Did Will Smith have his Lightbulb Moment yet?
A few years before Will Smith slapped Chris Rock in the face at the 2022 Oscars in Los Angeles, I was teaching a creative writing course in a sleepy New Jersey town to a group of sleepy teenagers.
Our class began at 7:30 a.m. and most students would stagger in the room a few minutes late wearing pajama pants and clutching either a Starbucks paper cup or a bottle of Mountain Dew. They were good kids. Well-intentioned. And they enjoyed writing. But it was 7:30 a.m. and they were teenagers.
One day, I was explaining the anatomy of good characters to the class.
“Good characters are just like you.”
A girl in the back row, with circular glasses and often wore a Joan Jett t-shirt and a winter hat, raised her hand and said, “Yeah, but we’re boring.”
I laughed, “No you’re not. If you’re alive you’re not boring.”
“Well, if you’re alive in this town then you’re boring.”
Some students chuckled. Others, I assumed, were too tired to chuckle.
“Fair enough. But be honest, do you value learning?” I asked.
“Yes. I love learning.”
“Okay, what is the point of school?”
“So, do you value coming to school?”
“School sucks,” said a kid who ate cheese sandwiches during class, always wore sandals, and once stayed after class to argue why Shakespeare was overrated.
I laughed. “Don’t you see the contradiction here?”
Maybe what I miss the most about teaching is the daily pursuit of the much discussed, highly sought, but rarely experienced: “Lightbulb Moment”. The holy grail of the pedagogical enterprise. When a student experiences this moment, rumor has it: stars form, others cease to be, and on a puffy, gold cloud in heaven, Albert Einstein does the Macarena. I was privileged to witness the “Lightbulb Moment” a few times over my teaching career. When a student, doesn’t just intellectually learn, but emotionally feels some deep truth about the human experience. Their mind expands and contracts. Their spine lengthens. They realize how little they know about themselves. And yet are more self-aware than ever before in their young history. An educational epiphany. Those clairvoyant moments, make up for a lot of “school sucks” moments a high school teacher must endure.
Joan Jett says, “It’s too early to think about contradictions,” tugs her winter hat over her eyes and lays her head on the desk. Cheese sandwich rolls his eyes upward to the drop-ceiling heaven, to a static Albert Einstein.
The other morning I drank my coffee and watched the altercation between Chris Rock and Will Smith about a dozen times on my phone. I contemplated Will Smith’s reaction. I read some opinion articles. Listened to some interviews And laughed at some memes.
Later that day, standing in the bank line, I overheard two tellers exchange opinions:
“Good for Will. I’d expect my man to do the same.”
“Not good for Will. I’m sorry, he should’ve been the bigger person. He should’ve known better. He’s 53 years old. “
If America wasn’t divided before with pesky matters of politics, religion, and race, we are now: to defend or condemn Will Smith for slapping Chris Rock?
I turn 42 years old this week. And it amazes me how confused, how unsure, how contradictory adults are. I just assumed by 42 years old I would be sure-footed and absolute like one of Will Smith’s action heroes.
But the truth is adulthood is ripe with contradictions. Contradictions we are old enough to recognize yet not mature enough to deal with. That we are not as simple as we once believed. That we are frightened by our own depths. And maybe learning to manage your contradictions with maturity, and some grace, is the true challenge of adulthood.
What struck me about the Will Smith incident, was how in a California minute, he ran the emotional gauntlet. A mix of pride, anger, and, after he won the Academy Award for best Actor, shame, contrition, and joy.
Smith’s spectacle provided us the opportunity to reflect on our own lives. Our own contradictions. Watching an accomplished man, in West Philadelphia born and raised, experience deep private emotions in a very public way, was very Hollywood. Very Shakespearean.
Literary scholars would call it anagnorisis. A retired, suburban dad calls it, “when you realized you done fudged up.” Whatever you call it, it’s the critical moment when a character discovers a hard truth about their flawed humanity. When we realize humans are poor players, here to strut and fret our hour upon the stage. So in this moment’s wake, when the character fuses old knowledge with new knowledge, they arrive at a “Lightbulb Moment.” A profound, eternally human moment.
Only Will Smith knows if he reflected on and contemplated his violence. Only he can accept the complexities of himself.
If I was wearing Smith’s tailored tuxedo that night, instead of sweatpants, and Rock tossed a joke about Cindy, I would like to think I possess the restraint to laughed it off. But I also know sometimes–when you’re fiercely in love–passion conquers reason. Logic and civility are lost. And irrationality takes the wheel from rationality and Jesus.
My birthday wish is that someday, you and I will win Oscars for playing the role of a contradictory human. A role we were born to play. A role we play with genuine believability everyday of our lives.
I want to welcome everyone who recently subscribed through the Book Funnel promotion and received a free eBook version of Bedtime Stories for the Living. I hope my silly, dad brain brings you insight, comfort, and humor each Friday.
Through Book Funnel’s April promotions, I’ve teamed up with over 75 awesome authors who, for a limited time, are giving away their eBooks for FREE! These books are nonfiction and range from self-improvement to memoirs. Please checkout the links below and discover some emerging authors:
Free Books for Sant Jordi Day: https://books.bookfunnel.com/freebooksforsantjordi/zgbobfmhrf
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Last Week’s Post: How to be Grateful at 5:30 a.m. on a Monday
“There’s something wonderfully suburban about standing in your front yard on a cold March morning in a winter coat and mesh shorts, on a pair of pale legs, watching your dog sniff wet grass, waving to your neighbor as they drag a trash can down their driveway to the curb.”
Question of the Week:
If you would like to share something with others (a photo, a poem, a song, a quote, etc.) that tosses some positive vibes into the world, please send your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Bedtime Stories for the Living recently received not ONE…not TWO…but THREE highly coveted 5-Star ratings from Reader’s Favorite–a highly-respected literary website that reviews books from all over the world!!!
Readers’ Favorite Review by Emma Megan
Jay Armstrong, a high school English teacher, explains in “Bedtime Stories for the Living: A Father’s Funny and Heartbreaking Memoir About The Power of Pursuing Your Dreams” how he was diagnosed with a rare, degenerative brain disease. This striking memoir contains wonderful love letters for each of Jay’s children, beautiful true stories, and precious life lessons and advice. It also contains what Jay never told his kids, what he felt like saying to them but failed as life got in the way. In “Bedtime Stories for the Living”, Jay talks about poetry and books, the importance of writing and its impact on his life, offering aspiring writers valuable writing tips. He also talks about the beauty and the challenges of life, of being a parent, and the difficulty of dealing with a rare disease.
You cannot read this breathtaking memoir and still be ungrateful for your health. “Bedtime Stories for the Living” by Jay Armstrong is the best motivational book I’ve ever read. Jay’s writing style is addictive, mainly because it’s nostalgic, vulnerable, and filled with wisdom and sorrow. In his uniqueness, Jay inspires and encourages not only his children but all his readers to figure out their dreams and to chase the one that brings them joy, to read poetry, and never to ignore their internal voice. He reminds them that they are responsible for how they adapt to change. “Bedtime Stories for the Living” is truly an empowering book as it speaks to the heart and the mind and delivers inspirational life lessons and unique stories. It’s undoubtedly a must-read.
Check out the fancy new sticker for the book cover.
Are you a reader? Looking for your next good book to read or listen to? Check out my new page “Jay’s Book Shelf” for some book recommendations.
Here’s what I’m currently reading: The Humans by Matt Haig
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Jay Armstrong is a writer, speaker, former award-winning high school English teacher, and an award-winning author. Despite being diagnosed with a rare neurological disease, that impairs his movement, balance, eyesight, and speech–Jay presses on. He hopes to help you find joy, peace, and meaning in life. For Jay, a good day consists of 5 things:
4. Hearing his three children laugh
5. Hugging his wife
(Bonus points for a dinner with his parents or a drink with his friends)
Jay hasn’t had a bad day in quite a long time.
You can also visit Jay at jayarmstrongwrites.com