Category Archives: Education

Small Confessions

Mr. X used the school’s PA system to call me from homeroom to the music room. I knew what it was about, but remained remarkably calm as I made my way down the hallways of our sad little school, the smell of damp and mothballs catching in the back of my throat.

[Confession: I had signed out one of the trumpets from the school’s collection over the weekend, and through a series of (then) hellish but ultimately (as in now) comedic events, managed to damage the instrument very badly.]

The music room was not, as I had expected, empty. There was a class in full swing and everyone went silent as I entered the room and found Mr. X standing in front of them, right next to the ruined horn. He’d propped it up in its case on a stool and opened the lid: a mangled metal mummy put on display for all to see.

[Confession: I was fully ready to cop to the damage I’d done. Had mentally prepared for it in the hallway. But something about Mr. X having the class ready in wait, as witness – something about the theatrics of the whole music room set up turned me around on that.]

“One thing you should know about me: I don’t get angry. I get even.” That was what he told every class at the beginning of the year. It was delivered as a joke, but not to be taken as such. Not entirely. Standing there, called out in front of the class (mostly kids I didn’t know, but I few I most definitely did), standing in front of the messed-up trumpet, in front of him, I now knew that for sure. It was hardly a joke.

[Confession: At first, I thought it was an extremely funny thing to say: “I don’t get angry. I get even.” That particular brand of sardonic humour was, like, so in back in the day.]

“Do you know what happened to this trumpet?” he asked, loudly, and without preamble. And of course I did because, not only had I done it (or rather, allowed it to happen), but my name was on the sign-out sheet for exactly one trumpet (though, to my great benefit, it had taken a day or two for that particular trumpet to make it back into class circulation).

The students whispered (“she did it!”). Some laughed.

“No,” I answered. “I don’t know.”

“Because it looks like someone’s beat the hell out of this thing.”

“Wasn’t me.”

The teaching assistant (some young guy whose name must have been something like “Allan”) held up the sign-out binder. “It says you signed out a trumpet.”

“I did.” No lie there.

I remember the silence that engulfed the room as Mr. X, Allan and I stood there (a trumpet is not the trumpet, is not that trumpet, is it?). As the class quieted and settled in to watch.

I learned a lot about silence that day.

[Confession: My bowels had turned to ice. I was so sure they had me and would have probably admitted everything had Mr. X not chosen to speak in the very next moment.]

“OK. You say no. You say you don’t know. Go back to class.” It was clearly an admonishment, a small victory via public humiliation. But I think: his as well as mine.

He remains the only non-white teacher I ever had growing up (this includes elementary, middle and high school). So it also felt like a betrayal.

[Confession: I stopped taking music after that semester, although I signed out the exact same trumpet, (after they’d fixed it), at least twice more before the end of term using, of course, the new sign-out sheet in which date, name, instrument and INSTRUMENT NUMBER were prominently listed.]

Mr. X never mentioned the trumpet to me again. I never paid for the damages or was (officially) labelled the culprit. The other students quickly tired of the intrigue and scandal (such as it was in our pathetic little ‘burg) and moved on to the next thing, whatever that was.

A few years later, when I learned he died, and that he’d been killed in a skiing accident, I remember thinking: No way.

[Confession: But what I said was, “Just like Sonny Bono.”]

Yes. Just like Sonny Bono. I confess, I said that. I confess, I could have done better. I confess, that if in this whole story there is any fault to find or blame to assign, it’s not to be found anywhere I can imagine.

 

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P.S. Fuck you, Allan.

 

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Filed under Death, Education, People, Race, School, THE PAST

Book B-I-N-G-O (Part 2)

(con’t from Monday’s post)

The BOOK BINGO sheets were prominently tacked on the wall near the stairway leading up to the managers’ offices, a veritable dead zone for employees like me. Dallas, my manager, caught me a week or two into The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of Twenty-Fifteen, standing in her way, staring at the sheets, paralyzed by indecision.

The sheets glared back, white and hot and waiting.

“You know,” Dallas said. “You’re allowed to read whatever you want.”

“This isn’t a test. Just pick a favourite,” came her voice, tinny and smelling faintly of copper.

“I’d like to know your favourite,” said Dallas, and smiled.  

***

(Dallas’s teeth were sharp and yellowed. Rumour had it she had a fake tooth, but no one knew which tooth was the fake tooth. It was anyone’s guess.

I sometimes imagined her taking her new tooth, fresh from the dentist’s office – a brilliant enameled chip, or maybe a hard, alabaster nugget if it was a molar and meant to crush and grind – and staining the tooth with tea bags and coffee grounds on her kitchen table, late into the night, and doing so until she was absolutely certain no one, not one living soul, could tell just which tooth was the fake tooth as she smiled at them from behind dead eyes.)

***

Rumours are many-edged, double-faced things that can cut and bite you if you approach them the wrong way. They proliferate like vermin; spread like wildfire.

Which also means that rumours can be useful – travelling fast and burning away at things until their cores are naked, exposed.

Eventually, it hit me again: the categories didn’t matter.

It was the books.

The books were the key.

***

“Why the Hell would you read Fifty Shades of Grey as your BOOK IN A SERIES? That book is pure, unadulterated smut. And it’s not even good smut.”

“You sure, Dallas?”

“Trust me.”

I read, I adapted. I read some more.

The Secret is your IMPORTANT BOOK? Dallas and I love that book,” boasted Houston, another manager and Dallas’ husband (the place was pretty incestuous, but only insofar as most office environments are incestuous, which is to say not very much, by comparison). “You know,” he continued, lowering his voice, “It’s, like, an open secret.” He winked. It was foul.

I read.

It became a source of power, and a refuge.

The Art of War isn’t an EPIC POEM!”

“It is, Phoenix, if you read it fast enough. The Chinese starts to rhyme.”

“Are you joking?”

It saved me from myself.

***

Did I read all the books I marked off on my BOOK BINGO sheet?

Yes.

Did they fulfill their categories?

Yes.

Were they good books?

Honestly: any book that sets you free is a good book. Any book that does precisely that is worth its weight in fucking gold.

Yeah. I won BOOK BINGO that year. That year, I got bragging rights and learned so much compared to what I eventually gave away. And then I found work in a better, more supportive environment.

There is no doubt about it. It was because of the books.

***

I wonder: did the others who partook in The Great BOOK BINGO Challenge of 2015 do the same as me? Had they recognized the power lingering on the other side of books?

If they had, I didn’t notice, which of course would have been the whole point.

 

THE END

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Education, Employment, Interruptions, Jobs, People, Relationships, Ritual

Found Art

 
Be it accident or intention, student papers are funny sometimes, and I’m assigning credit here, not fault.

It’s a grind, the Student Life.

How to survive? Yet another paper? Yet another deadline? Lofty and lowly expectations fused, asunder! Totally forgotten.

What else to do? You stick to the facts:
 

[Margaret] Mead was a woman who wore capes, was flamboyant, and although maimed at one point, had a lesbian affair with Ruth Benedict (2nd year Anthropology paper circa 2007 ).[1]

Commemoration, for posterity.

When you’re this big, they stamp you.

 
A+
 


[1] Although I cite this, there is everything in me that keeps on wishing it were I who had the power to write it. Awkwardly tensed, confused sentences aside. Astride…?

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That Monkey On Your Back

 
They came at us from the front of the room and as they picked each person off one by one, good intentions flaring like the quivering proboscis of an enraged primate, I grappled for a response I could maybe live with for the rest of my life.

An education seminar that begins with six suspiciously keen and terrifically alert presenters, all of them eager to feed upon the attentions of a captive and as yet hapless audience, is a deadly, deadly Thing indeed.  8:15AM sharp.  Bright shiny eyes, grinning from ear to ear. Gorgy faces gazing back at them, totally unawares.

The subject was reading – literacy – how do we as The Concerned get The Youth to enjoy reading as everyone everywhere, naturally, should.  Or something.

Suddenly:

“Without thinking about it, tell us what your favourite book is!”

TEAM BEEFCAKE.

See how they sparkle in the sunlight?

A trick!

A question the answer to which serves to define the questioned for the questioner according to level of intellectual and/or emotional and/or aesthetic maturity – or possibly even to showcase the supposedly advanced capacities of the asker – and infused with an unquestioned imperativeness (WITHOUT THINKING…TELL US) that mires it, all of it, in all kinds of smug, self-satisfied celebration.

A mess.

I am not good at giving people advice.  Any “advice” I do give can easily be broken down to its essential elements: a heady blend of avoidance and denial, topped with a generous dollop of after-the-fact rationalization.  Bait and switch. Cut and run.  That kind of Thing.

But I want to help here. I feel compelled to ease the blunt force trauma of the trick that is the question that is a mess.

I really do.

And if only to get that wild, demented monkey to stop clawing deep into the raw flesh of your back and off of you already!  To stop it from biting up and down your neck as it clings there, frothing at the mouth.

They haunt me still.

It’s in the eyes where they get you, really.

 
The Alchemist

Sensibilities aside, invoking the title of this book at least puts you on par with the nine other people in the room who already sighed it out as their answer.  It is the classic hide-as-a-face-in-the-crowd tactic.  Much like that time in church when you didn’t feel like singing the hymns so you just mouthed “tomato, tomato, watermelon, tomato” until it was, finally, over.  Or come to think of it your entire career in middle school choir, which you saw through just so you could satisfy the extracurricular requirements established by the board of education – the ones that evidently demonstrate your well roundedness and civic mindedness, thereby setting you on the right path towards a bright and prosperous future as a valued member of society.  And everybody.

Loves!

The.

Alchemist.

 
War & Peace

Go ahead and fire off this salvo at them – a real fatty – and do it with everything you have in you, and especially if you’ve never read War & Peace. They will not call your bluff. They will move on after a moment of dubious yet acquiescent pause. The risk here is just too great. The stakes too high for anyone to do otherwise.

 
Black Beauty

“But not the one with the horse.”

 
Catcher in the Rye

A lot of people find this book admirable not just as reading material but as evidence, unequivocal, of a mind able to slice through the phoniness of society just like everybody else who has read this same exact book in high school for 11th grade English because every single copy of Life of Pi had been checked out and there was, like, no way you were going to take the bus across town on a Friday afternoon to the main library just to get it.  So you might as well let them have it. Go with it.

 
How to Train Your Cuttlefish

GRIPPING… an extraordinary achievement that completely redefines everything we thought we knew and then some. [How to Train Your Cuttlefish] is both deeply rich and luxuriously illuminating…[an] utter tour de force! With cuttlefish.”

 
 I, Platypus

No lies.  You’ll probably get called out right away for this one, but that actually makes it worth the effort. And if you don’t? Still totally worth it. You cannot lose.

 
The Phantasmagorical Journey Through the Outworlds of Nibs and Doon: Oridon’s Lament (First Edition, Vol. 2)

Extra points (10, 000+) if you can: 1) say this with a straight face and 2) preempt any follow-up questions as to the actual existence of this book (“Really? I’ve never heard of it”) with a dramatic, over the top eye-roll. Then flip the table and leave the room without another word. Have a sandwich and congratulations!

 
The Bakers’ Dozen

I dunno.  But sounds good, doesn’t it?  Legitimate, even. If pressed, try: “It’s a mixed-genre mystery thriller/cookbook. It is very psychological.”  That should do it.

Indigenous in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

These lovelies are known as Persians. Their pinkness is literally and figuratively the icing on the cake.

 
Shakespeare’s 10 Things I Hate About You

Yes. GO THERE.

 
Infinite Jest

“By David Foster Wallace? Have you heard of him?”

No?  OK. Then, yeah.  With raised brow and laudable guffaw I repeat: Infinite Jest.”

Yes? OK. Never mind. My favourite book is, uh, The Alchemist. It changed my life or something.”

 
Like I said.  Cut and run.
 

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IQ-Tip

Have you ever felt different?  Not different simply as an individual, but as an entire class of person?

We had a “gifted” class back in middle school.  For homeroom, each class was assigned a number and a letter: 7A, 7B, 7C, 8A, 8B, 8C, etc.  But the gifted class was different.  They were “the kids with the sofa in the classroom”.

Luxurious, plush, brunt sienna brown.

A very nice sofa, nestled in a cozy corner of their spacious classroom. They had study centers with tables.  Dioramas and posters of Winston Churchill.  I believe they had wallpaper.  It had patterns;  flowers, math equations.  They had computers that they used in the classroom, which saved them a trip to the room we all used, the one down the hall.  The common room.

It was OK, though.

We probably weren’t going where they were going and, likely, to where they already had been.  All things being equal.

We knew it.

It helped that they were nice.  You know, gracious.

They let us sit on the couch sometimes!

One day one of the best of the brightest – no lie, she was a kind of god among gods among mortals – she was all this and more, and yet she failed to show up to her final exam.  No one knew where she was.

It was a mystery that lasted hours.

Later it was found that, on the day of the exam, the student’s mom had found her passed out on the bathroom floor.

She had put the Q-Tip in too deep.

The "Q" stands for...?

Buyer. Beware.

I like to imagine her, standing there in the harsh relief of the setting sun.  Standing just outside the bathroom door, agreeing with her mother that telling the school the truth would be the easiest Thing.[1]  Standing there and solemnly nodding her head, knowing that word would get out, eventually, inevitably.

Deep. Not that relative.

The instance you feel resistance, you’ve gone too far.

 
Human, after all.
 


[1] She was allowed to make up the exam.

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Filed under Education, THE PAST

“Miss Phan! Can YOU tell us what the answer is?”

Shit.

"Ah, the joys of mortgaging your future."

"Um, I dunno. YOUR FACE?"

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Conversations Between People Who Know Otherwise

Basically, They All Sound Like THIS:

“The brillance of the Thing lies in how we talk about it.”

“But you can’t deny that this is because of what we see in it.”

“Well, of course, seeing it is as important, if not MORESO, as talking about it…”

“Which, indeed, has everything to do with how it makes us feel…”

“…feelings are very important…”

“…feelings are human…”

“I feel good…”

“I don’t.”

“You don’t?”

“No.  I think that’s important.”

“It is!  And it isn’t.”

“Well, it can and it can not be.”

“Cannot?”

“Can.  Not.”

“Oh…”

“Yes…”

“Mmmm…”

Ahhhh…”

Hmmm…”

“Then, on that point, I agree!”

“And YET…”

“Of COURSE…”

“Plainly!”

“Well, THAT in itself and whatnot moreover depends on certain Things.”

“…which, of course, is the brilliance of the Thing…”

"Hey, man. Is that your MOM in there??"

Always stay firmly within The Box.

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