find themselves within the confines of the classroom.
And we, comrades, are bound by an overarching administration – an oligarchy – that controls what we teach and how we teach it. Not just in my county, not just in my state, but at a federal level too. All 10th graders must be able to identify a seminal document and write a comprehensive, critical review of the piece. Bor. Ing. Sure, I will teach a seminal document – because history is important – but expecting kids, especially the slow ones, to suddenly be at a certain level because we have a high and mighty pacing guide is absurd and unrealistic.
When did we start treating kids as numbers in a system, as benchmarks, as thresholds, as fucking statistics, and stop treating them as people?
I love my job. I love working with those bright, shining stars – those kids who will one day have their names in history books – and I love working with those kids who will amount to little else. You have to take the good and the bad; tis part of the job.
But lately, Christ, lately it feels like a lot of bad is being cast upon my charges. They are expected to be groomed for standardized testing, to be able to do things they’ve little interest in, to be neat, cookie cutter clones of one another, where originality is frowned upon and self-expression is akin to murder.
Hogwash, I say, for I shall endeavor to ensure my charges – my budding authors, poets, journalists, doodlers, workmen, CEOs, and more – are allowed to be themselves. Sure, the path of knowledge is long and arduous, but many of them are showing promise beyond their means. Maybe they suck shit at essay writing, but they’ll bring your heart to a standstill as you read one of their creative pieces. Maybe they never turn anything in on time, but when you catch them one-on-one discussing poetry, you’ll find yourself surprised at their keen insight and deeper understanding. They could be serial killer quiet in class but their poetry – at 15-years-old – will impress you.
Those kids are our future, and we are doing them a disservice by expecting clones. Don’t try, kids. You’re better than that. You’re better than this system that doesn’t have your best interests at mind. You’re better than a system with its head so far up its proverbial ass, it can see through murky eyes.
Fuck the system. You do you, kids. Now finished your goddamned poetry projects and let’s raise hell.
Forgive the sparse updates; between being a full-time English teacher, my own graduate schooling, and the various shenanigans I found myself obligated to uphold, finding time to write for the blog becomes almost Sisyphean.
Yet around the D&D table – where wisdom is freely exchanged amidst peers – I was casually reminded of the importance of indulging one’s self here and there.
“If you enjoy it,” he quipped, “you’ll make the time for it.”
Ah, comrades, how true are those blessed words. Yes, I do enjoy writing for writing’s sake even if I’ll never afford food again. That is mighty fine for man cannot live on bread alone, right?
Oh my, how my hubris has taken a turn – quoting Jesus now am I? Showing off my grad school prowess? Someone rein me in, please.
Now then, on to the meat and potatoes of today’s mad ramble.
And for you Administrator types that are concerned I penned this during working hours, rest assured this was first composed the night of 10 September over a few PBRs, coffee, and cigarettes. Scheduling a post is pretty groovy.
But if you want to start including that Blessed Trinity during working hours, you’ve my support.
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?
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.
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!
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.