A Teachable Moment

paper-flower-folded-bowl   Once I covered

a  third grade class for a teacher on vacation for a week.  As a substitute, you have to gain control quickly, but every now and then, there are classes that you just click with, and some you never will. 

This was the former. Whenever I covered elementary, where the kids are still excited about school and eager to please their teachers and for the most part get along, I always tried to keep it fun, to be the type of teacher I wish I had.

I’ve got several notes and letters attesting to my success in this:

“MR. SMITH ROCKS, ” signed by Mr. / Mrs. _ ‘s class,

and other notes along those lines;  a friend of mine once told me those were reference letters. I’ve held onto them for sentimental reasons, to remind myself that I once made children have a fun day.

Everyone should have  a reference letter from a kid.

But THIS particular class, for whatever reason, just liked me, and I liked them.  We were determined to make each other laugh, and they gave as good as they got, turning out to be a precocious group. But they worked, and being the adult(?) in the room, I never let it get out of hand, and they kept each other in line too.  We had our quiet moments. It made them appreciate the comic stuff more.

And then one day, in the lesson plan, was an art lesson; the kids had to make something. There were instructions, and supplies, and children who were assigned to give them out.  I carried out said plan with dread, because I am ham-fisted when it comes to that stuff, but the kids were into it, and I was responsible to see it done, soooo….

There they were, working quietly, when one of the girls came up to the teacher’s desk with her broken art project in her hands. She wasn’t crying or anything, but she was holding the papery thing out to me like a communion wafer.

I took it from her, looked at it for a moment, fixed it, and gave it back, and she returned to her seat, and finished the project.

Here’s the weird part: neither of us said a word. 

It was almost a pantomime, except it was unrehearsed and unplanned. She didn’t know I was dreading doing anything to it, that I didn’t want to take it, and was going to send her to another teacher across the hall who was good at that stuff.

But for whatever reason, I didn’t.  She brought it to me, thinking I was capable, and something in me thought that if a kid thought I was capable of something, then I should be the one to do it. And I did, and she returned to her seat with her faith unshaken in the fact that adults can fix the problems kids have; that they can be approached, that they are there to help.

I realized now why later I thought the paper looked like communion: because it was offered up in faith, and placed into my hands to fix.

She didn’t need to say anything, and she wasn’t worried because she knew I could see what she needed done, and she trusted me to do it.  She didn’t know I was ham-fisted, she didn’t know I had limited knowledge; she wanted me to fix what was broken so she could finish what she had to do.

The silence between us, after all the laughter,  just made the moment that much more profound.

At the end of the week, the class asked me if I would sit with them in the lunchroom. I did, and we laughed, and shared food, and stupid jokes (What’s yellow and goes click? A ball point banana; Why was the tomato red? Because it saw the salad dressing…)

And on Friday afternoon, before dismissal, they gave me a card signed by all of them:

MR. SMITH ROCKS. THANK YOU FOR BEING OUR TEACHER. YOU’RE FUN. WE’LL MISS YOU. ❤ Mrs. __’s class.

I still have that reference letter, but that one small act of faith will remain clipped to it as long as I live.

Writus Interruptus

Since I’ve moved to Jersey, I’ve had trouble finding a quiet place to write. It’s difficult because if you can’t work at home, or just want to be outside in the fresh air, unfortunately, the world is a public place, and most people aren’t considerate of the fact that you need to concentrate in order to keep your train of thought.

These are people such as: smokers ( keep reading: not judging you, just that I’m outside for fresh air; I fully realize the irony of that statement living in NJ, but it’s a relative thing), car radios, chatter, *teenage girls (*see chatter on crack), running children…. you get the point.

There are days you have the ability to zone, and days that you don’t; these days I’m finding it increasingly difficult to zone.

We all know by now, even if we’re remotely serious about it, that writing is in fact a discipline, and as in any discipline, you need to be organized, to concentrate, to focus, to think, and  to adapt, if necessary; that requires, to a large degree, two ingredients: the first is being alone, the second is being quiet.

That’s not comfortable for a lot of people, and I understand. Their car radios are on from the time they get in it to the time they get out, either with music or some other media like books or language learning. They come home and immediately turn on the tv, or come home and jump on all the social media they didn’t get to at work. I’ve never known anyone who said they’ve come home after a hard day and started a book, either reading or writing one (but I know you’re out there).

Then there are the coffee shop writers, whose ranks I’ve joined, and those who think coffee shop writers are showing off. Maybe some are, and maybe the whole movement even started out that way. But here’s the thing: How much you wanna bet that the cafe’ where J. K. Rowling wrote her first Potter novel is cashing in on that reputation?

How many little holes-in-the-wall places in Spain, France, and Italy claimed Hemingway?  You get the point.

I felt self-conscious the first time I set up my laptop in a corner table at my local Borders; it wasn’t crowded, and no one gave me a knowing smirk of derision. Really, no one cared; it’s just that I was aware of the perception. Then some college girls came in and set up shop next to me, and I got distracted, and not much writing got done. If I had been more disciplined, Borders could’ve cashed in on my reputation and saved their business…Isn’t it pretty to think so?

So what’s my point? Finding somewhere quiet to write is essential, but it’s not always possible, so ….

Recognize that discipline doesn’t mean inflexibility; some days, I can work at home, other days, it’s my local coffee shop, and sometimes, it’s the library, and if the weather’s really nice, it’s outside in the park, because it’s the writing that’s the discipline, not the location.

And there are days you’re not going to be able to write X hours a day, even if you told yourself that’s what you would do, because there are days life will crash through the window,  kick down the door, and grab you by the throat, and there are days you just won’t feel like it. Try to push it, and you’re just going to slog needlessly through a lot of mud.

Don’t do that to your writing, and more importantly, to yourself.

It’s okay. It evens out; the desire is there, and one or two off days is not going to quench it. When you get back to it the way it works for you for that day, you’ll be that much more productive. Go with the flow, just don’t float away.

Now go get that second cup of joe, and get back to work.

On Matters of Themes (Blogging 101)

Thinker

 

Choices… CHOICES…  choices

“Scroll through our themes…”

It looks fun. Even inviting, but here’s the rub:

‘Tis knowledge too wonderful for me; I cannot attain it. It all comes down to the words you write. The great works of our times, and the great writers of our age, were not concerned with such things. and I’d just as soon not.

I know that in the digital age of presentation, image counts, but I can’t work up enough concern to care. Eventually, you’re either going to read the content or you’re not, and that’s where the rubber of your talent meets the road of durability.

If it LOOKS interesting, but is in fact NOT interesting, who’s paying attention to the theme?

Maybe that’s a lazy excuse; I don’t know. I’m not manipulated by such things: I click on introductory phrases that pique my interests. Maybe it’s ’cause I actually couldn’t care less.

That being said, I probably will pick one …eventually.

ChOiCeS …cHoIcEs….

To My Dream Reader

Big_Black_Warrior_by_Gauntlesword girl I’m late with this assignment, but now that I’ve done it….

I  like the world of fantasy: swords, magic, femme fatales that are great with weapons, that will bed you as soon as kill you, intrigue that you’re always a step ahead of, and the fate of a hostile, ungrateful world that eventually comes down to the final battle with your most lethal opponent, and it’s all on you.

Something in those stories resonated, struck a chord, sparked something deep within, whatever phrase you want to use, but after reading my first fantasy novel (The Once and Future King, by T.H White), it was a world I kept returning to over and over again. I guess you could call it the need to be needed. I’ve always liked to be the hero who came to save the day, even if it was just in the mundane things of life:

:”Could you pick up my kid after school?”

“I need help with this tire.”

“Got change for a buck?”

Not exactly high adventure like a journey to Mordor, but the concept is the same.

It was my escape, my entertainment, my chance to see the world in the mind that I couldn’t see in the natural.

The truth is, most of us would not likely survive in such a world, because as beautiful as it may be, it is also as deadly, and mercy is a foreign concept. It truly was survival not only of the fittest, but of the meanest, the slickest, the most ruthless, and the extremely cruel.

Children who lived to adulthood, much less old age, were a rare commodity.

That does not comprise the makeup of most people, generally speaking. Most of us are at least civil, if not loving, toward one another. And so, we have fantasy; a chance to be heroes / heroines without true danger, but we all imagine ourselves to some degree as the characters in these stories.

I believe it’s because in our hearts, we want to be heroes, we’d love to be needed, and to be able to come to someone’s rescue and say, “Don’t worry, I’m here.”

Never let that fire go out, Dream Reader.

You will one day be someone’s hero. I’ve seen it happen too many times for it not to be so.

In the meantime, we have our books, our cosplay, our nerdy, dorky fellowships that don’t fit in, but most of all, we have our writing; and the worlds we create within, with our abilities to set things right, becomes for a time, our reality.

In worlds where none of us can stay,  both real and imaginary, we manage to survive, and find joy in the doing and sharing of it, if only for a moment.

Keep writing, keep reading, and keep dreaming, and you’ll come to know that “Once upon a time, (your name here)…..”

Why Beyond Panic? (My blogging 101 assignment)

My Blogging 101 assignment was already done; I just didn’t know it.

Beyond Panic

tsunami

I called this blog Beyond Panic, which is not a cheerful name, and may not be something that on the surface people would want to read; I understand that, but such a title is not chosen at random, nor with the intent of discouraging people with a woe-is-me story. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Why am I beyond panic?

The story is long and messy, but not boring. Suffice it to say that Murphy’s Law as applied to my life in PA was Murphy’s Law squared, and sometimes cubed, but it taught me some things about myself that I would not have known otherwise: I’m tougher than I ever thought I could be. I can show emotions. When people change, and especially when they betray you, they grow cold to justify their actions. Blood does not equal family. Death is closer than we know, but so is happiness.

And more…

View original post 1,399 more words

A Lesson in Forgiveness

handshake-vector-1169468My son has Asperger’s, but we pushed him to do as much as he could within the confines of his limitations, meaning, we didn’t restrict him from doing anything he wanted to try.

He rollerbladed, he rode bikes, he flew kites, he fished, he played baseball and football, but he chose basketball, and he would go to the court where they would let him play; I wanted to stay and watch, but I knew if they bullied him in any way, I’d be over there to ‘do something about it,’ and they were kids.

He asked me not to hang around, because he knew it too, so for both our sakes, I respected his wishes, but then one day it happened.
A ‘friend’ had shoved him, knocked the ball out of his hands, pushed him down, took his sneaker off and threw it out of the park.

I got on my horse, Righteous Indignation, and rode forthwith to the evildoer’ s parents’ house to ‘straighten things out’ which was a euphemism for ‘get even with this kid.’

His mother opened the door, and I read the scroll of charges. She said that she would ‘talk to him.’ I controlled my anger (somehow), and decided to file a police report (remember, I controlled my anger…) I go with my son to the police station, and the officer who hears my tale of woe says he knows the kid, the mom’s recently divorced, and they’re having a rough go of it; he doesn’t want to write a report. He will if I insist, but how about he brings the kid over to talk about things.

“Fine,” I say, rehearsing my speech full of reprimand, reproach, and recrimination.

A half hour later, my son is upstairs when the doorbell rings. I answer it, and the cop is there, his arm around the kid’s shoulders. ‘Like he’s the one that needs protection here’ I think (not bringing to mind that the cop told me, a half hour ago, that his father was not around to deal with me; wait, it gets better…) The kid looks chagrined, but I don’t buy it.

I invite them in, and call my son, who coming down the stairs, sticks out his right hand and says, “I forgive you.” Just like that. No preamble, no pointing finger, no yelling, no nothing. It’s real and pure and from the heart.

The kid apologizes.

The cop smiles, and I shrink down to an inch like Fred Flintstone when Wilma lit into him good (carbon dating myself, but there it is). I’m standing there with my mouth open like a stranded fish. My horse, Righteous Indignation, looks at me sideways with, well…righteous indignation. We were riding all around the neighborhood to get justice, and this is what my son does?

“We’re good here?” the cop asks.
“Yeah,” my son says.
“Yeah,” I say, because I’m still asking, ‘what just happened?’, and because there’s nothing left to say.
“See you tomorrow?” my son asks.
“Yeah, see ya.”
And they stayed friends.

If it’s possible to have soaring pride in a person who’s just deeply humbled you into silence, I did in that moment.

And I still do.

Making Warr (excerpt 2)

7.

We found a vacant flyer, white with red stripes. It looked like a flying candy cane.

“You drive.”

“Me? Why me?”

“It’s girly.”

“But you guys call me Ed.”

“It’s just a nickname.”

“I’ll change it officially before I ride in this; it’s ugly,” she said. “We’ll attract attention we don’t want, and people will make fun of us. Well, you.”

We waited until another one came in, dark blue, clean lines, driven by a bureaucratic drone, who looked us over as if we were beetles on a pincushion before wiping his travel program from the hologram key map.

She programmed the key with our map, and the flyer whirred to life.

“How’d you two meet?” Ed asked.

“Candace? I met her in high school.”

“I didn’t mean Candace.”

“Oh.”

“If you don’t want to tell me, it’s okay.”

“I don’t. Not now.”

“You miss her, don’t you?”
“Now we’re talking about Candace?”

“Yes.”

“Just making sure. Every day, Ed. They didn’t have to shoot up the neighborhood to find me.”

“They were sending you a message.”

“They killed my neighbors, innocent people. Children died. What was the message in that?”

She was quiet a moment, then she said “They’d do anything to anyone to get to you.”
“I didn’t consider myself that important.”

“Well, you were wrong.”

“No,” I said, struggling against the rise in my voice, “I wasn’t. They made me that important. It wasn’t the worth the show of violence and power. I’m going to find out who did it, and why, and then I’ll take care of it.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t expect to live ‘after that.’

“So how does Lliya fit in?”

“I’m going to ask for her help; the squad will be in Nanjasi looking for Steele’s key; it might be related, it might not. I don’t know what part I play; it seems pointless for them to go through all that and then summarily suspend me.

“Something’s going on, and since I don’t have the squad’s resources, I’m going to need Lliya.”

“Can you trust her?”

I chuckled with a grim humor. “In this context, I don’t know; I guess I’ll find out.”

***************

What I’d loved about Candace was that she wasn’t part of any of this; there were times I wanted to include her, and sometimes I’d start to, but she’d put her finger to my lips to stop me; and she was right, because if she ever became a part of it, we were both in danger, and she was my refuge.

If I defiled her with my knowledge of the world’s maggot- filled underbelly, I’d have no place to go to get clean and sane again.

*************

     It was a quiet Sunday afternoon, and she was rubbing my shoulders, humming   softly to herself.

   “What’s that song?” I asked.

   “I don’t know; I remember my mother humming it sometimes when she was in the kitchen.”

   “She never told you what it was?”

   “I never asked. Why?”

   “I don’t know; just seemed to me you would know something about it.”

   She stopped rubbing. “Why is it so important to you that I know about it?”

   I shook my head, “It’s not, babe. Forget I said anything.”

   She resumed. “It’s that mind of yours.” Her voice deepened, mocking me. ’All data must be analyzed and re-analyzed.’ Really Warren, it’s a pain in the anal-ize.”

   “Ha, you have jokes.”

    She sighed, “No, just one; a big one, right between my hands.”

   I reached back and pulled her into my lap as she squealed and laughed.

   “I’ll put a big one between your hands.”

   She wriggled her rump on my lap, and her voice grew husky as she drew close.

   “Oh, yeah? Big talk, big man. Back it up.”

   “I think that’s your part,” I said, slipping my hand inside her blouse.

    And then she kissed me, and time went away.

*****

“Warr, you listening?”

“What?”

“Put the shields on; it’s starting to rain.”

I put the shields on, and the rain slipped off around them, keeping thing visible.

The afternoon was turning into evening.

“You’re going to have to go pack for Nanjasi soon, right?”

“Not taking much. I’m a girl, but not a girly- girl, otherwise I would’ve flown in that candy cane and talked your ear off about how pretty it looked.”

“You thought it looked like a candy cane too?”

“Yep.” She pointed. “There’s her place,” she said. “No lights on.”

“Course not.”

“You know her haunts.” Again, not a question.

“I doubt I know them all, but we’ll try what I know first.”

8:

We split up; Ed walked one side of the street, and I walked the other.

It was dark when we finally found Lliya; she was in an aging bistro, peeling, spotted paint, dank upholstery, long past its prime, which made it great for clandestine meetings, and hiding. She was sipping something fancy and expensive from what looked like a ceramic thimble.

I signaled Ed, and she waved goodbye, mouthed the words, ‘Be careful,’ opened her coat like a flasher and smiled.

I returned it, shaking my head.

She closed the coat, turned up the collar against the drizzle, and started walking back.

I slid into the seat across from Lliya. She never looked up.

“Want a cup of this?”

“Does it come in a larger size?”

“No.”

“Pass.”

She shrugged. “What are you doing here?”

“Came to ask you a few questions.”

She sighed, looked up then. “I’ll save you the trouble: I didn’t set you up; you were happy with Candace, you were out of the life, you were out of mine, and I missed you, but not enough to do that.

“I don’t know why they took you, but if I had to guess, it was because out of all your squad, you’d worked everything. I don’t think sometimes you realize how long you’ve been at this.

“Surveillance, tech, infantry, sniper, impalement, martial arts; you’re a government agency wet dream. You’re not just a jack of all trades; you’re actually good at all of them.”

Kriley did say I was the best all around; still didn’t explain how I got caught.

“Any ideas who?”

“I know you’re thinking inside job; could be my people too. They didn’t send me after your squad. I came after you.”

“Why risk it, Lliya?”

“You’re an ass, Warr. Why do you think?”

“May I take your order sir?”

I’d been so focused on Lliya I didn’t see the waitress walk up.

“Is the food still good here?”

“They still have waitresses.”

“Something strong, with something broiled.”

The waitress smiled, her menu for savages at the ready: “Bourbon and steak?”

“I like you.”

“How do you want the steak?”

“Like a satisfied woman: well-done.”

Lliya sputtered out some of her droplet, and went into a coughing fit.

The waitress blushed and flounced away.

“Really?”

I shrugged.

“My god, how did you ever get Candace to marry you with lines like that?”

“I didn’t use lines like that on Candace.”

She sobered. “I’m sorry, Warr. I didn’t mean…”

“S’okay, Lliya. Drop it. We’re good.”

She gave us a minute to make sure I meant it. I did.

“Listen to me, okay? She can’t be a distraction, and it’s my fault for bringing her up. You know how I feel about you, but we’re on opposite sides here. You had a choice to make, and you did, and I stayed away.

“It seems that circumstances are putting us back together, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. If it comes down to it, Warr, you know I’ll kill you, and I know you’ll kill me. We’ll hate it, and we’ll mourn inside, and move on, but there’s no question whether or not we’d carry it out.”

Her voice took on a note of wistfulness.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

“What?”

“Our devotion. It’s misdirected: it could’ve been for each other, but now it’s for what we do.”

“You didn’t have to be on the opposite side.”

“I didn’t choose it; I needed a job. We had history, and Kriley didn’t like it.”

“Screw Kriley.”

“Sometimes I wish I had; he would’ve left us alone.”

I looked at her.

“No, he never made a pass. Seriously, could you imagine?”

I couldn’t.

“Anyway,” she finished the liquid in her thimble, “it doesn’t matter now, does it? What do you need from me?”

I sat back, breaking the intangible tension.

“Well you’re right; I’m thinking it was inside, I just don’t know if it’s mine or yours. If it’s mine, I need someone from the outside looking in. I want you to shadow me, see if anything looks out of the ordinary, anybody I can’t see.

“Steele Industries has their own trackers on me; they’re good, but not as good as you, and they’ll be gone with nothing to report in a few days.”

“Wouldn’t Ed be better for this?”

“Don’t know, because I can’t use her. And if it’s on my side that would tip them off that I knew, though Ed is hard to track, and I think she’d do it. Anyway, they’re going to Nanjasi without me. I’ve been suspended for getting caught; the suits at Steele say I’m a liability.”

“The suits at Steele are wrong.”

“Kriley tried to say that, but they weren’t interested. Will you do it?”

She sighed.

The waitress came back with the bourbon.

“Should you be drinking?”

“Question is, shouldn’t you?”

She considered it.

“What the hell.” With that, she answered both questions.

I poured some into her thimble, but she took the glass from my hand.

“On the rocks ruins it,” she said.

“I didn’t want you taking advantage of me.”

She smiled.  “We both know I can do that whenever I want.”

I reached over and brushed a strand from her eyes, my thumb brushing her temple, and she wanted to lean into my hand, and I saw the effort not to; I put my hand back on the table, and it was a little colder where her cheek would’ve touched.

“That’s what would’ve made us great, but it’s also what makes us impossible.”

She lifted the glass in a silent toast, and I lifted the thimble, and we drank.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

March 3rd 2014

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