Funniest Moment in My Classroom ...Possibly Ever

I'm always hesitant to post stories about my students for fear that someone will be offended, but in this case the students in question know that I'll be posting about this moment and they have every right to be proud of their brilliant wit. I'm not sure I've ever laughed so hard at a student's quip before. We were doing an assignment where students take a line or two from Romeo and Juliet and demonstrate that they understand them by converting them into some other voice. One student was working with Juliet's lines about how a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and I told the class that a different character might use a different metaphor to make the same point, so they didn't have to limit themselves to roses.

A clever student shared his with the class. He made his voice as low and scratchy as he could and said, "Tequila in a Scotch bottle is still Tequila."

From across the room, an even more clever student shouted, "Mom?"

standing-ovation-o

Who Knows Me Best?

Today, in class, I was showing my students where to find Rice Auditorium at Western Oregon University because we were all going to attend a performance of Romeo and Juliet (it was great, by the way). I noticed that the parking lots were identified by letters, (e.g. Lot A, Lot B, etc.). I pointed to Lot R and said, "This is where the hobbits park!" One of my kids blurted out, "Nerd." She is so right.

Poem: The Kind of Teacher

I was inspired to write a little poem during school today. I'm sure it would have been much better if I hadn't been forced to wait until my prep period to write it down. This certainly is not about any great lesson I taught today, but I wish it were.



The Kind of Teacher

When class begins
I can see the skepticism
The loll of tired heads
Eyes rolling
Maybe a sneer.

At my best,
I can earn a nod
Acknowledgement of time well spent.
Maybe a thoughtful “Huh.”
Occasionally a “Whoa.”

Of course the class ends with
My obligatory thanks for their attention
Wishes for a good day
Reminders about pending assignments
See-you-tomorrows.

But if I were the kind of teacher I want to be
All the classes would crescendo
With that moment of realization
Where a teenage skepticism is breached
Punctured by some uncool grownup insight.

And I would look them in the eyes
Unrolling eyes
Attentive, expectant eyes
And shout,
“So There!”




Okay, so I know it's not the greatest poem in the world. But then, the greatest song in the world isn't the greatest, either (see below). I guess this poem is a tribute to the poem about teaching I wanted to write. I think teachers will get it, though.

Short Story: Fea's Tenses

I've written this story for a big-deal writing contest, and I want to get some feedback before I send it off. (That's allowed by the contest, don't worry.) The story is long, but if you have fifteen minutes and would be willing to look it over, please let me know what you think in the comments section below before I send it off. Thanks!

[Update 3/30/12: Thanks to all the folks who've given me feedback, here in the comments, on Facebook, and by email, I've made some significant changes to the story. I want to especially thank Megan Geigner, a PhD candidate at Northwestern (bio here), and Wendy Hart Beckman, owner/president of Beckman Communications, a professional writing service. Both of these friends went above and beyond the call of duty, and I am so grateful for their honesty and thoroughness. I hope they're pleased with the changes. I still have time to make more, so keep those suggestions coming!]

[Update 3/17/13: Though the story didn't win that contest a year ago, I've continued to polish it and get feedback from even more friends and students. The story is now available on Kindle, so I have to remove it from this blog, but if you're so inclined, you can still get a copy (less than a buck!) here:

 
 
http://amzn.to/WthJ3m

 Again, thanks to you all!

Why I Was Accused of Teacher Malpractice

I had a very jarring experience this week. After a lesson in my creative writing class on Wednesday that was not significantly different from one I've given dozens of times before, two students confronted me after class and accused me of a professional ethics violation, specifically of using my position as a teacher to share my political views. When pressed, they conceded that the views were not actually necessarily mine, and may have been balanced, but that the lesson involved politics and was therefore inappropriate. That's simply a misunderstanding of the nature of the violation they'd originally accused me of, but that didn't stop me from freaking out. I could imagine angry parents confronting me, or worse, going over my head and blind-siding my principal or superintendent with allegations of professional misconduct which could have severe repercussions. Outside of my classroom and the contract day I am quite politically active (as anyone who has read this blog before can infer), so I could imagine that someone, not knowing the lengths I go to in order to keep my views out of the classroom, might believe that I crossed that barrier I work so hard to maintain. I immediately shot off an email to my principal, both to document the incident and to warn her in case she was confronted by parents. Then I spent the evening allowing myself to get more and more worried about the situation. By midnight, it seemed sleep would be impossible, so I came downstairs and drafted a letter to my students explaining the situation. I still couldn't fall asleep until after 3:00 am. The next day, Thursday, I brought the letter to my principal and spoke with her about the situation. She was very supportive and encouraging, which made me feel a lot better. She read the letter, encouraged me to tone it down a notch, and advised me to send a kind of permission slip about the lesson home to parents next year in advance (good advice which I will follow). I read an abbreviated version of the letter to the students, and it seems the incident has blown over, though I can't be sure it won't explode at some point in the future. I wanted to share the letter here so other teachers, parents, friends, etc., could understand both my rebuttal and why I was so panicked. I apologize in advance for the length, but, as you can imagine, I had a lot to get off my chest.

"Well, my dear creative writing students, it’s 12:17 in the morning and I can’t sleep. Today (technically yesterday) I made an error in judgment and I want to apologize and explain something. So (cue trumpets), with much fanfare, please accept…

An Apology and Explanation

Yesterday, before beginning the reading of the 3rd chapter of the novel I’m writing, I meant to remember to say, albeit briefly, that there would be some references to things that are political in the text, but that the character’s views were not my own, and that if the prospect of hearing about anything political made anyone uncomfortable, they could be excused from the assignment. Once I’d passed out the copies I simply forgot.

After class, some of your classmates came to me, concerned that I was trying to share my own political beliefs. I must immediately say that I firmly prohibit any kind of witch-hunt to try to figure out who these students were. I appreciated their honesty and I think their concern is valid. Please allow me to try to explain why I also believe it is misplaced in this instance.

First of all, there’s a general misconception that teachers can’t talk about anything political. This is, on its face, not only incorrect but impossible. We couldn’t do our jobs if we avoided any topic which relates to politics. Every novel we teach is political. All the history we teach inevitably has political bias. In fact, in recent history even science has been politicized. One could argue that everything you read in school is biased toward English-speakers by virtue of being written in English, or biased toward Americans because of the way words like “color” and “theater” are spelled. The complete absence of bias is a myth, and fleeing from politics is not our job. However, we have an ethical obligation to avoid using our positions as your teachers to try to inculcate you into our own political beliefs. I take this very seriously. I do not tell students how I vote or how they should feel about specific issues, and I encourage all of you to let me know if you believe I’ve been intentionally or accidentally biased in my presentation of any information.

That being said, the explanation given by the novel’s character for the fall of our civilization could be easily misconstrued to reflect my beliefs. I can only ask you to trust me when I say his politics do not mirror my own. I understand that skeptical students would wonder why they should believe that and not feel they were being doubly deceived. If you’ll allow me, let me provide one uncontroversial piece of evidence. The character in the story expresses a fatalism about the fall of our civilization. Of course, he is speaking from a different, fictional setting in which this has already occurred. I think I can safely share that I do not believe this to be any kind of inevitability, or that the fictional story is some kind of prophecy. I am a teacher. This is an inherently hopeful profession. I would not do this job if I believed that we are all doomed. If you can accept that I differ from the character in this way, I hope you will also believe me when I say that we differ in other beliefs as well. I cannot, however, itemize all the ways I agree and disagree with the character because, to do so, I would have to expound on my own politics, which would be inappropriate.

So why, you might ask, if the assignment creates a situation wherein students can only trust that their teacher isn’t preaching his own politics, would I continue to offer up the assignment? I believe its value exceeds the risk. As developing writers, there is a value to the practice of editing and revision that can only come with repetition. You will be editing and revising one another’s work. I feel it’s important to lay the groundwork for that by modeling the proper way to receive feedback. On a deeper level, I think it’s essential for students to see that I, too, am involved in the practice of writing. Across this country there are hosts of English teachers asking students to write while not participating in the endeavor themselves. Maybe it’s not a hobby they enjoy. Maybe their work demands so much time they simply cannot fit it into their schedules. I shouldn’t judge them. But I know that, as a student, I would question the authority of any writing instructor who didn’t write, just as I would question a literature instructor who didn’t read literature or a P.E. teacher who refused to exercise.

But, you might ask, couldn’t I have chosen to tell a story that was clearly apolitical? I would argue, quite simply, no, I couldn’t. I could have told a story set in a fantasy world completely dissimilar to our own with characters barely resembling human beings, or perhaps with anthropomorphized animals, and the politics within the story might have been a lot more subtle. That subtlety might have protected me from any accusations of impropriety. But I would argue that is actually a far more dangerous situation. As with advertising or any other form of manipulation, it’s when we are least suspecting of bias or ulterior motive that we are most susceptible. For the reasons mentioned above, I chose to share the book I really am writing. But I also went out of my way to try to make sure that the politics were as even-handed as I could make them and still explain the extreme setting of the story. Hence the explanation that both sides’ worst fear came true simultaneously. Frankly, if this book were ever to be published with my name on it, I might edit that portion to more accurately reflect my politics, but I felt that would be inappropriate for a classroom. It’s true that balance isn’t the same thing as a lack of bias, but I’d again ask you to believe me when I say I chose balance to try to present a believable dystopia without injecting the class with my own politics.

So, if I made any of you uncomfortable yesterday, I apologize for not giving you an out in advance. That was my oversight. And now for the announcement part (trumpets again, please): In our following unit we were going to begin a careful examination of some literature written by some writers who are far more talented than I could ever hope to be (well, I can hope, I guess. Teacher, remember). We’re now going to move that assignment up. This will not mean any extra work for anyone. It just shifts our schedule around a bit. The reason I’m doing this is that I plan on continuing to share from the novel I’m writing, as long as the majority of you are still interested in reading it. Those of you who are not comfortable reading my writing may choose to do the same assignment, providing detailed feedback chapter by chapter, to the works of established authors from the books I’ve chosen. If you want to escape all writers’ politics, I’m afraid you’re out of luck in a creative writing class. If you don’t feel comfortable hearing a story from your teacher because of his immediate presence in the room and necessarily conflicting roles as writer and teacher, I can only hope that I am modeling accepting that feedback by not demanding that you continue to read my work, and by modeling not being offended by that choice in the slightest.

One last note: The reason it is unethical for public school teachers to share their personal political views is not because we are paid with taxpayer money. If any of you attend a public university next year you will hear lectures from professors who are also paid with public funds and who do not shy away from sharing their personal views. The reason it is unethical for teacher like me to do that is because young minds are more malleable and more likely to be swayed by authority figures. So let me say something that I don’t believe is controversial at all: You cannot hide from politics any more than you can hide from questions of religion or identity or tastes in food or people’s opinions about next week’s weather. Your best and only defense is in greeting all opinions with a healthy dose of skepticism. Whether those opinions come from your teachers or your friends or your television, I encourage you to listen or read very carefully the opinions of anyone, alive or dead, authority figure or peer, and then decide for yourselves. I admit that the notion that you should think for yourselves is my personal political belief, but I refuse to accept that this belief is too controversial, because if it is, then I’m afraid all education is impossible.

Okay, now it’s 1:31 in the morning and I will be seeing you all painfully soon. Please accept my apology for the oversight and let me know privately if you would prefer the alternate assignment."

I hope this will put an end to the whole affair. Ultimately (and ironically), I expect that will be determined by workplace, local, family, and parental politics.

"Writers Create Worlds" Poster

Inspired by an excellent speech by author Chris Humphreys, which included a delivery of one of Theseus' monologues from A Midsummer Night's Dream, I thought I'd make a poster for my classroom. Teachers (and writers), let me know what you think and feel free to steal the image if you'd like it.


Anonymous Wins an Award!

Remember when I blogged about how one of my students got a poem published anonymously? (here) Well guess what! She entered the Kay Snow Writing Contest... and won! 1st Place! She said I could brag about her again. Who has two thumbs and is the proudest teacher on the internets tonight? This guy!

Learning to Read Like a Writer

[I've been given a opportunity to write a piece for amwriting.org, a blog for and by writers who follow the #amwriting hash-tag on Twitter. My piece will appear on the 30th. Since it's a bit of advice for writers, I should also take some other advice I give students: Whenever possible, get some fresh eyes on your work. So, here's the piece I plan to submit. Please let me know about anything I should fix, cut, or improve before this hits a site with a broader readership while bearing my name under the title. Even if it's just a little typo, let me know in the comments section below. This is the second draft, after some great help from a couple of writer friends. There's still time for more tweaks, though, so keep 'em coming!]

Here’s a secret writers need to learn in order to master their craft: Writers need to learn to read. They don’t need to consume all the books on the New York Times best sellers list just to see which kind of monster is producing the most sales. Writers need to learn to read differently from readers. Writers need to understand that reading is part of practicing.

Part of my job as a high school English teacher consists of teaching students to become better readers by teaching them to identify the purpose of their reading. Are they reading for pleasure? Are they seeking information? Are they analyzing an argument in order to be persuaded or to refute the author’s position? Good readers can do these things. And that’s enough.

But it’s not enough for writers. Writers are artists, and artists need to be able to examine the works of their peers and betters in a different way.

Consider, as an analogy, film. When one of my sixteen-year-old students goes to see the newest big Hollywood blockbuster at the Cineplex this summer, he is satisfied by the experience. As a viewer, he was looking for entertainment, and the movie delivered. Done and done. Now, the cinephile goes to the movie theater and watches the same film (not anything high-brow, but something competently-made) and is also entertained. But she thinks about the structure of the story, the characters, the setting, the themes: She is, in short, a reader of film as text, and because she can do all the things we try to teach good readers to do when they pick up a novel, she gets a lot more out of the movie. She does not, however, come out of the theater talking about the tracking and handy-cam shots, diegetic and non-diegetic sound, side lighting and back lighting, fast cuts and slow fades. These were the techniques that gave the movie its punch and made it satisfying, but they aren’t her business.

They are the business of the movie critic. The critic studied film back in college. She can not only tell you that The Conversation is her favorite Francis Ford Coppola movie, but she can explain why in great detail. She watches movies for a purpose, but it’s not to be entertained or to be informed or to be persuaded. At least, those aren’t enough. She watches movies because it’s her business, her livelihood, to evaluate them based on her vast knowledge of the way they are made, as well as what they make her think and how they make her feel.

And then there’s the film director. He watches movies differently than the casual viewer, the cinephile, and the critic. He watches to learn. For him, watching movies is part of his artistic education. It’s practice.

Writers need to do the same thing. When we pick up a novel, we can remember why we fell in love with books when we were young. We can enjoy being transported to new places, getting to know new people, and absorbing new ideas. We can even evaluate the works in the same way critics do. But we cannot afford to stop there. We need to read differently. For us, every choice of simple or complex vocabulary, every choice about following the basic rules or breaking them, every choice about revealing the minutia about a character or hiding it serves as a lesson which will make us better writers. This is because we recognize all these things for what they are: Choices. Choices made by writers. Writers just like us, only better. Admitting that last part is absolutely essential to becoming better writers ourselves. As long as we hold fast to the same choices we’ve always made, believing we are God’s gift to our readers, then not only is our writing a waste of time, but our reading is, too. Arrogant writers aren’t just obnoxious; they’re missing out on vital time to practice.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, talks about a group of psychologists who studied violin students in Germany. They divided the students up into three groups based on ability as determined by their teachers, then tried to figure out what made the great ones great, and the mediocre ones mediocre. What they found was that the great ones practiced more. Not just a little bit. A lot more. In fact, they found a magic number necessary to become a virtuoso: 10,000 hours of practice. At a good clip, that takes ten years. They also didn’t find too much deviation from that. None of the virtuosos got by with very little practice, and none of the mediocre violinists practiced for 10,000 hours and remained mediocre.

Then, the psychologist began looking into other fields, and they found that the same magic number held up in every endeavor they examined. 10,000 hours. Athletes. Computer programmers. Ballerinas. Composers. And yes, writers.

The quality of those hours matters as much as the quantity, and that’s why writers need to change the way they read; it’s the difference between 10,000 hours of entertainment versus 10,000 hours of practice. One of Gladwell’s examples of 10,000 hours is the early Beatles before the British Invasion, when they were just a struggling rock band trying to find gigs. They worked in strip clubs in Hamburg, Germany and would often play for eight hours straight to non-English speaking audiences and compete for attention with the strippers. Not only did this give them a chance to compose songs that are probably on your ipod right now, but they also had to learn dozens, probably hundreds of covers, and not just of rock and roll songs but of Jazz standards and other genres. What Gladwell doesn’t discuss is the influence of the music Lennon and McCartney were listening to, both before the Beatles formed and during this time. I would bet good money that these guys were not only reading the crowds to see what was working, but they were also listening carefully to the music on the radio and on the albums they bought, and listening in a different way than you or I. They were reading the music to become better musicians.

My preferred example (as a die-hard NBA fan), would be a basketball player. If a basketball player practices his shot for 10,000 hours, he will get to the point where he can sink his free-throws a very high percentage of the time, he’ll know where he can hit the highest percentage of three-pointers, and he’ll make some very tricky moves under the hoop on a drive. And he will lose. Why? Because he didn’t spend some of that time reading the scouting report about, and watching tape of, his prospective opponents. His 10,000 hours were spent becoming an oddity, a guy who could mop the floor with you at HORSE, and in its own way that is becoming a virtuoso. But he won’t be a great basketball player, because he didn’t learn to read his opponents.

Sure, the analogy is imperfect. Writing is at once less collaborative (despite great writing communities like #amwriting, we do our work in isolation), and less competitive (we don’t go head-to head with another author or team of authors. It’s not a zero sum game. More good books can generate more readers.) Maybe we’re less like players watching tapes of their opponents to learn to beat them and more like players watching the greats to learn from them.

So pick up a copy of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and learn from her choice to write the book not only in first person, but in the present tense. Crack open Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and learn from his choice to eschew dialogue tags and conventional punctuation, then follow up with All the Pretty Horses or No Country for Old Men to reassure yourself that it’s not a fluke that just happens to work brilliantly but a conscious and careful choice he’s not always bound by. Read Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and learn how a premise that seems doomed to be saccharine and trite becomes beautiful and powerful because of careful choices of characterization and intentional withholding.

Then go grab that guilty pleasure book on your nightstand. You know you have one. This is the huge hit by that debut novelist that fills you with rage when you read about the sales figures, and you grouse about it so publicly and with such vehemence that you can’t possibly admit how much you enjoyed the book yourself. Now, when you are flying through that weak prose, that thin characterization, or that awful adverb-filled dialogue attribution that makes you want to throw the book at the wall, stop and figure out why you don’t. Sure, it’s fine to identify the things you don’t like about the book. Note those choices so you will make different ones. But also acknowledge that there’s a reason that book is in your hands, and other copies are in a lot of other hands at the same time.

If you’re willing to do that, to learn from your betters (and yes, that hack on the New York Times best sellers list is your better, at least in some way), then reading becomes part of your practice time, part of the 10,000 hours you need to rack up in order to become a true master of the art. Writing is practicing your shot. Reading is watching tape. You must do both to be great.

My Greatest Professional Triumph is Anonymous

Perhaps it's a bit hyperbolic, but among an English teacher's dreams, the idea of having a student become a published author or poet ranks pretty high. Well, thanks to one of my creative writing students, I've now accomplished this dream.

Note the focus. She has an accomplishment. I talk about myself. This is intrinsic to the profession; her accomplishment is mine, even though I played a tiny role. A whole lot of other teachers taught this student to read and write, and clearly she has a great deal of innate talent, but when she becomes a published poet, I get to brag.

After hearing about her publication from a colleague (who deserves just as much or more credit, but this is about me here, right?) I asked the student if I could brag about her tonight. I hope she felt proud in that moment, because I'm certainly proud of her.

But she chose to have the poem published without her name! When you read the poem, you'll understand why. It's quite personal, and though it might not be her actual experience that she's expressing, it must hit close enough to home to make her hesitant to share her identity. Fine. I still get to claim my little piece of credit. I do wish she'd put her name on it though, because, separate from her emotional experience, it's a fine work of craftsmanship. When I link to it, you can see that she has skill which goes beyond the considerable power of the content.

My other reason for wanting her to get credit is that it messes with my own. Instead of being able to say, "I taught ---- --------, the one who had that powerful poem published a few years ago," I have to say, "I taught Anonymous."

On second thought, that's plenty poetic. So, thanks Anonymous. Thank you for the inspiration to me, as a teacher, and thanks for your courage in sharing your work, even if your name isn't attached. You'll be known (if only to the few readers of this poem, but they will remember you) by your work alone, and there's a special dignity to that which is rare in our world of people obsessed with taking credit. I'm glad you didn't learn that particular impulse from me. Your poem is wonderful.

So, without further ado, I give you Anonymous' "No Lollipop."








Now just try and tell me that didn't kick you in the gut. Yeah, she was one of my students.

Teaching to the Test

Since it's Christmas break, I've had the luxury of embroiling myself in a couple minor online skirmishes regarding the state of public education. One friend wrote, "And don't get me started on teaching to the test!" I've written before about my ambivalence regarding testing. Tests are not all bad. They are a useful mechanism for a teacher to learn where his/her students are at regarding specific content. They are less effective at measuring the teachers of a large group of students, or of a whole school, or of an education system in general; you can only test what you can clearly define, and since we haven't agreed upon a succinct and measurable definition of "successful teacher" or "successful school" or "successful education system," all a test tells us is that kids did well on the test. The more pressure we put on that circular definition, the more we'll push teachers to become "successful" by getting kids to do well on the tests that define "successful".
It would be like me assigning you an 8 out of 10.
"I've tested you, and you scored an 8 out of 10. Not bad," I'd announce.
"At what?" you'd say.
"At getting an 8 out of 10."
"Well, I guess that's better than a 7 but not as good as a 9."
"Yes. You should work really hard at being a 9 out of 10."
"Okay, but at what?" you'd ask.
"At being a 9 out of 10."
"This seems a bit arbitrary."
"Just wait until I make your paycheck dependent on being a 9 out of 10 or better."
"At what?" you'd scream. But you'd work hard to get ready for that test, regardless of your thoughts about its validity, wouldn't you?

Christmas Break has also allowed me to step away from my classroom and think a bit more deeply about some other things I teach. I think about these while I play with action figures with my six-year-old. We've also been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of movies, which make me think of other books and movies, as you'll see. I find myself hoping his teachers do not limit themselves to the material on the tests. But then, how would I know? If their ratings are published, as the ratings of the teachers in the L.A. Unified School District were this last year, I'd only know how his teachers rated based on test scores. I thought about what he might miss if I could shunt him off to the teachers with the best ratings in such a system. This poem is my first draft of a conclusion:

Teaching to the Test

I am supposed to teach to a test
But I keep losing my way
And teaching other things.
I suppose I am the reason that public education is failing so miserably.
What if my poor students face lives filled only
With choices ranging between a,b,c, and d
And I’ve filled their heads with lessons like these?

Don’t read books just to find the right answers.
And don’t watch movies to find out what the books say.
That’s like a seventh grader asking out a girl
By passing a note to her best friend.
Movies often get the books wrong,
But books sometimes get life wrong
So make both and see if you can do better.

Fall in love.
It will hurt sometimes.
Maybe so much you’ll curse the stars.
But do it anyway.
Chance meetings can be the starts of great romances.
Of course, they can be the beginnings of horror stories, too.
That guy might be perfect for you
Or he might be a hundred-year-old pedophile with skin as cold as ice and a burning desire to drink your blood
Or maybe just knock you up on the honeymoon when you’re just eighteen.
That’s why you need to learn to read people as carefully as you read books.

Don’t shoot Mockingbirds
Or destroy innocence for no good reason.
If you see a mob with torches and pitchforks, don’t join in; you’ll regret it later.
Sometimes witches have the answers you need
If you have some leverage.
And others are beautiful women who want to keep you on their islands and pamper you for a while.
You should let them.
When you see a piece of cake and a note that says, “Eat me,”
You should.
But don’t break in and steal food from bears.
It’s unwise.

Rich people aren’t all evil and greedy.
Poor people aren’t all stupid and lazy.
Women are not weak, and if there is an alien on your spaceship you’d better be one.
Snap decisions and stereotypes kept our caveman ancestors safe from saber tooth tigers
But now, that categorical thinking mostly makes people look ignorant or worse.
Skin color doesn’t really tell you much about a person
But culture and religion and family history are important.
If you ignore them or disrespect them, you might end up
Getting crushed by a Golem
Or accidentally marrying your own mother.

Also, not all step-parents are evil
And if you obsess about them, it can turn out very badly
Especially if you are a prince in Denmark.

If you are the extremely jealous type
Or have a weak ankle
Or are missing one scale of your impenetrable hide
Don’t be too arrogant, because someone will figure out a way to exploit your weaknesses.

One king sacrificed his daughter in exchange for a safe journey
And his wife killed him when he got home.
More often, people sacrifice their marriages while they are away.
It can have the same result, so be careful.

You cannot love your children too much
Even if it means protecting them when it seems the world is a pointless place
So hold them close in the darkness
And keep them safe, even if you can’t see where you’re going.
But you can love them the wrong way
So don’t make their girlfriends sleep on 13 mattresses
And certainly don’t send their boyfriends on quests to get the Golden Fleece
Or any other twelve crazy tests
Because that will end very badly for you.

Sometimes the world will seem simply absurd.
Learn to laugh about it.
That way, when the world is about to be destroyed
You’ll know how to hitch a ride on a passing spaceship
Or at least have grace to say, “So it goes.”

You will face battles that seem insurmountable.
Sometimes the opposing army will be so great in number that you believe there is no hope
Or the evil you confront will seem too powerful to contend with
But if you draw your sword
Or wand
Or fill your sling with small stones from the riverbank
You may just find that your friends are better than you thought
Or that you have a strength that you didn’t know you possessed
Or you are raised up on the wings of eagles
Or the Dark Lord of the Sith is really your father
And used to be played by a far less intimidating actor
And can be redeemed in the end.
People can be redeemed in the end.
But there are times when your world will be filled with every kind of misery
And it’s best to clap down the lid on false hope and hide it in the jar you’ve been given
Because, in the last battle between the gods and the Frost Giants
The gods may lose.

You can leave home
And reinvent yourself
And despite what some people say, you can come home again.
But be careful what you become while you’re away
Because you could become your enemy
Or a sad, broken man staring across a lake at a green light
Or the ruler of a powerful empire
Whispering the name of a childhood toy.
So think about the way you want your story to end,
Revise your life story. Revise, revise, revise,
Pay attention to the way that it’s told,
And care for the other characters you include.
Because, whether you go away or not
There is a sea that can only be crossed once
And an undiscovered country
That cannot be mapped by any test.