Over the Mountain the Through the Jungle, to Somewhere or Other

Over the Mountain the Through the Jungle, to Somewhere or Other

Our protagonist suspected he was the only person in all of Costa Rica wearing long pants.

How had a person who detested sun and beaches and lounging by a pool come to be in a beach-side resort in Costa Rica? He couldn’t have explained it if he’d tried. For our purposes, suffice it to say it’s a different story, and a sad one, and demonstrably inferior to this one in that it doesn’t have pictures.

20181127_150123.jpg

Our protagonist was on the aforementioned beach, feeling miserable for reasons more related to the aforementioned sad story than the sun, sand, and annoying joviality of the other vacationers. He made a spontaneous decision to walk inland and hike through the jungle to a mountaintop visible in the distance. He asked one of the hotel’s employees and was assured there would be a trail, so he went back to his hotel room to get prepared.

Lesson #1. Wear sunscreen in Costa Rica. If you are very fair skinned, wear lots. If you are bald and fair skinned, wear lots and always wear a hat. And you probably also shouldn’t go to Costa Rica.

Lesson #2. When setting out for a trek through the jungle, take lots of water. It’s important to stay hydrated. And it will prevent your mother from worrying.

Lesson #3. Don’t mention that the jungle has jaguars in it. It will cause your mother to worry.

[Editor’s Note: The lessons in this story are not in order of importance. Or maybe they are. The narrator has recently experienced a sad story that’s remarkably similar to that of the protagonist, and we would be wise to treat his judgement with a healthy degree of skepticism.]

After his phone call with his parents where such life lessons abounded, our protagonist put on pants to avoid augmenting his new collection of bug bites around his ankles. He lacquered himself in another layer of sunscreen and bug repellant, a concoction so thick and so loaded with carcinogens that he expected to eventually be completely encased like a mosquito in amber, then consumed by every known kind of cancer until he was left an empty shell inside a blob of solidified goo. And that seemed fitting for his emotional state. He left the hotel and walked over to the nearby shop to ask for directions. The person at the counter was, to date, the only person in all of Costa Rica to give our protagonist bad service. The day before, the man behind the counter had short-changed our protagonist, inflating the price of an already ridiculously expensive Snickers bar by offering change in Colones, the local currency, on a purchase made in dollars, producing a significant deficit in the cashier’s favor. Our protagonist frequently has to tell people that he’s not as dumb as he looks, a disarming statement because he does look pretty dumb, and one does not expect to hear an acknowledgement of that fact from a dumb-looking person. Today, when our protagonist asked the person behind the counter to confirm the directions he’d been given to the trailhead, the cashier was surly and then admitted he’d never been in that direction. The confession seemed to pain him. Our protagonist decided this was appropriate shame. After all, the hotel was in an isolated spot with only two habitated locations nearby, one in either direction. The cashier had only gone one way. Ever. This was not the right person to be asking directions. Our protagonist decided to indulge the man’s judgment that our protagonist is just as dumb as he looks. The cashier’s world seemed quite limited, and if our protagonist could bring some small comfort into it, that was a kindness with no cost.

20181127_133127.jpg

So our protagonist found a road. And he found a much more knowledgeable and helpful gardener who pointed him down that road. And a security guard who confirmed the gardener's directions. A decent chance remained that our protagonist would get lost. He felt deeply at peace with this. Our protagonist, you see, was lost in deeper ways, and the prospect of getting lost far from the hated sandy beach didn’t bother him much.

Lesson #4. Sometimes you just have to find a road and walk down it. Not because it will necessarily lead you anywhere. Not because it’s necessarily better than staying still. Not because there’s some hippie-dippy inherent value to the journey. Just because you feel compelled.

Lesson #5. There is a kind of lost that cannot be exceeded. The superlative of lost. Lost-est. That’s freeing.

Lesson #6. Freedom is not an inherent good. Some libertarians may tell you it is. Libertarians are pseudo-intellectual, selfish, moral cripples who think that because they can take care of themselves, they shouldn’t have to take care of anyone else. They don’t understand how oppressive freedom can be. Punt a libertarian through an airlock and ask him how much he likes freedom.

Our protagonist, having recently been punted through an emotional airlock, choose to listen to the same song on his earbuds on repeat. Early in his marriage, his habit of listening to a single song until he memorized the lyrics had driven his wife up the wall. Now that she was his ex-wife (soon-to-be-ex? The narrator is unsure), her tastes suddenly carried less weight. He sang along. Sometimes he even danced along as he walked. No single human soul could see or hear him. A bus, a motorcycle, and a couple cars passed by, and our protagonist found he didn’t even need to stop singing or lower his voice.

Lesson #7. Singing loudly, even obnoxiously loudly, can be a comfort. To the singer.


Lesson #8. Learn to be a selfish singer. This can take a long time to learn.

So he sang as he walked.

“I got my ticket for the long way ‘round

Two bottle ‘a whiskey for the way

And I sure would like some sweet company

And I’m leaving tomorrow, wha-do-ya say?”

20181127_133813.jpg

Eventually, the paved road turned into a dirt road. The jungle crept a bit closer.

Lesson #9. Sometimes the paths we choose get harder. That doesn’t mean you’re going in the right direction or the wrong direction. It’s just the way roads work.

20181127_135256.jpg
20181127_135321.jpg

After a time, our protagonist discovered some horses along the side of the road. He sang to them. They didn’t seem to mind. One made our protagonist think of some reference to a pale rider on a pale horse, but the jungle was so lush and vibrant that allusions to death seemed inappropriate. Our protagonist also found a misplaced key in the road. He tried to imbue that with some meaning … and failed.

Lesson #10. Lots of things are arbitrary and meaningless. Some people have trouble admitting that. Maybe everything is arbitrary and meaningless. Different people have trouble admitting that.

20181127_134247.jpg

He discovered a bar in the jungle called “Monky’s.” Our protagonist found the misspelling charming. Inside, he spoke with the bartender about the path and was given more specific directions up the mountain. Our protagonist pledged to return for a drink on his way back. He would break that promise.

Lesson #11. Foreshadowing can be the sign of a good writer. If it’s done well. When it isn’t, you might just be reading something by a hack.

20181127_140545.jpg

The dirt road turned into a path through the jungle. In some ways, it became more beautiful. It also felt vaguely spooky. As he went, the path got harder to find.

20181127_140819.jpg

Our protagonist dealt with this by singing more loudly. To ward off jaguars.

“I’ve got my ticket for the long way ‘round

The one with the prettiest of views

It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers

But it sure would be prettier with you.”

About halfway up the mountain, the path veered towards the cliffs and leveled out. Our protagonist stopped to take more pictures.

20181127_140637.jpg
20181127_141044.jpg

Then, to his surprise, the path began to descend. He held onto hope that it would begin to rise again, or that another path back up the mountain would split off that one. Our protagonist was a big fan of hope. He liked to quote a line from a Stephen King short story that had been turned into a sleeper-hit of a film. “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.”

But that film ended with the main character walking down a picturesque beach, enjoying his newfound freedom from a torturous prison. This trail led, it turned out, to a picturesque beach which our protagonist had come to think of as his own kind of torturous prison of overly abundant freedom. It made him second-guess his views on the value of hope.

20181127_141514.jpg

The beach was essentially the same as the previous beach, but it was almost empty of tourists. There were a handful of large hearts drawn on the beach with initials. Our protagonist felt a surge of pride at his own maturity when he made a conscious effort to avoid walking through them. Pieces of dried up coral littered the beach. Our protagonist did not pick up a single piece and put it in his pockets because our unreliable narrator is uncertain if that would have been legal.

20181127_141649.jpg

Then our protagonist headed back to the trail. It felt steeper on the return.

20181127_140432.jpg

He’d consumed all the water in one bottle, but because his mother had reminded him, he’d packed a second bottle, so he stopped to transfer the water to the bottle with ice.

Lesson #12. Take lots of water when walking through the jungle. Besides the importance of staying hydrated, it doubles as a reminder that life’s burdens lighten with time.

Lesson #13. If at all possible, make friends with the kind of people who will surprise you one day with the gift of a really nice backpack. Those people are not easy to find, but they are the best kind of people.

Lesson #14. When times are really tough, it’s important to keep things in perspective and be grateful for good things like friends who will surprise you with the gift of a really nice backpack.

Our protagonist made his way back up the highest point where the trail leveled off and circumnavigated the mountain. He tried to justify the directions he’d been given as a translation error, but he was fairly certain he’d asked about a path leading to the top of the mountain, and no one had explained that the path only went halfway up and then led to a beach on the other side. Perhaps, despite his guides’ compliments on his Spanish, they had all presumed he wouldn’t understand anything too specific. *See: Looks kinda’ dumb.

Then our protagonist decided that, in the same way paved roads become dirt roads, and dirt roads become trails, sometimes trails just have to be abandoned in favor of walking directly through the jungle. And do you know why he thought this? Because fuck it. That’s why.

Lesson #15. Sometimes “Fuck it!” is a sufficient motivation.

So our protagonist hiked and scrambled and climbed up the side of the mountain. When he got to the peak, he still couldn’t see much over the canopy. That’s just how jungles do. So he climbed a tree. Because, he discovered, that’s how our protagonist do.

20181127_152645.jpg

And then he took some selfies. And sang some more. Loudly. In the direction of the hotel.

“When I’m gone

When I’m gone

You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone

You’re gonna miss me by my hair

You’re gonna miss me everywhere, oh

You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”


He laughed at the line about his hair because our protagonist is bald. He also sports a beard that he, and he alone, is convinced will someday look cool if he can just weather the uncomfortable in-between stage.

Lesson #16. Time does not heal all wounds. Some beards will never be cool.

Somewhat rested and heartened by his bellowing, our protagonist headed back down the side of the mountain toward the trail. It was very steep, and he imagined the real possibility that he’d slip just a little, roll, keep rolling, and bounce over the trail and down the cliff to the rocks a few hundred feet below. At the risk of over-sharing [Editor’s note: Too late!], the narrator feels compelled to divulge that the protagonist was genuinely relieved to discover he hadn’t the slightest inclination to even be risky in the direction of that cliff. He took his sweet time. After all, where did he need to go? He was only returning to the original beach-side hotel. He stopped to make sure he could stand still at each new lower placement before proceeding. Eventually he was standing on the trail looking over the cliff and glad for his patience.

As he made his way back down the trail, he thought about a book he’d read frequently when he was younger. It’s a good book, though perhaps over-hyped, and has the odd distinction of being more misunderstood by its biggest fans than by casual readers. Regardless, the book tells one story about some wise men who get a warning in a dream. According to the book, depending on the translation, “they returned home by another road.” The book vaguely attributes the dream warning to God Himself. God occasionally gives crappy advice to characters in the book, and some of His advice to the book’s fans is so shockingly bad our protagonist could trace much of his current situation right back to God’s questionable judgement, but when it came to this particular piece of advice, our protagonist felt God had got it right.

Lesson #17. When possible, return home by another road.

This meant our protagonist wouldn’t be going back to Monky’s Bar in the jungle, which was unfortunate, but it allowed him to see more. Among other things, he discovered a tree full of iguanas.

Lesson #18. Iguanas can serve as sufficient justification for a different path in life. Apparently.

20181127_150719.jpg


And then our protagonist came home. There’s no big moral to the story, but the denouement is pleasant; he’d left feeling bereft, but he returned with a story to tell. Not a great story, admittedly, but happier than the sad story. Because if he had a story, even this story, he hadn’t lost every part of himself. And that was something.

Lesson #19. Sometimes a story just has to get a tiny bit happier.



























Interview on The Writing Life

I was interviewed on The Writing Life with Stephen Long. It was a really fun talk for me, and I think it will be an enjoyable watch for folks, too. We talked about the writing process, the publishing company, and more … and I didn’t even mess with my tie too many times!

Upon Revisiting Romeo and Juliet

I suggest you try this. It’s very rewarding.

Step 1. Read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. You might not like it the first time.  That's okay. You may say, “What? They tells us how it’s going to end at the very beginning?” Or, “What? They decide to get married on the first night they meet?” Or, “What? Entertainment that doesn’t have a happy ending? How is that supposed to be fun?”

Step 2. Read the play again. And again. And again. Five or six times a year for fifteen or so years. At some point, you’ll change. And not in a good way. You’ll get old and cynical. You may find yourself saying, “This is not a play about love. It’s about lust. And teenage impulsiveness. It presents suicide in an overly romantic light.”

Step 3. Go see the play done well. This is ideally accomplished at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, but you might pull it off elsewhere.

Step 4. Reflect on something you’ve told [gets out cocktail napkin. Does some quick math] approximately 2,250 students about this play, about how it’s marvelous precisely because, even though we know how it will end, we still care about the characters and hope it will turn out differently each time. Remember all those times you’ve told a classroom full of students that every time you see the show done live, you carry some tiny suspicion that this time they’ll surprise you with a twist ending. He doesn’t drink the poison! She wakes up just a little sooner! The friar arrives and finds them both alive! When the parents and the prince show up, they figure out what’s happened, everybody forgives everyone, and they all live happily ever after. Maybe this time it will go down that way. Maybe, just maybe.

Step 5. And then, on your eightieth time hanging out with Juliet and her Romeo, you realize your cynicism is wrong. Yes, it’s a play about lust. Yes, it’s a play about teenage impulsiveness. Yes, it paints suicide in an overly romantic light. But it is a play about love. Sure, there’s the naive, innocent, stupid and pure and beautiful love between these two kids. But the experience of watching the play is about adult love, too. We know how it might end. We know, in a way these young characters can’t, that there will be tragedy and pain. We know there will be miscommunication and bad timing and family politics. We know sometimes love will be pierced under a best friend’s arm, betrayed, sabotaged by family conflict, even canceled prematurely when someone gives up or dies. But we hope it will end differently this next time. We hope no one will poison love or stab it or banish it or run away when they hear the cops coming. We keep coming back for love, not the kids’ naive, dopey, doomed love, but our own hoping-against-everything-we-know kind of love.

Choosing to re-read or re-watch Romeo and Juliet is a recommitment to falling in love. Every heartbreak you’ve ever experienced is just the prologue. Maybe this time your love will turn out differently. And if it doesn’t, you can still choose to read it again.

What was that?

What was that?


I just had one of the the strangest pipe-related encounters of my life.


I smoke a pipe. When I’m out and about, people frequently come up to share their impressions. Some used to say it was odd to see someone so young smoking a pipe. That’s increasingly infrequent as I get older. I’m growing into the part, apparently. Others tell me they like the smell. Others tell me what the smell reminds them of: Generally their grandfathers. But the conversation I just had was … new.


I was smoking in a parking lot outside a coffee shop in a small town where my family had made a pitstop on the way back from a hike. A couple parked, and the woman walked into the coffeeshop, but the man came right for me. He had a big grin on his face, and he shouted at the top of his lungs, “September 22nd, 2014!”


I bit. “What happened?”


“I died. My daughter did CPR to bring me back. I had smoked a pipe. Well, I used to smoke a lot of marijuana. Then my wife made me stop. So I switched to a pipe a few years ago. And then I died.” He dropped his voice. “But I’m a rebellious smoker.” He reached into a pocket hidden behind the breast pocket of his shirt, which opened at the side. I don’t know if he bought a shirt with that secret pocket already installed, or if he added it himself. He pulled out a little cigar. “Now I smoke these. They’re made with pipe tobacco.” And he pointed to an image of a pipe printed in white on the side of the black little cigar.


I didn’t know how to respond. I think I said, “Cool!”


He went back to shouting loudly enough that his wife could have heard him if she hadn’t left already. “So, my wife saw you smoking that pipe and told me I should tell you that story. So now I did!” And then he turned, saw she was gone, and followed her into the coffee shop while I tried to figure out what to say.


I may have said, “That’s funny!” or “Wild!” or “Thanks!” none of which would have been quite right.


I don’t understand the moral of the story. Is it: Don’t smoke a lot of marijuana or you may switch to a pipe and die and be revived to go back to smoking pipe tobacco? Or: Continue smoking marijuana because switching to a pipe is potentially fatal? Or: Tell strangers a story when your wife tells you to, but make sure you undermine the central thesis so the stranger isn’t offended? Or: Smoking too much marijuana and being revived from death via CPR can cause you to tell stories in non-traditional ways at a socially inappropriate level of volume?


What am I supposed to be learning from this story?

WattPad Vs. Smashwords: An Experiment

10999956436_4f66afdf49_b.jpg

I'm going to try something, and I thought it might be helpful to my fellow indie authors if I share the results here so you can test this out for yourselves. One of my students suggested I give WattPad a try in order to get more feedback. I've used Smashwords in the past, and I don't know which is better. My next novel (working title: Do Not Read This Book) will come out sometime next year. It's off to my editors now, but my publishers have generously given me permission to release the book, chapter by chapter, as a serial, in order to get more feedback and build some buzz. I'll post a chapter a week, with links added here, and I'll track the readership and provide updates on the kind of feedback each site produces. That way my fellow authors can decide which is better for them. Will either be helpful? Both? I honestly don't know, but it will be fun to see!

Smashwords

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

37 downloads

_____________________

Posted on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

24 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

25 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

30 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

34 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

20 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

19 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

21 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

18 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

12 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

6 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

WattPad

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

12 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

3 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 11/8

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge

hqdefault.jpg

Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge,

I just got "owned" in an argument, "own-the-libs" style, by this brilliant riposte from one of the members of your very exclusive club:

"Sheeple.... I don't blame you. Its[sic] the media and our government.... Hypatheically[sic] of course. Only about 30 people know the truth."

You win, dude! I can't recover from that. I'm going to go drown in my liberal tears until they melt my snowflake-ness.

...except...

I think we might want to address this figure of 30 people. I understand that you like being one of the few who has access to the secret knowledge that none of the rest of us understand. We are so deluded  by all of the media and government employees who get together in what must be a very large, dark room to collaborate on a single conspiracy upon which they so obviously always agree. I mean, I can't remember a time when members of the media or the government disagreed with one another, but I suppose if such a thing occurred it would still have been part of a clever false flag operation to trick us into thinking there is some variance of thought while actually promoting a single false narrative, right? 

As sheeple go, I'm pretty tolerant. If whips and chains and safewords do it for somebody, as long as they are getting down with consenting adults, I say, "Have a party." If somebody likes to dress up in an animal costume, either for sexual reasons of because it's how they find their community, that's fine. And if you have to think you are the only people who know the "real truth" in order to finish while you read your 4chan message boards and listen to Alex Jones shout at you in your mom's basement, I try not to yuck your yum. But we have to come to an understanding if we're going to protect your right to believe the crazy, batshit nonsense that gets you hard. 

Secret knowledge is not relevant in an argument about public policy.

Period.

Public policy needs to be made by people willing to share all the information they have with the public, and that policy should only be influenced by people who can successfully persuade the public that their perception benefits the public. 

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Hey, I've been very open about my secret knowledge. I've been shouting to the rooftops about the world being 6000 years old, and flat as a pancake,  and run by lizard people as part of a New World Order globalist government scheme to take guns away from the last remaining human Christian white American males. It's not my fault all the various media outlets and government agencies aren't calling me to figure out what I've discovered."

Um, yeah, it kinda' is. See, the folks who convinced all us sheeple that the world is 4.543 billion years old, and it's round (actually an oblate spheroid that's 99.9967% round, but why be pedantic, right?) went to a lot of trouble to do so. As far as disproving the lizard people theories and New World Order stuff, no one had to work quite as hard, but you haven't put in nearly the legwork to get the degrees or taken on the risks those folks did in order to prove your theories to be correct. You've settled for your knowledge staying essentially private property. That's not to say that fringe ideas are always wrong. At one point notions like the world being licked out of the ice by a giant cow were quite popular in some quarters. Popularity is not a measure of accuracy. But, like it or not, popularity is a measure of how we make public policy in a democracy. So, until you convince the majority of people that we're living under the thumb of a media conspiracy run by lizards in human form, you can't dictate that we make public policy based on the imminent lizard threat, any more that you can say we need to take away old people's social security checks and put all that money into trying to catch the nefarious fairies who keep sticking your hand in a bowl of warm water to make you wet the bed each night, then whisking away the evidence before you wake up each morning. This may be the case, but it is not a public concern. 

So, henceforth, we're not going to agree to disagree, exactly. You are going to keep on calling sheeple like me names and shaking your head and feeling superior because you've cracked the big code. And I'm going to keep reminding you that your big revelation is no more or less shameful than your bed-wetting problem or somebody else's furry fetish; it's something you need to learn to keep to yourself. The roughly 325.7 million Americans get to solve the problems that actually concern us based on what we have seen and read and learned, and you thirty get to enjoy knowing the rest of us are concerned about the wrong things because we've all been tricked. Fine. But we're going to try to solve the problems we see as real, and you're going to have to convince us your theories are real or stay out of our way. We're just simple sheeple who read books and take classes and watch the news from all the people who you know are tricking us, and we want to solve the problems we experience, not the ones that you're sure are being hidden from us. 

Oh, and I suspect there are a lot more than 30 of you, but I also don't think math facts are the kinds of facts you fetishize, so I can see where that could cause problems. 

So, please, go back to your basement. And, for the love of our lizard queen, please wash those sheets.

Your fellow citizen of a democracy (or am I secretly a lizard? Bwa-ha-ha-ha!),

Sheeple #325,699,970

After


After the tyrant was deposed

by time

(he never felt the sting of justice

just dawdled off to his dottage

self-righteous to the last)

his monument was defaced

his face

a punchline on t-shirts.


The children he stole were given back to their mothers

mostly.


The wall never was built

but the families ripped apart came back together

mostly.


The soil of the country

wore more scars

scars upon scars

but too many to pin blame.


His laws were overturned

one by one

slowly

and his signature

made each less likely to stand.

And the men who made his idle thought into vicious plans

and his insults into bureaucratic systems

were forgiven

(the women were not).


The respect lost

was respect lost

maybe never deserved

none left could demand it

after the tyrant.


His party, his followers

said they were never his party, his followers

and though their immunity to evidence

was evidence

reminding them proved too exhausting.


And the people who were

not the tyrant’s targets

forgot

and the targets were dismissed as bitter

and told to stop

like their justice

was last fall’s fashion.


Because forgetting how bad it was

was still better

than a lot of people

would have allowed it to get.


And who wants to think about

how bad they would have let it get

after?

A Weekend of Sexism on Parade

This last weekend provided some very powerful examples of sexism. I, as a man, had the luxury to not fully appreciate the ubiquity of these before. The first was glaring and galling. The second was subtle and pernicious. Both are worthy of some serious soul-searching reflection.

Feminism_PodcastOnline-418x215.jpg

But before we get to this weekend, some context.

A few years ago, when I heard about Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to make 2018 The Year of Publishing Women, I shared the idea with my wife and co-publisher, Paige, and we jumped at it. Shamsie has since admitted that she proposed the idea as a provocation rather than a realistic suggestion, but it was perfect for us. Our publishing company, Not a Pipe Publishing, was just starting out. Announcing our acceptance of the challenge was a way to attract the attention of some amazing authors. We’d already signed a few, and the men were just as excited about the idea as the women. It wasn’t a completely self-serving business decision; Paige and are both ardent feminists, and we wanted to participate in taking some action to move the publishing industry closer to equality. I believed, at the time, that sexism in publishing was the consequence of unconscious bias and a systemic inclination toward a kind of conservatism that is not ideological but rooted in inertia. Companies publish books based on what is similar to what has sold in the past. Reviewers review books based on which books have been the most discussed in the past. Awards committees give out prizes to books that are getting lots of reviews and which are like those that have won in the past. Bookstores shelves books that are similar to those which have received lots of reviews and won lots of awards in the past. And because women were locked out of publishing for centuries, even though women write more books, buy more books, and read more books than men, all these institutional forces push the industry towards the books that have been more successful going back to Homer and Plato and Aeschylus. Lots of the people involved in this chain of decision-making were probably unaware of the bias or felt incapable of changing it, I thought. If we could just bring attention to it, it would be diminished, at least somewhat.

That’s what I thought.

I was wrong.

In the years since we accepted the challenge, I’ve had my eyes opened to systemic sexism that is far more conscious. I heard a very successful literary agent explain to a group of people that women are more likely to write bad books because they are staying at home and living off their husbands, while the men who write are more serious about their craft because they are risking their role as breadwinners to be writers. I spoke with other agents about the responses they get to rejection letters; women tend to accept rejection, while men sometimes write horrifying replies about how the female agents are stupid bitches who don’t recognize their genius. I don’t get those replies, but I have seen that when I say we’re not accepting submissions, women politely take my card and note when we will be open, then submit when we ask for their manuscripts. Men ignore me and pitch anyway.

Not all men. I know. But always men. Only men.

Over the last few years, I’ve also kept up on the stories of blatant, conscious, vile sexual harassment stunting women’s careers. Harvey Weinstein gets outsized attention for being the most famous and the most disgusting pig, but I’ve watched as some of my literary heroes have been revealed to be piglets to his county fair prize winner. I don’t know if all the stories are true, of course, but I know that it’s vanishingly rare for women to make up stories of abuse. It’s appropriate that our courts maintain the principle of innocent until proven guilty when deciding criminal culpability, but we all get to use our own judgement when deciding who to look up to, and choosing to believe or disbelieve an accuser violates the principle of innocent until proven guilty either way. If we decide he’s innocent until proven guilty, then she’s guilty of being a liar until the case is adjudicated. So if we’re going to convict the accuser of being a liar or convict the accused of being a creep in the court of our own hearts, we can and should use a lower standard of evidence, and we should check ourselves when our admiration of the accused’s work is clouding our judgement. Talented people do horrible things, too, and most victims of sexual assault and harassment never tell anyone. When they do, our skepticism silences more victims. Until we live in a society where victims are so confident they will be believed that fake-victims regularly abuse our trust, we should believe victims. I know that’s scary for men. We worry about being falsely accused. But our fear should not outweigh our concern for victims any more than our admiration of an abusers’ novels or comedy or movies should outweigh the damage they have done to their victims. I believe the accusers, and as more of them have come forward, it’s eroded my ability to believe the bias in publishing is simply unconscious.

I’ve also had to acknowledge my part. I teach high school English. A teaching coach came into my classroom a few years ago and took notes about who I called on while I taught my students. Sure enough, I was calling on the boys the most, and I was never calling on the girls who didn’t raise their hands. Confronted with this information, I got defensive. It wasn’t my fault some of the girls weren’t raising their hands, right? Only, it is. Before that little girl ever started school, she was already getting the message that her opinion wasn’t as valuable. And before that little boy was in school, he was being taught that his opinion was authoritative. And all of us reinforce those beliefs when we keep calling on the boys and not calling on the girls. One by one, the boys look around and learn that they should be raising their hands because that’s what boys do. And even my girls who are raising their hands are looking around and seeing that their female peers are doing so less and less, and they are getting the message they should stop. That’s on me. Part of my job is to break that trend, to call on all the students at times even when they don’t raise their hands, to affirmatively say, “What do you think? I want to know your opinion,” and to implicitly say, ...because your opinion matters to me. Because there’s at least one man in your life who cares about your opinion just as much as he cares about the opinion of the boy next to you. I had to learn to do that, and I’m still working to get more consistent at it. It is just as important or more important a lesson to teach my students, female and male, as any of my language arts curriculum.

And it would be disingenuous for me pretend that my own sexism is limited to neglecting affirmative steps. When I look back at things I’ve done and said in my life, I have to acknowledge harm I’ve caused. I remember, when I was sixteen, I once yelled a gross catcall at a woman just to impress the guys in the car with me. In that moment, I’m sure I scared her, degraded her, and ruined her day, and I didn’t care about her opinion at all. All I cared about was the opinion of the boys in the car with me. And the woman was pushing a stroller! Even if the child in that stroller was too young to understand what I said to her/his mother, I was already laying the foundation that this was something men did to women and something which her/his mother had to endure simply because she was female. And I can never take that back.

Nor can I take back the times when, as a single man, I treated women as objects to be acquired. Nor the way I treated my former girlfriends as though intimacy was something I had to persuade them to relinquish. I have a lot of guilt in this area, and none of it will be expunged by publishing women’s novels or retweeting women’s tweets or encouraging any of my current students, because those actions don’t redress any injury I caused to the individuals I harmed.

But I can listen to my wife and take her advice. She says the best thing we can do is to raise a son who will be better, and she’s right.

So I offer the stories of this weekend to any of you raising boys. Keep these in mind when choosing how to teach them about how they should behave.

I was signing novels at a bookstore on Friday along with some other authors. Most of us were inside the store, but one of my colleagues, a friend and a fellow author published by Not a Pipe Publishing, chose to set her table up just outside the store to encourage passersby to come in and visit the rest of us. I was too far away to hear all of her interaction with a particular guy who came up to her table, but he caught my attention because he was loudly offering to buy one of her books.

Hey, she made a sale, I thought. Good!

No. Not good at all.

He wasn’t offering to buy her books because he was interested in reading them. As I eavesdropped, I realized he was trying to bribe her to leave the signing early and come with him to a concert at a bar down the street. She politely explained that she couldn’t leave early, that she’d already told some young readers to come by and get books, and she was waiting for them. He offered to buy two of her books. Then three. Then he asked how many it would take to get her to leave with him immediately.

And here’s where my privilege really kicked in: Instead of acknowledging what he was doing, I immediately assumed that he must have been a friend of hers who was making some tacky joke. Because nobody could be that crass, right? I was doing mental gymnastics to try to justify his behavior. Why? Because she didn’t sound upset. She kept politely refusing, laughing off his increasing offers and increasingly strident requests that she come with him. Later she told me that she went out of her way to mention her husband, not in a confrontational way, but just as a hint. He said her husband didn’t need to know! He was trying to buy a date (and who knows what else) for the cost of three paperbacks.

And she just took it in stride. She is not only a talented novelist, but an accomplished teacher, a recognized educational leader, and the co-owner of a small business. She had clearly said, “No,” about a dozen times. But he refused to hear her. By the time I was realizing he was not a friend of hers and I should stand up and at least go out there, she’d convinced him to leave by enduring his insulting proposition. She didn’t confront the underlying premise that her romantic attention and probably her body could be purchased for the cost of three paperbacks, not because she accepts that as true, but because it would have extended the interaction, escalated the confrontation, and perhaps become physically unsafe. How many times can anyone calmly endure that without starting to let it seep into their self concept? Even without accepting that she was worth about 45 bucks, she had at least accepted that a man could treat her as though she was worth 45 bucks without jumping out of her chair and kicking him in the balls. How many more of those interactions would it take to lead her, or someone who was younger, had less of a strong support structure, less of a defined self-concept than this woman has, to start to believe that this kind of interaction is acceptable?

The same day I was contemplating that question, I had the following interaction with an editor our company is hiring to clean up some of our novels. Like our author, this editor is a successful, experienced, and accomplished professional.  She worked for a small press before going to work for a university press, and now she has gone freelance. She was telling me about the transition from the small press to the university press where she edited the work of PhDs. “It took a while for a couple of them to actually trust their work to me. This past December, I edited a piece for publication in a magazine; it needed significant cutting. I took out a lot of wordiness, really tightened it up. The prof thanked me, seemed impressed. ‘I'm good at this,’ I told him.

“I realized after I said it that I had not ever said anything like that before. And I wondered if it was a gendered statement. Women are not expected to go around telling men that they are good at particular tasks.”

I think about this in the context of what the author faced at the signing. She couldn’t say, “Look, I know you want to take me out on a date because I’m good looking, and I might take that as a compliment if you also recognized that I’m an author at a signing, that I have other obligations than your interests, and that my interests outweigh yours right now because I’m good at what I do! Now piss off.” There is an indirect but significant relationship between all the messages women receive that inhibit their ability to articulate their own worth and the way that they are conditioned to endure diminishing treatment from men.

On the same weekend I was confronted with both these examples (at the same freakin’ time!) one of my former students posted a question to her page on Facebook. “Do you think women or men are more oppressed? It’d be nice if you’d elaborate too!”

I hopped in: “Well, women get paid less for doing the same work, have to work harder to be taken seriously, and when they do achieve the same levels of authority as men, they are disparaged for it. Men are oppressed by sexist ideas of what men are supposed to be, but not nearly the same way women are oppressed by ideas about what women are supposed to be. And when it comes to romance, Margaret Atwood summed it up well: Men fear that women will reject them. Women fear that men will kill them.”

A woman replied: “I believe white men are blamed for everything that's bad, so they may be more oppressed. Women have more choices available to them and generally have more control in relationships and family life.”

This is so demonstrably wrong that it’s absurd, and I wanted to scream. It proves what Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi wrote: “Women are the victims of this patriarchal culture, but they are also its carriers. Let us keep in mind that every oppressive man was raised in the confines of his mother's home.” And yet, while it may or may not be helpful for a man to ask men to notice the patriarchy, I don’t think it would be that useful for me to try to mansplain the concept of the patriarchy to a woman, so I refrained.

One of those white men she thought was blamed for everything, another former student of mine, did reply, and he seemed comfortable with that notion, though he may have just been trying to be polite. He wrote about how both men and women are oppressed in different ways. That was more politeness than I could bear.

“You're right,” I told my peace-making white male former student, “it's not the same. But we should also watch out for false equivalence. The two kinds of oppression are different. Toxic masculinity twists men into all kinds of pretzels we don't want to be in in attempts to be ‘manly,’ sometimes with very serious consequences. There's no way to measure, but my guess is that men are pressured, culturally, into riskier behaviors than they would choose otherwise on an order that leads to lots of unnecessary deaths. Heck, I once watched a guy trying to impress some girls dive head first into some shallow water. He ended up scratching a lot of his face and chest off, but it could have been a lot worse. And why? Because he thought they would be impressed. And when you look at the mass shooting in Norway a few years ago and the one at Virginia Tech, both shooters were responding to rejection by women and the feeling that they, as men, weren't being as respected as they felt they deserved from women. That's toxic masculinity at its most poisonous. But even then, we need to acknowledge that it's a lot worse for women. Imagine if you were sitting in a college classroom and every single person in there was saying, ‘White men are all evil, and we hate you for being one of them!’ And it hurt your feelings and you got up and left. That would be a bad experience, it would be wrong, it would be unfair, and it certainly qualifies as oppression of a kind. And at the same time that you could be going through that, 100 times as many (a thousand, 10 thousand?) women are being beaten and raped by their partners, while the number of men being beaten and raped by female partners is vanishingly small. Both oppressed? Sure. But every time a white man complains about how hard it is to be blamed for things other white men have done, I cringe. They don't sound like they are pointing out a real injustice. By creating a false equivalence, they reinforce the idea that they don't get it. It's like meeting someone who just became a paraplegic and saying you feel like you've both suffered because you stubbed your toe once. Yeah, stubbing your toe hurts. But to all my fellow white guys out there, c'mon, dudes! Read the room!”

But that’s wrong, too, not in substance but in approach. It doesn’t help to tell butthurt cis straight white men of means to stop whining about the fact that people are finally waking up to centuries of white male oppression and it makes them uncomfortable to hear about it. No one likes to be told that the thing that hurts them isn’t a big deal. That’s why I want to offer these examples, not because I’ve figured out their full implications, but because I think the only way people, men especially, are going to look beyond their own fear of the loss of cultural dominance is to provide very concrete examples of mistreatment of others that we can avoid. Maybe we can start with refraining from treating an author like she can be bought and eventually move all the way to recognizing that an editor is a lot more talented and qualified than she feels capable of admitting.

And if you, like me, have a son, have this conversation very directly. Tell him that women put up with a lot of stuff that we don’t have to. Tell him it’s not fair. Tell him that putting up with mistreatment for long enough leads anyone to start to think it’s normal and they deserve it. Tell your son to recognize that and challenge it. Tell your son that he can’t just stop at fair but needs to push on through to equal, and a lot of times that means working for a degree of equality a woman doesn’t feel comfortable demanding. And that goes for a Person of Color, and LGBTQIA person, a person from a minority religion, an immigrant, a differently-abled person, a person who grew up in poverty or an abusive household, or anyone else who has been taught they they don’t deserve equality.

And you might want to mention to your son that you’re still learning. My son is well aware that I don’t have it all figured out (he knows I don’t have much of anything figured out). I hope that makes him feel more comfortable growing up to be a man who doesn’t think he has all the answers, either.

 









 

Easter 2018

For my friend Lola White who is sick (and tired) on Easter. 

pb_070412_hunkyJesus_birkett.photoblog9001.jpg

Once upon a time, in a medium-sized city called Jerusalem that seemed to be constantly occupied by people who wanted to oppress its residents, the government killed a local prophet who had been spreading some really radical anti-capitalist, pacifist, feminist messages that scared the shit out of them.

After he was buried in a make-shift mausoleum and his male followers ran for the hills, the women who clearly loved him the most came to honor him and clean up his body. When they got there, the stone had been rolled away, and an angel was chilling in the cave.

“Where’s Jesus’ body?” they asked him.

“It’s cool that you came to see him, but homie took off. Remember how he could make all those predictions about the future that kept coming true? Well, when he came back from the dead, he looked two thousand years into the future and got super-pissed. So he called up his pops and said, ‘Beam me up, Scotty,’ which is a reference y’all won’t get for a couple millenia, and then God sent him to a country on the other side of the world.”

Mary Magdalene made her hand flat, stared at it, and then flipped it over. “The other side?”

“Nah. The world is round. Like a ball. The Greeks have already proved that. But some of y’all are still going to be saying it’s flat in two thousand years. That was one of the things Jesus was pissed about, now that you mention it. Be glad he took off. He really was resurrected on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Consider yourselves lucky that he split.”

 

Jesus teleported into a crowd coming out of a megachurch on Easter morning in 2018. They had just been singing a bunch of happy songs, so they were exceptionally patient with the clearly mentally disturbed man wearing a sheet with blood all over it.

“Okay, dipshits, I have some things to say, and then I’m ascending to heaven to chill with my dad. So listen up!”

“I see y'all are the majority now. Congratulations. Quit pretending you're an oppressed minority. Not only is it embarrassing to you and to me, but it makes you do stupid things out of fear. On second thought, go ahead. Vote for the racist sexual predator who promises to build a wall to keep out people who need protection. Wreck your own country. I don't give a shit. You assholes just killed me.

“In fact, why don’t you just pretend I was totally kidding about that ‘Blessed are the poor’ line. And that ‘Take all you have and give it to the poor.’ Fuck those guys, am-I-right? I can tell from the way you’re all dressed that you have worked very hard and earned everything that you’ve got, so you’re morally superior to the poor people who didn’t bother to show up today because they are at their third jobs, those lazy bastards. Go full Smaug to your greedy little heart’s content. You dickholes crucified me, so taking foodstamps from children will be small potatoes to you pricks.

“While you’re at it, why don’t you keep on throwing more people in prison than anybody has ever. And applaud the idea of killing more criminals. Old Testament justice, right?” He pointed at the cross on top of their church. “It’s not like killing criminals should give you all pause or anything. Idiots.

“You know what, why don’t you just destroy the whole world. Dad considered it once and then changed his mind. But you can do it if you feel like it. Put the CEOs of the most rapacious oil companies in charge of everything and make the whole planet Dad gave you into an unlivable Venus-Earth hell-hole. Natural consequences, bitches.”

Just then, two police cruisers rolled up. They didn’t have their sirens on, and the officer climbed out slowly, clearly not very concerned. “We got a call from your pastor about a person disturbing the congregation,” one began. Then they saw Jesus.

“Holy shit! Get down on the ground, motherfucker!” they shouted.

Jesus started to raise his hands.

“Gun!” one yelled.

Then they shot him twenty times because he had brown skin.

As he fell, he just had time to say, “Not again.”

Let’s Play Pretend

Let’s play pretend.

Imagine you just got a new job. You’re straight out of school, so you have no experience in the workforce. The company that just hired you has a way of doing business, and you don’t have enough experience to question it. You simply wanted a job, and now you have this one.

Every day you are going to go to a big office complex where a thousand other people work. The person from HR who hires you, and who you will never see again, explains that your responsibility is to watch two movies each day and take a little test about each one. That’s it. That’s your new job.

https_%2F%2Fs3-ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com%2Fnine-tvmg-images-prod%2F38%2F37%2F65%2F383765_jaws_3_logo_type_1.jpg

But when you new boss shows up and pops in the first movie, it’s Part 3 of a trilogy. All the questions on the quiz require knowledge of the first two movies. You do your best to guess. It’s exhausting. You are not told how well you guessed on the test. The boss pops in the next movies. It’s also Part 3, but of a completely different trilogy you haven’t seen. You take another quiz. You don’t know how you’re doing. You go home.

The next day, the boss pops in another Part 3. Then another.

The next day, the movies are still a Part 3s, but they’re in a foreign languages with subtitles.

The next day they’re in a foreign language with subtitles … that are in a different foreign language.

The next day the movies are still in a foreign language with a different foreign language’s subtitles, but now  the movies are set on fast forward. Now you watch three of them, all still Part 3s of trilogies you haven’t seen. You take three quizzes that you don’t understand.

How many days would it take before you’d start to put your head down, or zone out, or look at your phone during the movies?

“Um, excuse me,” you ask your boss one day. “Could I maybe see Part 1 this time so I do better on the quiz?”

“Sorry,” she says. “I know this is a difficult job you have, but I’m not allowed to let you do anything else. The folks at corporate headquarters decided this was the best way.”

“But what good does it do them to make me do it this way?” you ask.

“Oh, trust me, I sent them a thousand memos about that. I’ve emails members of the company’s board. I even called the CEO. He said he supported me and told me to tell you he cares about you, too, but this is all we’re allowed to do.”

Then she hits play, and you start watching another movie. Part 3. In a foreign language. With foreign subtitles. On fast forward.

You keep working there. You are so depressed that when you get home, you just lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling. It’s amazing that you even get up and go to work each day. At work, you’re tempted to punch somebody in the break room just to feel … anything.

Regardless of your attentiveness, payday rolls around. You were never told how much you would be paid. You work up the courage to ask your new boss. She says, “Oh, didn’t HR mention this? You get paid in a lump sum in 13 years, but only if you do well enough on the quizes.”

What would you do? How many of you would want to quit?

“Also,” the boss explains, “you aren’t allowed to quit for 11 years. Then you can choose to quit, but if you do, you won’t get paid anything. It will be like you were never here. Actually, it will be worse than that, because you’ll get nothing and I’ll get a pay cut.”

Crazy, right?

 

This is what school FEELS like to a student who is a couple years behind. Maybe he came into the school behind due to poverty. Maybe he was neglected or abused at home. Maybe his parents are great, but they’re working three jobs to make ends meet and didn’t have the means and time and skills to read to him and nurture him get him fully prepared. And English isn’t his first language. And he has a learning disability. If he can keep his phone in his pocket, keep his head off the desk, and guess well enough on the state tests, in thirteen years he gets a diploma, and the school isn’t punished for having a high dropout rate.

So what would you want if you had that job? My guess? You’d want the boss to start popping in Part 1 instead of Part 3. You’d want to get to watch the movie a couple times before taking a quiz on it, if you didn’t feel like you understood it the first time. You’d want it to be in your own language until you learned enough of another one that you could at least read the subtitles, and you’d want to have those subtitles in that new language kept there until you had mastered that language. You’d want the movie to be slowed down. You would want a boss who cared about you enough to change your working conditions. You might even need the healthcare plan to include mental health coverage to deal with your depression. And you’d want to feel rewarded regularly and not just with a ceremony and a certificate at the end.

In educational-ese, you want ESL services, Special Ed. services, school counselors, differentiated instruction, and a teacher who views students through a trauma-informed lens with the autonomy to teach students at their level rather than a level mandated by someone who doesn’t know anything about individual students. That’s what you would want for yourself, so certainly it’s what you want for your community’s kids.

I’m lucky to work in a school that has ESL services, SpEd services, counselors, differentiation, and which is in the process of becoming a trauma informed school. I’m glad that we care about how our students feel and not just the scores they get on a test or the number of them that hold on until graduation. It’s not like that at every school. I’m lucky. But I still need to remember that the kid in my classroom who is putting her head down or pulling out her cellphone or simply not showing up each day might not be doing those things out of a lack of respect for me or a lack of motivation. In fact, if I’m doing my job right and providing her with interesting and challenging lessons, and if she’s still doing one or all of those things, instead of getting angry with her, I need to figure out how to meet her where she’s at so she can feel successful on a regular basis. As one of my colleagues, Nikki Hansen, said to me today, “Sometimes you have to say, ‘The needs of the group and the lesson are not going to merge.’” That’s true for the whole class, and it’s also true for the individual student. Sometimes the needs of the kid and the needs of the lesson aren’t going to merge, and I need to change what I’m doing for the sake of the kid, not ignore the kid for the sake of the lesson.

Sounds like an easy fix, right? If so, you’ve never taught 150 kids a day.

 

So this is how you can help:

When you hear politicians or talking heads pretending they support teachers and students but then cutting the very things you would want if you were that employee at that imaginary company, call them on it.

When you hear them talk about test scores and drop out rates, ask them what services they want to provide to help those students.

When those politicians say they want to give me a gun but also want to shorten the school year and increase the size of classes, point out that they are not making kids safe; kids are safer in school than they are at home, so shortening the school year is a safety issue, and the absolute best way to reduce the number of school shootings is to reduce class sizes and train teachers in trauma informed  approaches so that we spot and connect with that scared, lonely, angry kid before he becomes a mass shooter. That’s how we keep our kids safe. Not by shooting that kid and the kids on the other side of the drywall behind him.

And when some billionaires want to cut their own taxes at the expense of kids and promise to kick a little bit of that tax cut down to you if you’ll agree to decimate your local school, point out that this is a really bad deal for everyone but them. Increased investments in schools are just good math. Would you rather pay a little less for a kid’s education now and then pay for that kid’s drug problem because he was so depressed he decided to self-medicate? Or worse, pay $1000 less now for his education each year and pay $80,000 a year for his stay in a for-profit prison? (Hint: The billionaire wants you to take that deal. He holds shares in that for-profit prison.)  Or would you rather pay a little more in taxes now so that kid gets a good job and can pay that back himself? Maybe he’ll be the police officer who protects your house. Maybe he’ll be the plumber who comes to your rescue when the pipes freeze on Christmas day. Maybe he’ll be the nurse who lifts you out of bed and gets you to the toilet when you’re in a nursing home. Yes, maybe that very kid who was behind in school and didn’t speak English and had a learning disability and a history of abuse will become the oncologist who removes the cancer that was going to kill your spouse. It is possible. With the right support, kids can overcome just about anything. Make sure the people you vote for are aware you see through their talking points and want to support that kid.

Oh, and one more thing: Sometimes my lessons aren’t Citizen Kane or The Godfather or Black Panther. There are a lot of days when my lessons are The Godfather 3, or Transformers 3, or Jaws 3, and I admit I’ve had some that turned out to be Pluto Nash and Ishtar and Planet Nine from Outer Space. Making a major motion picture that everybody likes is really hard, and teaching a lesson that works for every kid is a little bit harder. So give your kid’s teacher some grace and the same supports you would want for yourself.