Let’s Take a Look at My 11th Grade Report Card

On a recent cleaning binge, my mom found my 11th grade report card stuffed in a file box along with old writings, homework assignments and a certificate announcing that I had passed Drivers Education class in August of 1997.

I’m 37 years old, and a high school teacher now, and everyday I witness the enormous pressures that 11th graders (and their parents) place on their still-rounding shoulders.

High school mythology decrees that 11th grade is the Acropolis. It’s the most important 10 months of your life. The make or break year. The one that demands academic greatness. The 11th grade transcript is the one colleges scrutinize and consider the most when deciding to accept or decline your admission. According to legend,11th grade is the year where your destiny is formed and fated.

Below you will find my 11th grade year end report card.

It’s apparent that at 16 years old I wasn’t overly concerned with achieving academic greatness. To be honest, my main concern was scoring a date with the pretty girl in Spanish class. Spoiler alert….9 years later I would marry that senorita… muy suave!

My Class Ranking

If my 11th grade report card is an approximation of my destiny, I’m destined to be stunningly average.

I ranked 168 out of 337 students in the 11th grade class. If you do the math (because, clearly, my algebra grade indicates I don’t math) 337/2 = 168.5

Analysis: In high school I was absolutely, fantastically, beautifully average.

Religion 3

Final Grade: 87

Analysis: Religion was my second highest grade in my report card. I believe the grade is slightly underwhelming given the fact this was my 11th year of Catholic education.

But like a true B+ Catholic, I knew the basics of the Bible, received the required sacraments and was a semi-annual church goer (Christmas & Easter) who pretended to go every Sunday.

English 3

Final Grade: 85

Analysis: This was a massive blow to my current (and slightly bloated) ego.

I have presented at writing workshops for college professors.

 My article, “It’s called The Alchemist and you should read it”was recently retweeted by International Bestselling Author Paulo Coehlo.

I will be featured on an upcoming episode of the television show, Classroom Close-up, NJ to highlight writeonfighton.org and the writing events I host for my students.

Yet, in spite of all that, an unimpressive B in 11th grade English will forever be etched in the annals of time.

American History 3

Final Grade: 89

Analysis: Everything I know about American History I learned from watching Forrest Gump.

Algebra 2

Final Grade: 74

Analysis: In high school I clearly did not understand algebra which, interestingly was the very last time in my life I was forced to multiply numbers by letters.

Environmental Science

Final Grade: 84

Analysis: According to my teacher, Mr. Krier, I was “one of the top one of the students in the class.” I earned an 84. Either he was just being nice or I was, in fact, the one star in a constellation of street lamps.

Spanish 3

Final Grade: 77

Analysis: I blame Cindy for this one. I spent the entire year distracted by her legs and perfecting such romantic expressions as “Coma estas, chica?” and “Muy caliente” in a deep, seductive inflection.

Gym

Final Grade:99

Analysis: One of my students once told me that he was going to be an accountant because in 11th grade he did well in accounting class. If 11th grade grades are indicators of future professions I clearly should have been a professional athlete.

Conduct

Final Grade: 97

Analysis: Minus a shirttail infraction, which was sheer blasphemy in a Catholic school, I was absolute saintly.

It’s time to be serious.

I didn’t learn much in high school.

It’s nothing against my teachers but, aside from meeting Cindy and a group of friends I’m still close with, the educational experience was uninspiring.

In fact, I can’t name one high school teacher who inspired me to become a teacher.

So why did I become a high school teacher if my experience in high school was incredibly forgettable?

It’s a question I’ve tussled with lately.

Selflessly, I want to spend my days talking and teaching about reading and writing. But I also think I’m attempting to vindicate my own stale high school experience.

Work is a tricky thing. Immersing yourself in work for only a paycheck is a soul-sucking existence. Working for personal fulfillment is righteous but doesn’t pay the electric bill.

Maybe, if we look hard enough, we find work that fills a previous void.

Maybe, teaching is my attempt to provide students with experiences I never had. And maybe, selfishly, I stand and deliver in the classroom everyday attempting to fall in favor with the teacher, earn some extra credit and improve that 85.

Be well,

Jay

The Plan (or why I dropped out of grad school and started my own business)

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We enter adulthood with a plan. Maybe it’s hashed out over a cup of coffee or maybe a shot or two of tequila but nonetheless we were once pie-eyed dreamers standing at our threshold, staring out into the future, sketching a map that appeared direct and seamless and promised us the life we thought we desired.

Four years ago I rolled up my sleeves and went to work on my plan.

A plan that made professional and financial sense. A plan that was, in my opinion, neat and uniformed and albeit a bit boring–it was a plan that made sense.

When I shared the plan people smiled, nodded, raised a glass and congratulated me on my initiative.

The praise and support felt good. It was seductive and reassuring. Yet underneath my smile, my thin, freckled topography there brewed fear and uncertainty.

I could feel myself falling into a professional life I didn’t want.

I was allowing money and the silvery thoughts of a mahogany desk and a gold-plated plaque with my name engraved on it guide my compass.

And in my pursuit of such frivolous things, I ignored the pull of passion.

I ignored that internal voice, the one we all have, but the voice we’re quick to dismiss, as I turned toward the thing I despised the most: inauthentc

The plan

In January 2013, I enrolled in grad school to earn a master’s degree in educational administration, a move that would score a principal job, and an office with a bathroom and a secretary to field my phone calls and fetch my coffee.

Now, I should have halted the plan when my two main objectives were:

  1. enroll in the cheapest grad school program possible
  2. complete the course as quick as possible

I should have known when I was willing to invest money but not time, not energy that I was chasing down someone else’s dream. 

I should have known when I wanted the rewards without the work.

I should have known when the voice inside was screaming, “NO!”

The lie

Have you ever told a lie, then convinced yourself it was the truth?

I have.

That’s what grad school was like for me. I told people it was what I wanted when I didn’t.

I was living a lie and it was awful.

Like being wedged in a relationship you no longer believed in. I stayed committed because it was safe. It was never a matter of love or passion. It was a matter of uniformity.

It was the most inauthentic stretch of time in my life.

The moment of truth

I consider myself lucky.

My moment of truth was blunt, like a hammer strike to the forehead.

It came in the form of an MRI. An MRI that revealed a hole in my brain. A rare autoimmune disorder had attacked my brain, killed a bunch of cells and left me with a hole in my brain.

(If you haven’t heard this story check this out)

I often think if my brain remained intact how I probably would have earned my degree, became a principal, and how I probably would have never written this sentence.

Yes, my bank account would be bigger but would I honor and celebrate the fleeting paradigms of time and energy the way I do now?

And yes, I would have my health but what about self-respect? What about passion? What about authenticity?

The new plan (AKA Do You)

I can only equate that living your ideal life in the privacy of your own mind instead of living it out loud is equivalent to hell on earth.

Three years ago I dropped out of grad school. I’m only 3 classes, 9 credits from earning a degree in educational administration.

And I don’t care.

A few weeks ago I signed the paperwork and made Write on Fight on a limited liability company.  A company dedicated to helping people of all ages and levels not only improve their writing skills but to embrace the power of writing. A company committed to helping people tell their stories.

Right now, Write on Fight on LLC. is a just little company with big dreams.

And, admittedly, I’ve got a lot to learn about managing, operating, advertising and sustaining my own business. But I’m on the verge of turning  37 and I’m very, really, super… I’m fucking excited to get started.

A few weeks ago I told someone that I was 9 credits away from earning a masters degree. They were shocked and told me I should go back to school immediately. When I tried to rationalize they pressed. They said how it was a financial and professional mistake not going back. So close, why not finish?

I smiled and let them have their opinions.

Because sometimes that’s all you can do.

Because the facts remain– I woke up this morning with a hole in my brain. I will wake up tomorrow with a hole in my brain. And wasting money and, more importantly, time and energy on something I’m not passionate about will not fill the hole in my brain.

So it’s only fitting, on St. Patrick’s Day, to let Ireland’s greatest writer say what I’ve been feeling since my moment of truth three years ago…

Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.–James Joyce

Be well,

Jay

So…when do we become adults?

16 years ago I’m jammed in a Penn State frat house with my buddies Pete, Jack and a few hundred other rambunctious Nittany Lions.

There’s cans of Natty Light and shots of Jagermeister and a cover band thrashing through a version of Blink 182’s “What’s My Age Again?” in the living room.

We’re young and thin and wild and drunk and clueless and unconcerned with mortality and consequences.

Suddenly, 16 years later, Pete, Jack and I are crammed, shoulder-to-shoulder Puerto Rican nightclub. La Factoria is a decaying factory that was converted into a labyrinth of bars, cocktail rooms and dance floors. The three of us, each a little softer around the waist, stand in a tight circle like we had done 16 years earlier. Our shirts are collared and tucked. Pete is bald. Jack is sporting streaks of gray. And I take the same medication as my 63 year old father.

La-Factoria-Bar-Old-San-JuanThe speakers thump Hispanic dance music. No lyrics. No chorus. Just a relentless thump thump thump that instigates an earthquake in my prostate. We shout about how loud and how crowded it is, how it’s hard to breathe and how young these “kids” look.

We look out of place. We look like we should be on a golf course. Or waiting in line for cornbread at the Golden Corral.

We acknowledge that La Factoria’s emergency doors are not properly marked and there’s exposed wiring snaking across the ceiling.  Above the thump, someone shouts, “What if there’s a fire?” We shake our heads. We stretch our legs. Someone yawns. Someone checks their watch. We calculate the hours of sleep we could get if somehow, in this very nook of time, by clicking our loafer heels we would be magically delivered and tucked into the embrace of our clean hotel bed sheets.

Over the course of the weekend Pete and I held a semi-serious conversation about making good decisions. A conversation that began when we had the intelligence to forego shots of some back alley Puerto Rican liquor distilled in a spackle bucket.

Pete and I have a long history of bad decisions and spackle bucket liquor that when we finally made a collectively good decision, we were so excited, so proud that we called our wives the next morning and told them all about it.

And yes, in the star-spangled eyes of the United States of America–we’re both adults.

I know (and certainly feel) that I’m not 20 years old anymore (just writing “Jagermeister” gives me chills) but it’s hard for me to believe I’m 36.

36.

It just sounds so mature and sophisticated and yet I find myself thinking, “Ok, so I’m 36, like when do I officially become an adult?”

I don’t know.

Maybe you become an adult when you truly understand that your choices have consequences.

Or maybe when you accept that your choices are your responsibility.

Or maybe when you attest that every choice you make is fixed with some weight of importance.

Or maybe when you finally have the maturity to realize that your choices are a reflection of who you are.

Or maybe, just maybe, even though our bellies swell, our eyesight diminishes and our bladders cop an attitude– no one actually ever grows up.

Be well,

Jay