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

My Advice to Young Adults about Work (or Why I Want to Pee My Pants )

It’s graduation season.

And every June, I get asked by soon-to-be high school graduates big questions about work.

“How do you know your doing the right work?”

“How do you find work you’re passionate about?”

“How do you avoid unhappiness and complacency?”

Though I don’t consider myself a beacon of wisdom on such matters (I’m still learning myself), I’m always flattered and (always) a bit stunned by the demands of these questions.

And despite having graduated high school almost 20 years ago and am now 20 years older than most of my students, I’m still wrestling down a response.

But here’s my latest attempt to explain what I know about work.

Bladder Problems

Dylan, my 3 year old son, is stretched on the living room floor playing with his trucks, pushing them across the carpet, parking them next to a row of couch pillows.

He makes truck sounds. Honks and beeps and low rumbling growls. He is lost in his little world, playing and imaging, when his eyes snap suddenly wide.

He jumps to his feet, holds himself and launches into some full-body toddler tribal dance.

“I have to go potty, I have to go potty!

“Well go Dylan!”

Still holding himself, Dylan turns, runs across the living room, breaks out beyond sight as the patter of his little rushing feet trails away to the bathroom.

Parents of young children bare witness to the sudden need-to-pee-pneumonia all the time.

Children get so lost in play, so focused on the present that the pangs erupting from their bladder are ignored until the very last moment.

This moment fascinates me — that a mind can be so enraptured, so focused that it’s ignorant to what is going on in the body.

They might have a bumbling vocabulary and their nose always drippy but children possess the stuff of Buddhist monks.

When I reach the bathroom, Dylan is standing at the front of the toilet with his Paw Patrol underwear lassoed around his ankles. He’s head bowed, his eyes studying the tile.

“Dylan, did you go potty?”

He flinches. His shoulders inch closer to his ears. His eyes refuse to look.

Dylan did you go potty?

He slowly, sheepishly looks up , his eyes ache with tears, “No. I peed myself.”

Why More Adults Should Pee Themselves

Sure, it’s hyperbolic, but stay with me.

I love watching my children lost in absolute play, seemingly ignorant to both the outside and inside world. It’s amazing that children can become so invested in play that they will ignore their screaming bladder. ( I hate to brag but a few months ago Dylan’s efforts earned him a tract infection.)

From what I’ve seen, most adults are bored. They find no wonder in their work. So they fill that void with frivolous things, destructive behavior and unnecessary drama.

As adults, we pine to find good work. Work so curious and engaging that we become constructively lost. Work that we joyously return to again and again.

Listen, my analogy may sound sophomoric (and clearly I’m not advocating bladder infections) but it’s absolutely critical for young adults to find good work that inspires deep contemplation, deep play — the kind of work that is hard to walk away from, not because of the money or convenience or ease, but because you simply the love the essence of it.

My advice for all those who will be turning the tassel and contemplating their future profession — if you find work that is the igniter of imagination, the destroyer of clocks, the antagonist of bladders, work that reminds you of what it was like to be lost on the living room floor, congratulations — you found your work.

Be well,

Jay


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What Word Keeps You Up at Night?

It’s late and I can’t sleep again.

My mind tosses and turns while I lay still, staring at the ceiling.

My mental restlessness began with the obvious tumbling thought, “I should be sleeping”.

It blooms like an innocent thought. But innocent thoughts can seed big, complex, even damaging thoughts.

I should…

Start eating healthier again.

Be more patient.

Complain less.

Listen more closely to my wife.

Payoff my credit card.

Answer that email.

Get my haircut.

Care less what people think.

Give my boss a piece of my mind.

Spend less time on my phone.

Go to the dentist.

Make tacos for dinner tomorrow night.

Buy new shoes.

Contact an old friend.

Install new windshield wiper blades on the car.

I should be sleeping.

I should…I should…I should.

Should is dangerous word for me.

Because when I think in shoulds,  my focus shifts from what I’ve done, my accomplishments, my successes to what I haven’t done or need to do.

Should punctuates the life I haven’t achieved and I feel unsettled, unsatisfied.

Should causes desire. Desire causes tension. Tension causes unhappiness,

I am happy because I want nothing from anyone. I do not care for money. Decorations, titles or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise. The only thing that gives me pleasure, apart from my work, my violin and my sailboat, is the appreciation of my fellow workers. ―Albert Einstein

A few months ago I privately challenged myself to answer as many shoulds as possible. So I…

Wrote more.

Recorded my own podcast.

Started my own business.

Made more time for my children.

Started exercising every morning.

Read books, listened to podcasts and watched movies that were recommended.

No doubt, should motivated me. Should enriched my life. But meeting the demand of should became unsustainable.  The shoulds kept coming and I couldn’t keep up.

My unfulfilled shoulds caused desire, tension and unhappiness. And instead of the pride, and despite my determination, I focused on the shoulds and was left feeling unfulfilled.

Yes, should motivates and inspires. And yes, you must push yourself to achieve more. But should is also the killer of confidence. Because should announces you haven’t.

I should write a book.

I should have more money.

I should practice mindfulness.

I should have a nicer car.

I should lose weight.

What can we do?

Now we can’t control what others say or do.

But we can commit to things we’re passionate about instead of appeasing the interests and suggestions of others.

We can examine how we offer unsolicited shoulds to other people.

We can acknowledge the power of should and know that if we’re reckless with should we’re deepening the discontent in the listener.

A listener who will lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, attempting to steady their tumbling mind as they worry about all the things they should do with their life.

Be well,

Jay

Prince Harry Just Taught Men a Life Saving Lesson

It’s an old story. A bit cliched. But still a worthy one…

A man and a woman are in a car.

The man drives as the women navigates through unfamiliar territory. They have no map, no cell phone service. The woman acknowledges the pending darkness and lightly suggests, they stop and ask for directions.

The man keeps driving, keeps his focus, pretending not to hear her.

The sun is all but gone. The street lamps start their work.

The woman looks out the window and clears her throat. She protests, this time with a bit more force, causing the man to snip. He insists he knows where he’s going. He speaks in phrases like, “we just got turned around a bit” and “no big deal” and “any second now”.

The woman runs her hand through her hair and exhales. The man wonders if the heat is on as he, grips the steering wheel and glances out the window hoping for something familiar– a landmark, a sign, a motion from God.

The 17 Year Old Male

A high school classroom serves as a great observatory for human quirks.

It’s always interesting when I ask my 12th grade students about their life-after-high school plans. The females often confess they don’t know. They have some ideas but are mostly unsure. A lawyer, maybe.

When asked, males are quick to verbalize their plan. Business or engineering or medicine or general awesomeness, for sure.

As if, to the 17 year old male, being lost, confused and unsure is a sign of weakness.

Prince Harry Finally Talks

by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images

This week, in a New York Times article, Prince Harry explained how, for almost 20 years after Princess Diana’s death, he struggled with anger, with depression. And how his behavior was often erratic and destructive.

Harry, 32, attributed his recklessness to his inability to address his mother’s death.

An now an advocate for mental health, Harry credits his recovery to counseling and finding the courage to do what so many man can’t– talk.

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.” –Prince Harry

 A Moment of Honesty

A few weeks ago I had an conversation with a male friend of more than 20 years.

The friend, I assumed, was doing well.

Then, over a drink and an hour conversation, he opened up about his crumbling marriage. How he’s been married for twelve years and that it had only been good for about three.

He explained how he’d been living a life of silence. A silence that drove him into a depression.

His eyes filled with tears as he looked across the table, held his drink and said, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who to talk to.”

The Condition

For most men, self-expression is hard. And only gets harder with age.

The longer they cling to a prolonged silence, the more difficult it is to talk. Men often consider stubborn stoicism as dignified and respectable. Yet they often fail to see how their hardness taxes themselves and those around them.

As a male writer I’m torn.

Because I know in order to write well, to produce meaningful work,  make others feel–I have to feel. Yet the square-jawed history of men has conditioned me not to. To remain quiet in pain. To accept my feelings as weaknesses. To emotionally alienation myself to remain accepted.

When you’re 17 years old, you’re inclined to define courage as being bold in the face of danger. You also think courageous men are always decisive and strong.

And it’s shocking to learn that 20 years later, remnants of that teenage ideology still remain steadfast in me.

The Tension Mounts

The sun is down now and the man still refuses to talk.

The woman eyes him. There’s been a growing distance between them for some time now.  Why can’t he just stop? Ask for help? Why doesn’t he ever talk?

He wants to say he’s been conditioned not to. He wants to tell her about the misaligned tenets of masculinity. He wants to tell her vulnerability is something men don’t do yet long for because they secretly know talking could very well save their lives.

But for now– the man and the woman stare out different windows, wondering how they got so lost, listening to the engine hum, moving, aimlessly, into the darkness.

Be well,

Jay

 

A Painful Reminder to Slow Down

I felt it coming for sometime now.

I was waiting for it like the way you wait for seasons to change or like the way you wait for something to arrive in the mail. Never knowing exactly when it will arrive, but when it does, your life with be somehow different.

Maybe it was the stress of spring that caused it.

Long work days punctuated with paper plate dinners followed by carting my children to soccer practice, baseball practice, and birthday parties. Maybe it was the hours I invested in building Write on Fight On LLC.

Spring, the season of renewal, had left me suddenly drained.

For weeks a tangible tension grew in my legs, as if the muscles were giant rubber bands being pulled by the antagonistic hands of time, of stress. And despite the efforts of yoga, bike riding, constant stretching and hot showers the tension only grew.

The Fall.

The fall happened this past Tuesday around 10:30 pm.

As these incidents often happen, I was doing something pedestrian. Something I do almost nightly. I was walking toward the front door to see if it was locked, so, like my son says, “The bad guys on the news can’t get in.”

Before reaching the door I bent down to move a misplaced car seat and something happened in my brain (this often happens when I make quick movements…a result of my brain damage). Sometimes it’s as if my brain is a snow globe on a shelf and some excitable kid snatches it, smiles and shakes. And my legs, the two overly-stretched rubbers bands, simply couldn’t move fast enough to help me out.

I went down. Hard.

The house rattled and Cindy came rushing down the steps. She wanted to take me to the hospital, but my bruised ego resisted.

The next morning, after we got the kids to school, I agreed to go the hospital.

A few x-rays confirmed I had fractured a bone in my left foot and bruised my left femur.

Checkout these fine looking stems!

Later, lying on the couch, foot elevated and crowned with a bag of frozen broccoli I told my dad,  who turns 63 this week, what happened. After listening he said, “Well, maybe that’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down.”

Now I’m strapped with a walking boot for the next 4-6 weeks. Now I’m forced to take it slow.

I know, it sounds funny, “forced to take it slow.”

Parenthood, adulthood can be a merciless wave of urgency. Of deadlines and commitments. Of huffing and puffing and straining your way through each day, racing so much that you can’t sleep at night, worried about all the stuff you have to do tomorrow.

Life is our best teacher.

Life begs us to take it slow. To watch its beauty bloom. To listen to its mysteries hum.  To absorb the majesty of momentary living.

For the next 4-6 weeks I don’t have a choice. And despite the bruises, despite the break it’s humbling to know that life cared enough to consider me.

Despite popular belief, I’m fortunate.

Life took time from its busy spring schedule to discipline me, to force me to take notice, to force me to slow it down.

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

5 Reasons Why Springsteen’s Thunder Road is Your Life Right Now

On Friday night I’m leaving the kids at home and taking my best girl to see, hear and witness the incomparable Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

If you haven’t heard, the 67 year old Boss, is currently playing 4 hour musical marathons. Electric sets fused with 30 plus songs spanning 40 plus years of musical endurance.

bruce3

To honor Bruce’s current American tour, his upcoming biography and my wife and I’s first date in a really long time, I would like to explore one of his most enduring songs–Thunder Road.

Thunder Road is my favorite song. Period. At age 24, Springsteen wrote a near 5 minute song so wrought with maturity and human complexity that it rivals great works of literature written by much older people.

TR’s protagonist is locked in an emotional vice, he’s fixed at a personal crossroads, he needs to make a decision and he has make it now! (Can anything be more adult then that?)

TR’s timelessness is its themes. Themes that never cease. In fact, they only gain more mass and weight as time passes.

In its explosive, defiant conclusion, TR is often consider a young person’s song. I disagree. It’s not a young person or an old person’s song. It’s an ageless song. One, at its thematic core, is the most human song I know.

The Need for Companionship

Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for

It’s one of the great human contradictions– we crave companionship yet we enjoy isolation. And in life, we need others to survive yet only inside ourselves can we find the seeds of happiness and meaning.

Running from the Past

There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away

Move to a new city. Make new friends. Invest in a gold toilet.Win your bowling league. No matter what you do, what you accomplish, you will never put enough miles between the present and the past.

Finding your True Self

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk

Adults are notorious for disbanding dreams and living an unfulfilled, uninspired life. Like him or not, Springsteen has spent his entire life chasing down a dream, asking questions, pushing buttons, pursing passion all in the name of personal evolution. And that– you’ve got to respect.

The Drama of Choice

And my car’s out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The door’s open but the ride it ain’t free

You’re reading this and you’re standing at a figurative crossroads (…hopefully not a literal one). As TR’s protagonist understands– we’ve all got choices to make and we need to make them now. One of the great tragedies of the human condition is that we will never be short on choices.

The Promise of Better Days

It’s town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win
In the grand, defiant conclusion of the song we hear our protagonist triumphantly announce he has made a choice. If only we could have his confidence and moxie, we may find the courage to take risks and see the future not as a place of fearful unknowns but a place bursting with possibility and aliveness.
 road
For me, Thunder Road remains an empty church. It’s big and grand. It’s finely detailed and yet it remains mysterious and haunting while being strangely intimate, strangely comforting.

Be well,

Jay

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