I’m No Candle, or There’s No Honor in Martyrdom
I believe Harlan Ellison said something like the starving artist is a myth perpetuated by those who don’t wish to pay the artist. I believe he said something to the effect of, “There’s no nobility in starving for one’s art.” He was talking about writing, of course. But it came to me a lot a couple of weeks ago as a quote that was been being posted and read at my school for Teacher’s Appreciation Week compared teachers to candles, who “light the way while being consumed.”
I loathe this idea. I love teaching, but it’s a job. I don’t want to be consumed by it. A candle gives light until there’s no more left. This is not honorable, it’s only the way of things. If I light the way, it’s with a flashlight, which needs taking care of and a recharge. Of course, teaching technology and media, my flashlight is on my phone. I will do whatever I can to help my students find the river and drink, within reason. That, I hope, is honorable. When it comes to my personal health—mental or physical—or it comes to time with my family, or it comes to my other calling, writing, I draw the line.
All the other ”appreciation?” Keep it. Want to show appreciation? Time or money, that’s how. For all teachers everywhere.
The myth that “teachers are candles,” or any myth that teachers should give so much more of themselves than nearly any other career–without the corresponding pay of, say, a doctor–is perpetuated by people who do not actually respect teachers, but choose to believe that they should give more of themselves than they should. And this includes administrators.
Administrators love to point out how they have to be on-call all the time, and do this conference or that conference, etc. Considering they’re paid far, far more than those in the classroom (and so many of them have not been in a classroom, of have only taught a little while), that’s their choice. Teachers should not be expected to do what the administrators are willing to do without the same benefits and pay.
And this is not school specific, but all schools, all districts.
Just a thought.
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A Quick Update, or I’m Not Really Here
Here I am, peeking in just to say hi. Sadly, I broke the chain the other day, Thursday, September 4th. I was just too goddamn tired and depressed to really motivate myself to do the editing I needed to do. So between June 24th and September 3rd, I wrote every day, mostly on the novel. That makes a 72-day stretch. I’m very happy. I worked last night (Friday) and tonight so a new chain is forming.
If you’re following my From Gotham to Gautham Batman film essays, rest assured that they’ll come. I already have the next four essays written, and have gathered the pictures for the next installment, Batman Returns (1992), I just have to format them, place them, and revise the essay. I also have to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
So keep watching this space. I’m running as fast as I can.
The End is Nigh, or Summer Vacation is Almost Over. Damn! That Went Fast.
It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.
If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.
Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.
I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.
I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.
I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”
And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.
About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:
I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.
So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….
You get the idea.
I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.
* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.
Who Am I?, or Harlan Ellison is 80 Tomorrow & I’m Just Coming to Age at 36
Something happened recently that made me question myself. I won’t go into specifics but it made me really question myself. I came out stronger, I think. And a better person, I think. It may have even been one of the last real steps to me becoming–gasp!–an adult.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sell my action figures or relinquish my love of comics books, superheroes, space fantasy, Muppets, or Mister Rogers anytime soon. But for the first time I feel…well…like a man.
Let me explain, if I can….
As a teacher, I began telling my students to grow up to be the kind of person they want to be. If they see themselves as a good person, then work their asses off to become a good person. Everything else will fall into place. Now, as I reread that, it looks a little hippie-dippy to me. The best way I can explain it is this….
When I was a kid, I hated to be asked the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated that question because I didn’t know. I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, fucking 10 years old! How the hell would I know?! (An aside: This is one question I will not ask children until they are teenagers. I’m more interested in what they want to be now. Childhood is such a short period of time, why sully it with a glimpse into the grown-up darkness that awaits?). So I’d give them some bullshit answer that would shut up the grown-up and get them off my back.
“A baseball player,” I’d say, though I never played Little League, didn’t watch any sports on TV, and generally despised competitive athletics (I still do).
“A police officer.”
“A weather man.”
In other words, I’d give the standard answers that adults expect. The only one that really came close to what, in my heart of hearts, I’d hoped to do was be an actor. I’ll explain why I think I never pursued it another time, perhaps.
But around the time I was 9 or 10, I began to get a glimmer of what I might want to do as an adult. Not a job or career, but a general way of being. I knew that I either wanted to help people or entertain them. Those were the two things that I decided I wanted to try to do.
Now, my choices were limiting, because even as a 10-year-old, I knew I couldn’t work in medicine. I’m too squeamish. And I knew I’d make a horrible police officer (although I think I’d make an excellent detective, but I could be full of shit). So that left…what?
For awhile, I thought I would be a comic book writer and artist, until I decided to focus solely on writing when I was 13.
Fast forward 23 years. I’ve had many bouts of wondering what was happening in my life in the last few years. Turning 36 last August was hard. In age, I was an adult. I could no longer blame my stupid actions on being young and naive. Maybe naive, but certainly not young. And I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had a job—a career—that I really liked, that I’m really good at, but…it wasn’t the career I wanted. But…I liked it. Loved it, even. Not the paperwork, and certainly not the politics, but the interaction with students. The knowledge that I’ve made a difference in lives. I mean, I have students who have given my cards and notes and vlogs telling me how much my classes, how much my work, has meant to them!
And yet…I was so sad. Because I wasn’t writing full-time. Or working on movies. Or comic books. Because I wanted, in my mind, more.
So one day I was talking to some students after school. This was about a year ago. The two were best friends and one was leaving to go to another school. And I told him that I would be there if he needed me. And then I said:
“One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, has said that his definition of success is ‘achieving in adult terms that which you longed for as a child.’ I’d add to that that if your childhood self met your adulthood self, would he be happy? Would he say, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind becoming him.’
“When I was a kid,” I continued, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to either entertain people or help them.”
And before I could go on to whatever I was about to say, one of the young men said, “And you do both every day right here.”
“Yeah,” said the other. “You’re a success, Mr. Gauthier!”
We laughed and talked a few minutes more before parting ways for the day, but it stuck with me.
This year, I began telling students not to worry about future careers. To have an idea and work toward it, but to decide what kind of person they wanted to be, and the career would present itself.
So I went through a little bit of a fire this year. It made me question myself, and the way I got out was by realizing who I wanted to be. I’ve known since I was a boy. Now it was time to actually be that man.
I’ve always wanted to help and entertain. I’m a teacher and a writer. In my classroom, I help and entertain. If I can make a student laugh, or cry, if I can make a student feel, then I can make them care enough to learn what I need them to learn. In my stories, I can help people escape their lives for a little while, make them laugh, cry, or frighten them. I may try stand-up comedy at some point. I may try acting. I know I’ll write a comic book. I may even try screenwriting. And while I’m still hungry to make the creative part of my life my sole profession, for the first time I’m truly happy with the part of my life that pays the bills.
As a result, I’m a better teacher. I’m a better writer. I’m a better father. I’m a better husband.
I’m a better man.
Harlan Ellison, one of my heroes, turns 80 tomorrow, 27 May 2014. I will leave my usual birthday greeting on his website, and go back to lurking. But I now lurk as the man I know I want to be, not the guy who’s unsure of himself.
It feels pretty great.
Friday Night Lights…Out
Friday. Friday. Friday. F.R.I.D.A.Y. Friday.
This has been a long, emotional week. My 15-year-old was here most of the week because her mother was on vacation and that was great. She was mostly on her computer, which is normal for teens, yes? But she also played with the baby and played along with us. It was great. Yesterday, she went back to her Mom’s until next weekend. My heart broke as she walked across the street to the house, her bags in her hands. I get to see her every day now, but it’s still difficult leaving her.
This week also saw my return to work-school for the 2013-2014 year. I was happy to see my students from previous years, and some co-workers. The week leading up to the new school year is always stressful for me, but this year was particularly bad. I’m in a new classroom and not everything is ready. And because I deal with a different set of freshmen every four-and-a-half days until January, and four days have already gone by, and I’m still not unpacked in my new room, and I have no time to do that or much of anything…stress. Oh, and I have more students than I ever had before. That’s fun, too. I won’t get into that. The older students are great, but I even messed up with them this week.
Oh, and I miss the baby during the day. I’ve jokingly called her the hostage-taker all summer, but this week I missed her bad.
I’m tired. Tired. T.I.R.E.D.
But there’s some good.
After a very enthusiastic recommendation by the teenager, and seeing how many people loved it, and finding the Vlogbrothers YouTube videos, I finally decided to read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. Ho-ho-holy shit, it’s good! I’m about 80 pages from the end and am dreading it, but can’t stop. Green is a major talent and he’s made a fan of me. Which is weird because we’re the same age. I mean, the same exact age. I mean, we were born on the same day.
Which means our birthday was last Saturday. We turned 36. Yay, us. My birthday was laid back, nice.
Another great thing: The Harlan Ellison Channel on YouTube. I’ve written about discovering Ellison on Sci-Fi Buzz and now, thanks to his friend, Academy Award-nominee Josh Olson, the commentaries he did, as well as some new videos, are available online. Or are becoming available. Goddamn, I’m happy. The fact that it went up in time for my birthday was a great present. It has helped get me through this week.
So that’s that. I should go to bed. Later.
Yesterday, Today, & Tomorrow
A memory came back to me last week. Let me share.
Growing up, I was my generation’s Dennis the Menace. Bart Simpson was a kindred spirit. I was the proverbial little shit. I was (too) smart (for my own good), I didn’t do what I was told, I was imaginative, and I had a temper. That said, it’s amazing how much I got bullied. But this isn’t about the bullies. At least, not straight up. This is about friends. Or one friend in particular. And his family.
There were several kids around my age in the neighborhood I grew up in, but it was rare that we all got together. There was Kurt (three-four years older than me), Scott (one year older), Eric (one year younger), Jimmy (one year younger), Chrissy (three-four years older), and several children who would be closer in age to my younger sister. Scott and Eric were brothers. Jimmy and Chrissy were siblings, too. I met Jimmy and Chrissy when I was about 6 and they were friends until they moved away when I was 12 or so. However, they weren’t around much. Eventually, Eric and I became best friends. Even though we’d known each other for nearly our entire lives, we really didn’t start being close until I was around 8. Eric and Scott’s mother was very by-the-book. She once told my mother that my overactive imagination was a bad thing that would probably get me in trouble one day. Anyway, once we were both able to go outside by ourselves, Eric and I became best friends.
I think Eric liked me because I always had something to do. We could play with action figures or, better yet, we could role play. That’s what I did a lot outside. I’d be Batman. Or Luke Skywalker. Or Axel Foley. Or Freddy Krueger. Or Marty McFly. Or—most likely—a character I’d made up. And when I played—just as I did with my action figures—I didn’t just play an endless stream of make-believe until I petered out, oh no, I played movies. I gave them titles, and ratings, and had a beginning, middle, and ending. I was also like Bart the Menace—I did what I wanted. I defied my parents. When there were no grown-ups around I swore. I did what I wanted. And we had a good time. When I was 8 and 9 years old, Eric and I had a blast.
Except…Eric would sometimes take those bad habits home, I guess. Or at least, that’s what was always implied. Eric, who was the second child, Eric, who was the lesser child, was trouble, so said his mom. He wasn’t, really—he was just a typical little boy, into mischief, curious. Unlike his older brother (who would also be a close friend for a period of time in the years that followed), Eric wasn’t perfect (so sayeth his mom). So, Eric would get punished.
Eric, unlike me, couldn’t get out of punishments. Eric was rational and could be reasoned with. He became a scientist as an adult. It was there all along. So when Mom and Dad said he was punished, he was punished. And his mother’s favorite punishment for Eric? You can’t play outside with Billy.
He could go outside. He could play outside with his brother and Kurt (who became the closest friend of all of them, and for the longest period of time)—fuck, he could play outside with whole goddamn neighborhood, except if I came around. He couldn’t play with me.
At that time, I wasn’t friends with anyone else in the neighborhood. Or if I was, they weren’t around. So for Eric’s punishment, I would sit in the window and watch him laugh and play with Scott, and Kurt, and the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Fellowship of the Ring, and Cirque du Soleil, and…. That was some punishment he had. I wonder if he learned his lesson.
My mother was appalled and called his mother, who was (and still is) her friend, and asked how could this be punishment for Eric? Billy’s sitting in the window watching his best friend playing with everyone on the planet but isn’t allowed to play with him.
And Eric’s mother responded, “I read that to punish a child you should take away his favorite thing, so since his favorite thing to do is play with Billy, I took that away.”
As a kid I didn’t think that was fair. At 35, I still don’t see how that’s something a sane person would do. If we lived across town, okay. But to make it so Eric and I couldn’t hang out but Eric could still run around with everyone else—who at the time did not like me—is punishing the person she outright saw as the cause for her son’s insubordination.
The memory came to me out of nowhere last week. And it saddened me. And angered me. And made me shake my head. No wonder I am the way I am.
The senior girl has been coming to me during the day with her college essay and I’ve been helping her edit it. She’s really bright and she has the idealistic dreams a high school senior should have. Today she brought me the fourth draft. We went over it. I sent her away with instructions for draft five. She thanked me profusely.
Students stayed after school with me yesterday to talk about this year’s school magazine. Their ideas and ambition energized me.
A group of freshmen who will only be in my class for four-and-a-half days crowded my desk and bombarded me with questions and listened to me.
I have three books published by small presses under my belt. Work of mine has appeared alongside work by bestselling writers. I’ve been contacted by other genre legends and writers I admire.
My 14-year-old is one of the most intelligent kids I’ve met. She amazes me constantly. Born to young parents with little money, the odds were against her. She’s not only surpassing those odds, but have blown the motherfuckers away.
My wife is amazing. We laugh all the time. In bed before sleep falls. In the morning. We have so many in-jokes it’s hard to keep track of them all. I’m extremely lucky.
Another daughter is due a month and a half from now.
I have more work to do and many, many stories to tell.
I have lives to help shape who have not come into mine yet.
I will continue to do things…my way.
Pawn Stars, Facts, & the Death of True Reality
I’m not a big reality TV kinda guy. Yes, I’ve had my guilty pleasures, but generally I’m not that interested. I spent some time with The Deadliest Catch but felt the season that Captain Phil died was a perfect time to move on. However, I have to admit, I really like the shows American Pickers and Pawn Stars on the History Channel. This is because I enjoy seeing people’s collections. It’s the same thing that makes me enjoy antique shops and flea markets (though I almost never go to either). There is something that bugs about the shows, though, especially Pawn Stars.
For those who are more intellectual than I am, the premise of Pawn Stars is this: A large pawn shop in Las Vegas is owned and operated by some interesting people. There’s Pop, the patriarch who is like Mr. Toad mixed with The Godfather; his son Rick, who seems to be the one really running the business now (and my favorite on the show); his son, whose name I’m too lazy to look up, but who seems to me to be too lazy to make a life of his own and, while a smart guy, a little too overconfident and not the man his father is; and the kid’s best friend, Chumley, who is borderline retarded with moments of pure genius. People will come into the pawn shop with an item that they usually want to sell, and because the show is on the History Channel, there’s usually something special about the item. You get the sense that the employees that hover in a blur in the background are the ones pawning the losers’ girlfriends radios so he can hit the Black Jack table one…last…time. So a customer comes in with an item and gives it to one of the stars, we’ll go with Rick. Rick will look at it, assess it, and talk about the history of such objects. If it’s something that’s outside his knowledge, he calls in an expert who will come in, shed more light on the object, and give a price they believe, with all their experience, that it’s worth. Kind of like what Antiques Roadshow had been doing for a decade before this show hit.
Because the customer has chosen to bring their item to a pawn shop, Rick (or whomever) cannot give the customer what the item is worth, because the store is meant to make a profit. For instance, last night I saw an episode where a woman brought in an item (I forget what it was), that she wanted no less than $5,000 for. The expert comes and assesses it for $200-$250. Rick offers her $100. She asks for $1,000. He reiterates $100. She declines and walks away. In the interview she gives the cameraperson outside, she tells us that his offer was an “insult” and that even though the expert said is was only worth $200-$250, she knew it was worth far more than that.
If this was an isolated incident, there’d be nothing to write about. You and I could laugh it off and go our separate ways saying, “Whattama-roon!” But it’s not an isolated incident. Almost every episode has one person who believes that their item is really worth all the riches one could imagine and refuses to believe either the people who run the pawn shop or their experts who come in to help.
This is troubling. In an election year, especially. Being intelligent people, we’ve already had this conversation, how more and more people are putting their opinions ahead of the facts–or worse, their beliefs in front of facts. I just happened upon this obituary for Fact this morning (which was perfect because I’d planned to write this piece this morning). It’s a great satirical piece by Rex W. Huppke. The finger is pointed to all the usual places: 24-hour news channels, the internet, blogs, etc.
My question is: When does it end? We have states who are going with their own textbooks because they don’t like the facts presented in actual textbooks. We have politicians on all sides creating their own facts to sway the voters to vote where they want. We have people who ignore that most of the gun violence that takes place happens with legally purchased guns or stolen guns that were purchased legally, and may god damn the person who tries to take their guns away or make the purchase of them more difficult. We have people denying rights to others because of bigoted beliefs that are more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. And even when the facts are presented, people will refute, they will fight, they will argue, and what it boils down to is, “I believe.”
Beliefs can good things. I believe that as a writer I have the power to help people through fiction or nonfiction. I believe as a teacher I can help people realize their inner potential and perhaps save them from the epitome of whatever they loathe, whether it’s being like their parents, or their background, or whatever. These are beliefs I think are fine beliefs. I also believe most people are like sheep and are happy with being led to whatever pen is safest. This is not a good belief and I’m sad to hold it. Are any of these beliefs facts? I don’t know. As a writer, I’m not nearly popular enough to have received a letter saying, “This story changed my life,” nor am I talented enough (yet). As a teacher…I’ve only been doing it for five years and for the first year, I worked with the best teacher I’d ever had, so probably not. Does it matter? Well, not to anyone but me. But I’m not going to base much on these beliefs except for the seriousness in which I take the work. And just because I believe that the Spice Girls song “Wannabe” is possibly one of the greatest pop songs ever, doesn’t mean I’m going to subject everyone I know to the song. Hell, I haven’t heard it in years!
We live in an age of science, yet many people are afraid of science. This worries me. It worried me deeply. Because if the person with the inauthentic autograph of Rocky & Bullwinkle refuses to believe that the autograph is fake even though an expert has told them, in no uncertain terms, that it’s a fake, who’s going to believe when the real bad stuff happens. Something impossible like catastrophic climate change, or mass shooting sprees every other week, or….
But you knew this already. At least I believe so.