If I could tap my temple, draw forth a silver sliver of thought, and place it in a Pensieve, what would I see today?
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a Kickstarter campaign for a collection of books called Being ManKind–an intentional lapse of grammatical convention. The series tries to break free of gendered norms and stereotypes, the toxic masculinity we’ve all come to hate.
I’ve been wanting to write about why I support the project and why I think you should, too, but it’s been busy. So much of the last few weeks has gone straight into dealing with that kind of gender bias (in the classroom) that I haven’t had a second to write.
Now there’s little more than sixteen hours to go, and to be successfully funded, it needs to bring in about a thousand dollars every hour until it ends.
So, sure, there’ll be an ask at the end, but there’s (kinda) a story until we get there, too.
Yesterday I died. Literally.
And by literally I don’t mean actually or figuratively, but truly literally, as in literal, literature, as in a sense of story–a living story that’s now, abruptly, quite dead.
I have a student who speaks badly about women, swears when he shouldn’t, and reacts poorly to perceived criticism and the consequences of his actions.
I ask him casually in the hall how his day is going and he keeps walking without even looking in my direction. I sit down next to him in class to check in and I have to say his name half a dozen times before he begrudgingly acknowledges me. I try to have productive, relationship-building conversations, and he actively shuts me out.
Then he grabs some chalk and writes insulting messages on the chalk boards.
And then he gets pissed off and storms out when he gets in trouble.
But he’s still my student.
A few weeks ago I came across Investing in Futures, “a project which helps you imagine future worlds (wild, impractical, idyllic, and utopian) and what it would be like to live in them.” As a writer, I immediately latched onto the idea and became a backer.
Then they sent out a digital copy for playtesting. And, of course, I eagerly played.
So here’s my thoughts and findings. Will you, too, invest in futures?
My feelings are strong, and mixed, and I’ve yet to fully process the significance of a Trump presidency and the impact it’ll have on me, my friends, my family, and my kids.
But no matter how long my mind whirs and spits out warnings and error messages, it doesn’t change the fact that tomorrow the 45th President of the United States will take office–and whether we love him, hate him, or ignore him, that fact cannot be changed.
Today was a day. Literally my first step out the door I slipped on black ice and gave myself a possible slight concussion. So knowing I’m gonna be woken up throughout the night (because comas) while I plan for precalculus and wonder just how long I can put off grading those related rates calculus quizzes, I figured I might as well write a bit.
Because I had an amazing idea in the elevator this morning!
You know, three steps before I concussed myself.
The Death of Magic. This was the subtitle to my story “Erowenowe,” which I had written sometime during November 2014. It was part of my NaNoWriMo anthology: an attempt to write one story a day for one month. It was a burdensome challenge, but this post is not about the writing. It’s about the story. The Death of Magic.
Erowenowe (Erowen for short) was a young maiden chosen for sacrifice to the sun god: The kingdom’s fertility had begun to wane, and the gods, they feared, had stopped listening.
In actuality, they were not wrong: Following the end of the War of Fallen Stars (on which I wrote the beginning in my 2012 NaNoWriMo story, Starfall), the pantheon vowed to never meddle in the affairs of men again (a bit akin to Tolkien, I suppose, but he has always been a key inspirer for me)–and their absence, indeed, preluded the death of magic.
I feel the same sense of waning power as I write this as when I wrote Erowenowe.
Seven years ago today, I began the Writingwolf. It has grown so much in these seven years, and I have grown and evolved alongside (and at times because of) it. And since I joined Teach for America and started my training as a teacher, and then started teaching, the Writingwolf has been written silent: no words, no muffled howl, has escaped its muzzle.
Writing has been, is, and always will be my greatest passion and my biggest dream, but the responsibility of maintaining a blog–one enlivened by my readers for whom consistency and attention is one of the few ways I have to show them my respect and regard–requires more of my time than I am able to commit at present. I’m still learning to lesson plan efficiently. I’m still learning to manage a classroom skillfully. I’m still learning, quite literally, what it means to be a teacher (and I’m in grad school to prove it).
Writing, I’m afraid, has been pushed out of my circle of priorities.
This will not always be the case, but for the next six months, maybe even the next twelve or possibly eighteen until I finish my graduate program, keeping an regularly active blog seems as though it’s one responsibility too many. There is power is holding high expectations; but there is equal danger in clinging to unrealistic expectations.
One of the many unfortunate realities of teaching is that a handful of my kids will not graduate the ninth grade, and when our advisory moves on to the tenth grade next fall, they will not be joining us. For this small handful of students, my task now is not only to help them be as successful in the next six months as possible, but also prepare them to move on to another school or another advisory without me. Of course, I cannot change any person, let alone an adamant and strong-willed ninth grader, and I am certainly not the sole bearer of their future potential, but I feel it is imperative that I bestow upon these boys (by which I mean, help them to develop the qualities they already possess, somewhere inside them) the mindsets and skills that I never had when I was their age.
It took me many setbacks and failures and risky choices that may have had life-changing consequences for me to learn these things, and while it’s very likely that such lasting impressions can only be learned while wading through the fire (that same fate destined for Erowenowe, to be burned in sacrifice for brighter days), I believe I can at least provide them a strong foundation so even if they do not master these skills before they need them, when the time comes, they may remember these lessons and crash a little more softly, burn a little less brightly when they fail and fall and begin to fly again.
I say this because one of the activities I want to facilitate fits perfectly with the theme of this post. I want to come to class one day with a bucket of rocks. I want to ask each student to pick up one rock and hold it as tightly as he can. At first it’ll be easy–it’s just a rock, after all, hardly a few ounces heavy, barely the size of their palms. But as they hold it longer, the muscles in their hands will begin to ache and they’ll begin to feel the fatigue of holding on too tightly. I won’t stop here, nor will they: I’ll ask them instead to pick a second rock and hold it as tightly in their other hand as they can. While their second hand begins to tire, their first hand will begin to scream. And misery is best comforted with company, so I’ll ask them to do one final thing–something I know with certainty each of them can be successful with (under normal circumstances): I’ll ask them to write their names as neatly as possible without releasing the rocks in their hands.
Inevitably, they will, as I would, as you would, fail to perform this simple task.
So then I’ll ask them to set their pencils down (for those who managed to pick them up) and open their hands. Having clenched down upon those rocks for so long, their fingers will creak as they’re slowly peeled away, muscles locked in place protesting to remain, because by now holding on has become the norm, and letting go isn’t easy to do.
But once they’ve let go, once they’ve taken that first step, the blood of life rushes back to their fingertips, bringing with it fresh oxygen to sate the stomachs of every cell, sweeping aside the buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide that come naturally, but erode our capabilities. Within a few moments the stress and strain of clinging too tightly will pass, and when they reach for that pencil or pen, their names will flow forth upon the page like rivers of milk and honey raining down from the holiest of holy lands.
It isn’t easy to let go. It isn’t easy to watch the magic wither and die.
But sometimes it’s necessary to open our hands, flex our fingers, and feel again.
Sometimes it’s necessary to succumb to science over the mysteries of magic.
For now, my path has led me away from the Writingwolf, but no matter where my words and wonders take me, I will always be the Writingwolf, and in time my path will bring me back, reborn through my wanders, borne of new words and new stories to share.
It’s no surprise, dear reader, that I’m a busy man: not only am I plowing through my first year of teaching (and all the lesson-planning, classroom-managing, relationship-building chaos that comes with that) I’m also attempting to balance being a grad student and still having something of a personal life (filled with a new relationship and lots of Pokemon).
It’s more than I can say in one breath, that’s for sure.
So comes NaNoWriMo. That one month a year I’ve pledged to the author inside to make writing my number one priority. Except lately I can’t even write for my blog.
What am I to do?
By which I mean it’s the beginning of the year. I’ve moved to a new city–with all the hassles that come from being the good tenant who follows those disastrous ones you see on HGTV who left the place a god-forsaken wreck–and I’ve begun a new job.