I have been doing most of these Saturday art posts from my WordPress library of images. I generally try to organize around a theme. Having exhausted myself at Vivian Field Middle School yesterday, school-ish pictures are my theme for the day.
I have a tendency to think in pictures, and these are all school thoughts of one kind or another.
Some of my favorite students over the many years in the classroom were major nerds.
I liked them mostly because they were the same exact species as I was when I was a monkey-house-aged student.
Monkey-house is a synonym for Middle School.
Wally shared my obsession with Japanese anime and could draw them better than I could. He was a major nerd. And a totally enthusiastic learner whom other students treated like he was radioactive. I always had time for him when he needed to talk to someone. He was a teacher’s kid at a time when my own son was still little.
Important parts of the book that I am currently promoting by offering Kindle e-books for free are based on dreams that I had years ago. The clowns who are dream denizens of Zoomboogadoo and the white city of Celephais, were first encountered in a dream I had in college. Boz is also named Mr. Dickens. The Bard is known as Mr. Shakespeare. Diz is Mr. Disney. And Poe, of course, is Mr. Poe. The literary references should be as clear to you as they were to me in 1978.
This painting was also from a dream in the 1980’s. I’m not sure exactly when. But in the dream, I was the stag and I believed in my dream that the other deer there were my family. It is also, of course, influenced by the Disney Movie Bambi. Particularly the scene of the forest fire. But, oddly, the dream predicted my future family. I met my wife in 1994. My eldest son was born in 1995. My second son was born in 1999. My daughter was born in 2002. You see their deer selves in the picture.
You know that old saying, “There are no bad students, only bad teachers?” Yeah, that one that Betsy DeVos keeps pinging off of Trump’s brain?
Well, only idiots and educational administrators actually believe that. And I had three full classrooms of proof of this Tuesday while subbing sixth-grade Science classes.
Yes, they were bad kids. And apparently, the last time they had a sub before me, they killed and ate her, after eating her lunch in front of her. They were not merely bad kids. They were vile and noxious, unrepentant Spawn of Hell.
They were, in fact, laying in wait for me, testing every way a vile and noxious sixth grader knows to get the sub off track, dazed and confused, and turned from teacher into a helpless prey animal.
The very first class in the door immediately chased each other around the room instead of having a seat. Jamika stole a package of pencils off the teacher’s desk, ate one, and threw the plastic package in the trash. Seferino chased her around three of the tables and pinched her on the butt. And Jaden threw three different pieces of a pink eraser in three different directions at once at about three different girls, hitting two, in about three seconds of time. These aren’t their real names. But I know their real names because I had them sign my sin-sheet with first and last names before I even went through roll call. I tell them, “Sign your name so I can report what you did and, hopefully, also leave a note for the teacher that you were much better behaved for the rest of the period.” Two of the three were actually better for a majority of the period. Jaden got the Golden Turkey award at the end of the fifty minutes.
The next class had four names on my list before roll call ended, and they never did completely settle down. In fact, the teacher across the hall came in at the end of the period and jumped all over them about “Unacceptable behavior!” and vent a little heat and hatred on a few of the star players whom she knew by name and had for Math class. It wasn’t just that she thought I was an incompetent sub, but she deeply disliked some of the bad behavior that was a part of both the varnish on the surface of these kids, and the taint in the marrow of their bones. Ah, sixth graders! Thy teachers do not love thee, and yet thou keepest on screwing aroundeth! And I know the teacher I was subbing for. She taught number two son and the Princess both. She is no slouch as a teacher and is not to blame for the condition of the class.
And then the last class sauntered in behind Mr. Evil-in-a-small-package. Yes, the last class of 28 kids was under the complete control of one self-centered, manipulative, emotionally-disturbed little man. The teacher I was subbing for had warned me about him and had arranged for the Special Teacher of Special Edwards to come and take him to his special quiet place because they knew he was so special and the special things he would do if they left me at his mercy. And, of course, something went awry with the arrangement. I was left at his mercy (of which he had none.)
He would not sign his name to the paper. Or sit in his assigned seat. Or stop talking. Or stop saying inappropriately sexual things to the girls. I tried to phone the office, but the number of the assistant principal’s secretary would not ring through. I asked the teacher across the hall, also a sub, to call for me. The science teacher next door came in just in time to see Mr. Evil give me the one-finger salute. He immediately began arguing that he would not be removed from “his” class. He wanted me removed instead. Then an assistant principal showed up. He began hollering and screaming about being touched as the AP shoved him out of the classroom through the lab door. It was a total meltdown. And the fumes and melted wax of it affected the behavior of the rest of the class for the rest of the period. I yelled at them (a pointless thing to do, but it made me feel better). The science teacher next door came back in and yelled at them for making me yell at them. And everybody ended the day feeling terrible. A couple of well-behaved girls apologized to me for the behavior of the class, saying that that kind of thing happened almost every day. A cute little black kid who got in trouble too that period ended the day by almost crying and telling me that he was basically a bad kid. I told him I knew him just well enough to tell him he was not, that he only needed a little more self-discipline and he could be among the best kids in that classroom. (And I don’t believe that was completely a teacher-lie either.)
So, I had a bad day at being a sub. Not merely a bad day, but the kind of bad day that makes a teacher want to give up and never sub again. The sub that got eaten before me probably did that very thing. But, me… I’ve had bad days like that before. Worse ones, in fact. So, I will not give up.
I had an excellent day teaching yesterday at a different school. I can still teach, no matter what lasting scars Mr. Evil gave me. And there really are bad kids in the world. Somebody needs to actually feed them to alligators, not just threaten them with being fed to alligators. Then they will finally know how their substitute-teacher victims feel.
I am basically a teacher at heart. It was the culmination of 18 years spent in school learning all the stuff it takes to be a teacher. And of course, when I got my first teaching job, I had to unlearn most of that and learn a whole new set of skills. Being a teacher is a juggling act, using fifteen different balls that will explode if you don’t keep them in the air all at the same time. And if you drop one, you will likely drop them all. You will become Reluctant Rabbit Fricassee, thoroughly over-cooked.
And the bad news for those who want to be a substitute teacher… that job is not easier unless you already possess all the teacher-juggling skills at the start.
Friday I performed a half-day of teaching, four classes of sixth graders supposedly learning history with their Chromebooks and current-events lessons online. So, the teaching was a matter of keeping them quiet and focused. I only got to use classroom management skills and a little bit of conflict-resolution skill. Not really the fun stuff. Not really the interactions and back-and-forth thinking-out-loud that I really enjoy about teaching.
But I love working with kids just like those. 90 percent Hispanic, with one black kid, one Vietnamese kid, and one handful of white kids. The whole school has the same demographic.
I did most of my teaching with the classroom door open. It helps when the kids know the assistant principals wandering the hallways and trying to look useful can hear what’s going on in the classroom. That worked for all but the last period class.
The second to the last period was the practically perfect class. No hassles. Only one lethal stink-eye used by me to quell a couple of the boys who apparently say hello by punching each other hard on the shoulder. The Vietnamese girl was a perfect little darling, the kind a teacher wants to keep and take along to the next job. But that would be kidnapping, and she was too smiley and sweet for that. And I never actively plan a kidnapping during a school day, only murders. And those, like the ones I planned in the next class, are only carried out in fiction.
The last class of the day is the nightmare class that puts the exclamation point on every day for poor Miss W, 6th Grade History teacher. Thirty-two kids, more than half of them boys, and at least five that I knew right away were hyperactive, hyper-kinetic, and rocket-fueled by the fact that it was the last period of the day on a Friday afternoon. They thought it was fun to throw things across the room at each other. So, I tried to collect them all in one table by the left classroom wall (it is always easier to watch one problem spot than four corners of the classroom at once). But multiple kids, even the few who were quiet, had forgotten their Chromebook chargers and the ones who did have theirs needed recharging at the end of the day too. So, practically everyone was plugged into the wall. And all the other boys in the room were willing to toss stuff back at the five musketeers whenever I wasn’t looking in their direction. Those are the real fun times. Notice the italics for purposes of conveying sarcasm. My first teaching day in over five years ended with a class that did not really accomplish anything but cleaning up the chaos before the last bell. We spent a good ten minutes at the end putting up and cleaning up and sucking up (especially the ones who wrote their names on my list of perpetrators. Only one of those tried to put someone else’s name. Thankfully, hyper-active boys will snitch on each other without prompting and I could triple-check the names of perpetrators before leaving a “please-execute-these-kids” note for Miss W.)
So, my first day back doing typical-Mickey stuff was a success. I enjoyed it. I didn’t kill anyone, so I didn’t have to worry about where the assistant principals bury the bodies every day. And I discovered a bunch of cute little learning-bunnies that I wouldn’t mind teaching again. (Especially that last class, so I might have a chance to get even a little bit.)
The case has been made in an article by John Welford (https://owlcation.com/humanities/Did-King-Henry-VIII-Have-A-Genetic-Abnormality) that English King Henry the VIII may have suffered from a genetic disorder commonly known as “having Kell blood” which may have made having a living male heir almost impossible with his first two wives. The disorder causes frequent miscarriages in the children sired, something that happened to Henry seven times in the quest for a living male heir. If you think about it, if Henry did not have this particular physical conflict at the root of his dynasty, he might’ve fathered a male heir with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Then there would’ve been no opening for the machinations of Anne Boleyn. It follows that Elizabeth would not have been born. Then no Elizabethan Age; no sir Francis Drake, Spain might’ve landed their armada, no Church of England, possibly no William Shakespeare, and then Mickey would never have gotten castigated by scholars of English literature for daring to state in this blog that the actor who came from Stratford on Avon and misspelled his own name numerous times was not the author of Shakespeare’s plays.
History would’ve been very different. One might even say “sucky”. Especially if one is the clown who thinks Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.
Conflict and struggle is necessary to the grand procession of History. If things are too easy and conflict is not necessary, lots of what we call “invention” and “progress” will not happen. Society is not advanced by its quiet dignity and static graces. It is advanced and transformed by its revolutions, its wars, its seemingly unconquerable problems… its conflicts.
Similarly, a novel, a story, a piece of fiction is no earthly good if it is static and without conflict. A happy story about a puppy and the children who love him eating healthy snacks and hugging each other and taking naps is NOT A STORY. It is the plot of a sappy greeting card that never leaves the shelf in the Walmart stationary-and-office-supplies section. Dick and Jane stories had a lot of seeing in them. But they never taught me anything about reading until the alligator ate Spot, and Dick drowned while trying to pry the gator’s jaws apart and get the dog back. And Jane killed the alligator with her bare hands and teeth at the start of what would become a lifelong obsession with alligator wrestling. And yes, I know that never actually happened in a Dick and Jane book, except in the evil imagination of a bored child who was learning to be a story-teller himself in Ms. Ketchum’s 1st Grade Class in 1962.
Yes, I admit to drawing in Ms. Ketchum’s set of first-grade reading books. I was a bad kid in some ways.
But the point is, no story, even if it happens to have a “live happily ever after” at the end of it, can be only about happiness. There must be conflict to overcome.
There are no heroes in stories that have no villains whom the heroes can shoot the guns out of the hands of. Luke Skywalker wouldn’t exist without Darth Vader, even though we didn’t learn that until the second movie… or is it the fifth movie? I forget. And James Bond needs a disposable villain that he can kill at the end of the movie, preferably a stupid one who monologues about his evil plan of writing in Ms. Ketchum’s textbooks, before allowing Bond to escape from the table he is tied down to while surrounded by pencil-drawn alligators in the margins of the page.
We actually learn by failing at things, by getting hurt by the biplanes of an angry difficult life. If we could just get away with eating all the Faye Wrays we wanted and never have a conflict, never have to pay a price, how would we ever learn the life-lesson that you can’t eat Faye Wray, even if you go to the top of the Empire State Building to be alone with her. Of course, that lesson didn’t last for Kong much beyond hitting the Manhattan pavement. But life is like that. Not all stories have a happy ending. Conflicts are not always resolved in a satisfying manner. A life with no challenges is not a life worth living.
So, my title today is “Conflict is Essential“. And that is an inescapable truth. Those who boldly face each new conflict the day brings will probably end up saying bad words quite a lot, and fail at things a lot, and even get in trouble for drawing in their textbooks, but they will fare far better than those who are afraid and hang back. (I do not know for sure that this is true. I really just wanted to say “fare far” in a sentence because it is a palindrome. But I accept that such a sentence may cause far more criticism and backlash than it is worth. But that is conflict and sorta proves my point too.)
Let me begin by reminding you that the only head I have to explore as an example of what I am talking about in this essay is my own stupid head.
So, this is not an insult post. This is self-deprecating humor. And therefore, the contents of your own stupid head are completely safe.
Now, there is considerable evidence in the books already that Mickey is not, and has not been, particularly stupid for a large portion of his time on earth. He got college scholarships based on his ACT and SAT scores to get his undergraduate degree for free (in the 1970’s when it was significantly cheaper than now). And he has been both a teacher in a gifted program and the middle-school coordinator of that same gifted program. So, Mickey has effectively fooled everybody into thinking he is not stupid. But consider for a moment where the laughs come from when watching Stephen Urkel on TV, or the four nerds from Big Bang Theory. Smart people do stupid things and are very awkward at times, proving that, no matter how smart they are, smart people are capable of being quite stupid.
What, then, is the stupid thinking in Mickey’s stupid head?
Well, there are a number of things. Mickey is, as you may know if you read any of his nudity blogs, obsessed with nakedness. He was assaulted as a child in a way that caused him to be afraid of nudity and slow-developing in sexuality. As he grew older, he had to compensate for this lack of natural development. So, he has reached an age where his brain stupidly rejects guard-rails when talking about nudity and sex. He has convinced himself that he wants to be a nudist, and writes about nudity constantly, as evidenced by this very paragraph. When Mark Twain was in his seventies, he did leave the house without remembering to wear clothes more than once. The neighbors did not compliment him for doing that. That and worse is probably in Mickey’s near future.
And sex, as a subject sloshing around in a brain awash with hormones and other nightmare chemical imbalances, leads to a rash of stupid decisions. Of course, Mickey is old and has had chronic prostatitis long enough to eliminate the possibility of making a stupid decision about infidelity since those body parts don’t actually work anymore, but it leads to buying numerous things sold by marketers using sex as a way to sell things. Cabinets full of hair gel and cologne and Herbalife products that can never be used up is the result. And the wife is frustrated with the foods Mickey is constantly addicted to. “Why so much chips and salsa, Mickey?” Chips and salsa? Hubba hubba!
And Mickey’s old brain, full of a vast quantity of useless trivia-type knowledge, random wisdom floating around in a disconnected fashion, and prejudices formed by a bizarre obsession with things like nudism, Disney movies, comic books, model trains, and doll-collecting, becomes strangely creative. He begins to believe weird things.
For example, he thinks rabbits, if they were suddenly transformed into people, would make better people than people ever do. They are mostly quiet most of the time. They eat an all-vegetable, healthy diet. And they don’t vote Republican.
He obsessively also thinks about how his mind is working and how thinking about thinking is likely to improve thinking. He even realizes that the map of his head, provided above, doesn’t accurately reflect the many branching corridors and dead-end hallways of his actually-complicated-yet-stupid mind. He thinks that thinking too much about thinking makes you stupid.
And finally, Mickey is left with a sense of wonder about how it is entirely possible that everybody is stupid at least part of the time. And he wonders what possible things that you, dear reader, are thinking about that you consider at least somewhat stupid? You are welcome to tell him in the comments. But remember, this post is about stupid thoughts in Mickey’s head. You are perfectly free not to worry about your own stupidity.
As my life continues, long past the time I figured I would be allowed to live by my six incurable diseases, I find myself living more and more inside my own head. Truly, my failing physical health has isolated me more and more from the people I know and have relationships with. Instead of spending hours upon hours at work every week, I find myself confined to my bedroom where I maintain breathable air, doing little beyond reading and writing, watching movies and shows on Netflix, dreaming, remembering, and imagining. My “real-world” life has been ever the less active and ever more confined to a small space. But in my head, the opposite is true. I have lived in memory; revisiting places that have been changed or torn down since, and spending time with people whom I still see as children even though they are now grown in real life with children of their own, and spending time talking to people who live no more, anywhere but in my memory.
Some of those to whom I am talking are actually me, fictionalized versions of me, imagined as if something different had happened to me, or I had chosen different roads less traveled than the ones I actually walked upon.
Some are, naturally, people whom I have loved, seen through different colored lenses than I saw them when I saw them with my physical eyes.
And it is most definitely possible to see and re-interpret the things that happened to us in a very different light than the ones I saw it all in during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It helps to be able to put on the old time-traveler’s glasses to look again, not at how it really was, but how it really ought to be.
Everything I have just rambled on about in run-on sentences of purple paisley prose, is writer-thinking. It is the very thing that most probably goes on in your head too, since you are likely only reading this blog post because you are a writer too, and you find value in the ramblings of an old man who used to be a writing teacher and is now, very definitely, one of the goofier varieties of writer whom you can learn significant lessons from (even if only what not to do, because you are not as stupid as I am when it comes to writing).
I often live, as well, in the part of my head that is entirely made-up from galvanized, sauteed, or even moldy pieces of imagination. I live in places like the Mothership of the Telleron Explorers now in orbit around the planet Galtorr Prime. Or Animal Town in the middle of the country of Fantastica where I met my wife, seen here as Mandy Panda from the Pandalore Islands.
Or even in the Willow-Tree Fortress known as Cair Tellos, the Capital of the Fairy Kingdom of Tellosia in Wright County, Iowa.
Living in the world when your body betrays you constantly can be horrible and hard. But living inside your head is easy. And I actually plan to do more of it before the final page is turned in the Book of my Life.