Images from the Write-a-Thon and to Celebrate I Want to Buy You Coffee, a Book and Dress You Up in a Limited Edition WoFo T-shirt

WoFo’s semi-annual Write-a-Thon was held on Friday, December 9th.

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In case you’re new to the blog, the Write-a-Thon is an event I host at the high school where I teach, that affords students the opportunity to cultivate creativity and flex their writing muscles in a relaxed, non-threatening, and (hopefully) inspiring environment.

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w3Sometimes it’s hard for me as a teacher to believe that I was once a confused, angsty, insecure, acne fighting high school kid myself.

But I do remember, how in 9th grade I found interest in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I mean, I hated high school but I liked English class and I liked writing.

Amidst the plasticity of high school life, writing was one of the few things that felt real to me.

However, one day after my English teacher publicly praised me for a small narrative piece I wrote about an innocent Salem woman falsely accused of being a witch, some jerkhead in the corner of the classroom called me a faggot.

Why?

Because I could write? Because I did something well? Because that’s what 15 jerkheads do?

It sounds so silly, so juvenile now but jerkhead’s words stung deep.

So deep that for a long time I only wrote when instructed to. And when I did write, it was dispassionate drivel. I stopped reading Emerson and Thoreau. Told myself that those dead white guys didn’t know what they were talking about and redirected my time and energy  to being “cool”.  Whatever the definition of cool was in 1994.

As a teacher,  I know my students are more worried about being cool then discovering and strengthening their voice. I also know adulthood comes fast and hard and that before they reach their 35th birthday many of my students will become repressed, voiceless adults.

And I know from experience that the longer you suppress your voice the harder it will be to find it.

I want to thank everyone who has visited my website, shared the website and donated to the WoFo efforts. With your support I’m proud to announce that today we will be donating $500.00 to the Special Olympics of New Jersey!

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Your support has helped young writers discover and strengthen their voice today. And because of you, a nervous 9th grader just turn to the jerkhead in the back of the room and told him to shut the hell up.

Thank you!

But wait… there’s more!!!…

To quote the esteemed Mrs. Ellen Griswold, “It’s the holiday season and we’re all in misery!”

Yes Mrs. G, it is the most wonderful time of the year.  A time of freezing rain and traffic and hordes anger soccer moms willing to kill you for the last Hatchimal on the shelf.

So to extend the good will of the Write-a-Thon, and in an effort to remind us all to take a chill pill ( yes, that’s what the cool kids said in 1994)  and enjoy each other just a bit more this holiday season,  I’m sponsoring a little contest with a long name…

“The I Want to Buy You Coffee Because You’re Awesome Contest”.

Why coffee? Because as an avid coffee drink nothing unlocks the chains that fetter my fragile soul then an unsolicited cup of coffee.

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A little visual in case you weren’t sure what a cup of coffee looks like.

So here’s how it works…

  1. On your personal Facebook page upload a picture of you buying/offering someone other then yourself some coffee (coworkers, friends, family, strangers)
  2. Include a brief explanation on why you bought this person/people coffee
  3. Include #WoFoActs with your picture and explanation.

The contest deadline concludes on Friday, December 16 at 11:59 pm EST.

The picture that gets the most likes before the deadline will win an awesome Write on Fight on Prize Pack!

The WoFo PP (…it’s all about the acronyms baby!) includes a limited edition WoFo t-shirt, a book you desire ( you tell me what you’re in to.. with in reason please… and I will gift you a book on that subject), and of course, coffee.

So there, have a great weekend, don’t be a jerkhead, go buy someone coffee and unfetter their human soul.

Be well,

Jay

 

The four words that changed my life forever (or all the motivation you need right now)

For me, this whole writing business began when a doctor looked at an MRI of my brain, then at the floor, then hard into my eyes and said, “You should be dead.”

He then told me there was nothing he, or anyone could do for me.

“I’m sorry Mr. Armstrong, you should be dead.”

I remember leaving his office. I remember the long train ride home. I remember the watching the world shift its colors through the lens of a train window. I remember getting off the train, walking to a bar and over a pint of Guiness wondering if dying was going to hurt.

Three years later and everyday later, I remember those four words the doctor offered me on that warm September afternoon.

Everyday.

audience-868074_960_720And three years later, I consider myself lucky. Not because I’m alive but because I was told with unflinching certainty that I should be dead. Something I think we should all hear once in awhile.

Between the car crashes and plane crashes. Between cancer and icy staircases and the stray bullets and stray dogs. Between anthrax and heroin and terrorist and earthquakes and forest fires and black mold and meteors and whole grapes– you should be dead too.

But alas, we’re not.

Sure, maybe we’re a confused and downtrodden and disenfranchised and ultimately tragic bunch but we’re alive.

And that should be all the motivation you need right now.

Be well,

Jay

 

 

Having fun with injection drugs (or growing goat horns)

For the last three years I’ve been a bit of a pin cushion.

Most doctor appointments involve the rolling of a sleeve, an alcohol swab across the crook of my arm and a little pin prick and a lot of blood giving.

And you know what, I happily give.

Blood and needles have never really bothered me.

But I recently learned that needling myself as oppose to having a friendly, small-talking professional needle me is psychologically terrifying.

Like cutting your own hair.

I have done it before. But I’m always slightly nervous about doing it and I’d prefer to have the steady-handed Hair Cuttery technician clip my cowlick then the stubby-fingers of an English teacher with vision problems.

After a three month fight with my insurance company, I was finally approved to receive the injection drug Humira.

The insurance company dragged its wing-tipped feet for two reasons:

  1. There is no FDA approved drug to treat sarcoidosis.
  2. Humira injections cost about $2,500 each.

Humira is prescribed to treat a plethora of illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. The hope is that Humira, a less toxic alternative to steroids, will alleviate the symptoms of my autoimmune disorder–sarcoidosis.

Humira commercials are popular during the evening viewing staples of “60 Minutes” and “Wheel of Fortune”. Its commercials are always awash in warm colors, happy suburbanites, puppies, tire swings, fireworks and sprawling lawns. (No, wait… that’s all prescription drug commercials.)

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If you stumble across this scene you may actually be starring in a Humira commercial.

In August, when my rheumatologist asked if I’d be ok with self injection I gave the dude-shrug and responded like any self-respecting red-meat eating male would, “Of course.”

I mean, how terrifying could self injection be?

Then came Monday.

So I’m sitting on the closed toilet like some shlub in a white undershirt and mesh shorts spotlighted under the artificial white of the bathroom lights trying to convince myself that I can do this. I can needle myself.

The Humira needle (ok it’s an injection pen… it resembles a child’s oversized marker… but an oversized marker that bites!) is teetering on the edge of the bathroom counter.

I take deep breathes and rub my hands. I hum “Eye of the Tiger”. I tell myself it will only hurt for a second. Like a bee sting. Like a little tiny bumblebee sting.

I check the time. It’s 9:45 and I tell myself at 9:50 I will brave up and inject myself. For 5 minutes I recite Winston Churchill quotes.

9:50. The needle remains.

To calm my nerves I pull out my phone and pull up Humira commercials on Youtube. In comes warm colors–oranges, reds and browns then comes the hand holding and fireworks and puppies and a grown man laughing and riding a tire swing into the velvet embrace of a perfect blue sky.

No where in the commercials is a nervous, slightly out of shape man sitting alone in his bathroom wrestling with the tantalizing thought of lying to everyone. His wife, his kids, his doctors, the tire swing man. Telling them all that he took the shot. That it was no big deal.  Because he was a man. When in actuality he chickened out, tucked the needle in the trash and went to bed.

As the commercials closes, as night falls across the majesty of suburbia, a warm-voiced narrator explains that Humira may result in the following…

  • itching
  • headache
  • stuffy nose
  • sinus pain
  • stomach pain
  • a weakened immune system
  • a weakened bank account
  • spontaneous internal combustion
  • cancer
  • heart failure
  • life failure
  • goat horns
  • and increase risks of TB and other fatal infections

Warm-voice narrator also explains that while on Humira you should avoid traveling to extreme and exotic places like jungles, desserts, the North Pole and Toledo.

Warm-voice narrator fades away. The commercial turns black.

I look at the pen. The pen looks back at me.

I’m not terribly excited to start Humira. Hell, I would love a drug free life but long exposure to steroids begin to have adverse affects on the body and I’m looking for anything to relieve my joint and muscle pain.

The house is quite. I consider the side effects. I consider my daily pain.

I pick up the pen and stare at my pasty white thigh.

I hold the pen against my flesh. I think fondly about my wife and children. I close my eyes and I press the trigger and the needle snaps, explodes and hits my skin and I flinch and recoil as if stung by a bee and watch $2500 worth of sweet medication run an expensive trail of tears down my leg.

I laugh.

I think how pissed my insurance company would be if they were here, crammed in the bathroom with me, witnesses to my cowardice.

I also think about how I’ve never been to Toledo and how growing goat horns might be a pretty cool experience.

goat-1667211_960_720Be well,

Jay