I try to think about who I am and what I know, but I don’t know what any of that means. It’s a thing off in the distance, someplace that I thought I might have been, even convinced myself of that, and have now lost.
I know what I want to be. No, that’s a lie too. Even if I said that I knew what I want, or that I thought that I knew that, I wouldn’t. The more I think that I know the who and what, the more I’m further from it because I think that. It’s a façade.
Confidence is the thing, believing in those lies is what makes you that you in you. The deeper you get, the further you are from the same. A gosh-darned paradox!
And so…something else. Drugs and whores! No confusion there. Or all confusion. Signs of it all gone awry. At least it’s not a façade. Or the façade of facades. Good copy anyway.
I lived in Paris for five months in 1987, the year Mad Cow Disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease) ravaged the UK and Europe. I returned to Canada in the summer of the same year and was told that I would not be allowed to donate blood because I was deemed a risk.
I returned to the blood donor clinic every year or so to be told the same thing again and again. My school frequently had blood donor clinics which I joined, to no avail, decade after decade, until I received an email a few weeks ago: Following updated guidance from the Food and Drug Administration, New York Blood Center announced revised eligibility regarding Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (also known as Mad Cow disease, CJD or vCJD).
And so, yes, it took the United States government 35 years to allow me to give blood again. Is there really anybody in charge of anything?
In the midst of the second draft of my teaching autobiography, Fuck Pedagogy, I am having to kill scenes that don’t support the theme of engaging students or knowing subject content. And so I axed this sordid tale from my student teaching days:
I became so relaxed in my teaching practicum that I went out late one school night to see a band, Snowpony at The Starfish Room in Vancouver. Not only did I stay to the end but was brazen enough to wander backstage after the show, sit down with the band and explain how they had to try to the oysters in Portland, the next stop on their tour, drunken advice I am sure they could have done without.
I woke early the next morning and looked out the window to see that my van was not there. Given that I was responsible for driving three other student teachers out to Maple Ridge for our practicums, this was a problem. I called everyone to say that my van had been stolen and that we would have to rent a car. I lay back down and only a moment later remembered that it hadn’t been stolen. I had left it at my friend’s house. In other words, I had done the right thing and forgotten that I had.
I picked everyone up and raced out to Maple Ridge, getting there just in time for my 8:30 class and announced the Free Write prompt (“I remember…”) before going down the hall for a long drink of water from the fountain. As bad as I felt, I had the revelation, as I returned to the class, that I could teach hungover.
There’s been chatter – both negative and positive – around Darren Aronofsky’s The Whale. While Brendan Fraser’s performance as the whale-sized man, Charlie, has been praised, the fat-shaming inherent in the story has been reviled. Neither claim is worth much discussion. The real issue with this film is how painfully the stakes for Charlie are established – heart pain while he watches porn – and maintained – more heart pain without the porn – until the climax where he pigs out like a crazy man.
The film would actually have been improved with more of the gross eating scenes. It would at least have been a relief from the clunky story of Charlie reconnecting with his angry teenaged daughter. The only thing worth noting about this film’s narrative is an essay the daughter wrote about Moby Dick proclaiming that the excessive descriptions of the whale are only there to distract the reader from the author’s sad life. And so, yes, gross-eating = whale. And that’s about it.
As I write Fuck Pedagogy, I’ve had to go through my reports from middle and high school, which has had an odd effect on remembering who I was in their eyes.
In Grade 4, I was placed in “the superior range of ability.” In Grade 5, words such as “very good”, “first class” & “hard-working” were prevalent.
In Grades 6 & 7, words such as “disappointing”, “weak” & “carelessness” became the thing. I was sent to a boarding school for Grades 8 & 9, where the language improved again: “very good”, “excellent” & “extremely capable.”
That said, I hated boarding school and returned to Upper Canada, the initial place of my malaise and, while I didn’t start off terribly – “tried hard”, “applied himself” & “prepared & organized” – I quickly spiraled in my last three years to “allowing himself to drift”, “displayed no interest” & “a year of bumps”.
My overall final grade was barely 60% due to the fact that I was forced to take a class – Physics – which wasn’t required for graduation. I rarely attended the classes – opting to skate on the school rink instead – and ended up with a final of 26%.
There was a lot of talk about my attitude for this, but more than anything, it just made me realize how stupid adults really were..
They couldn’t pay their rent and now make $400 a day? What? Just by playing games on their phone? Who are these people supposed to be? Failed Only Fan models?
And what is with the disinterested look? The vague shrug? Pointing up at silly text? Does this actually sell? How am I supposed to relate to a someone pointing up and shrugging and clearly doing nothing with their lives?
My autobiographical writing on teaching practices, Fuck Pedagogy, has been a challenge to because a clear through-line is needed for the reader to follow along. The point of the book is to emphasize teaching with knowledge of content and engagement with students. The following bits didn’t make the cut: I fell from the jungle gym and my Kindergarten teacher split her head open on the same bars when she came running to help me. She was young and beautiful and they took her away in an ambulance. She never came back. An old bitter woman took her place.
I found a stack of old Playboy magazines down the block from school and was crazily delighted by that. I couldn’t look inside, fearful of the nude women I might find, and instead shoved them all into a post box, thinking the postman would like that. Principal Fair told me what I had done was a crime and made me promise to never do it again.
I skipped Grade Three. I didn’t understand why, but they told me to get my things and move to the next room. And there I was, suddenly in Grade Four, taking a spelling quiz along with all of the other Grade Four students. It all seemed fine until I couldn’t spell the word “sheep”. I think I put an ‘a’ in there somewhere. Anyway, that was the end of that. I was solemnly walked back down the hall and returned to Grade Three. It’s an experience that has confused me to this day.
I’m in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. I’m sitting at my table, David McCullough’s Wright Brothers biography at my side, and looking out at the clearing skies. It’s beginning to get warmer.
I’m writing now. That’s what I’m doing because I’m a writer. I write. Not that I’ve been feeling clear on that for some time. I know that I’m a writer. I know that is who I am. I know that is how I feel most myself, doing that, writing. As Wilbur Wright said about flying: When you know that the whole mechanism is working perfectly, the sensation is so keenly delightful as to be almost beyond description. More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace, mingled with the excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination. That is the sensation of writing for me.
And yet, given my failure to have anything published in 38 years, I often don’t feel a writer and know that few others consider me as that. I’m a writer. I’m nothing. I’m a writer. I’m a failure. I’m a writer. I’m a loser. I’m a fucking writer. If you say so. This isn’t a series of thoughts, one after the other, but a garble of it all at once, puking through my head. And the idea of failure dominates.
That said, I’m glad to write about that. And I’m happy to be here on the Outer Banks with my view over the dunes of the greening sea and brightening skies, a triangle of pelicans flashing overhead. That’s something to write about. Which is what I did.
My betting app cares about me. I know this because they tell me to be sure to ask for help every time I bet. Do I have a problem? Text: Y-O-U-L-O-S-E-R. If that’s too complicated, call the suicide prevention line. But remember to double down.
Gambling is like being in the Death Zone. You can only stay there for so long, but what a fucking high! I almost nailed it! I only missed one game of my twelve-part parlay. Only one! If I only knew that Farleigh Dickinson was going to upset Purdue. I mean, come on. So crazy. But my betting app always remembers to talk me down with sensible points and a pretty lady to keep me focused. She’s right. They’re right.
I’ve got to stop doing this. I realize now that I’m just ruining my life. I’m not eating properly. I’m not paying my bills. I’ve lost all sense of hygiene. It’s time to stop. But wait! They sent me a notification! A power boost of 50% off my next bet! Okay, just this last one. And that’s it. Well, maybe a quick side bet as insurance. And then I’m done.
I vividly recall watching the The Swiss Family Robinson, the Walt Disney film of a shipwrecked family living in harmony with the land. Why not then read Jonathan Wyss’ original 1814 story to reconnect to that innocence?
The systematic slaughter of every living thing doesn’t come as a huge surprise in the beginning. We heard the boys popping away at the birds as we drew near. (107) Ernest ran into the water with his hatchet and killed the fish. (112) After all, this is a story of survival.
But the narrative goes well beyond that: Franz shot a beautiful blue jay and a couple of parakeets. (162) I could not consent to keep more than two puppies, and the rest disappeared in that mysterious way in which puppies and kittens are wont to leave this earth. (198) I sprang upon the onager’s back, and seizing her long ear in my teeth, bit it through. The result was marvelous, the animal quivered violently and stood stock still. (205)
The family evolves into a sort of serial killer gang: We were obliged to do our part with clubs and sticks. At least forty apes lay mangled and dead. (260) Franz was overjoyed to find that he had shot the capybara, a creature that was new to everyone. (308) They kill ostriches, bears (referred to as “bad rubbish”), whales and walrus. The head of the walrus, the head! We must have the whole head’ cried Jack. (375)
The Disney Corporation has always been the master of gutting original stories. (Remember that Pinocchio kills the cricket at the beginning of Carlos Collodi’s tale and is then haunted by its ghost.) It’s just that here, Disney might have done me a favor, banishing Wyss’ repetitious violence for pirates and ostrich races. And so…this one time: Thanks, Walt.