No party; no cry.

“Dude,” Sean sighed with a disapproving look at my portal game console.  “Don’t do that.  Get yourself a drink and talk to people.”

Part of me knew that he was right.  Bachelor parties required some level of camaraderie.  I could refuse alcohol but refusal to interact or talk with the other guests was a severe social taboo.  Part of the groom-to-be’s happiness depended upon the outward appearance of enjoyment among his friends and family.  I could not celebrate his future happiness holed up in a corner of the cabin playing video games, reading mystery novels, and essentially wishing . . . dreaming of being elsewhere.

On the other hand, as the 2017-2018 school year dwindled to no more than two weeks, the strain of feeding my energy, my excitement, and my concern to an indifferent audience of adolescents was taking its toll.  I was . . . no, AM drained and in need of a stress detox.   Half my days at work are spent dreaming of summer mornings that drift lazily into summer afternoons.  The large mountain of to-be-reads by my bed.  A full cup of hot tea and an empty house.  An hour or two spent in Hyrule.  Several hours with Abbott and Costello.  A walk outside.  Maybe a swim.  Otherwise, nowhere to be.  Nothing to do.

God. That. Sounds. Awesome.

I’m at a point in the school year when anything shy of that perfect moment sends spasms of anxiety bubbling beneath the surface.  Moreover, I need time to remember how not to stress, like treating PTSD for teachers.  If I survive for another two weeks and avoid the stress equivalent of a ‘lava bomb,’ I’ll call this year a success.

“I’ll try to play nice with the other kids,” I sigh, depowering my game and steeling myself for the necessary social interaction.

I don’t consider myself anti-social but do have a fair share of social anxiety, especially around my brothers’ friends.  Much of my reservations does stem from overthinking and awkwardness when attempting to small-talk.  Nonetheless, I have little in common with most of these guys.  Very few obsess over sci-fi or fantasy, discuss the latest Marvel movie, game regularly, or watch anime.  Their lives are centered around business, sports, kids, tuition, and microbrews.

Still, I try not to generalize with others’ hobbies and drop subtle verbal cues to see if I have any sympathizers to my geek lifestyle:

The classic: “Seen any good movies lately . . . with superheroes?”

The professional: “. . . and I used to cosplay for my class every day while reading Romeo and Juliet.”

The kamikaze: “Yeah, I pre-ordered this Rem figure months ago from Japan.  She’s a demon, a maid AND the best goddam girl in the entire series.  Ask anyone!”

Failing this, I try to steer conversations to safer topics such as my job, which affords me a few minutes polite conversation about 1) where I work, 2) what do I teach, and 3) yes, I’m very excited for the end of the school year.  After several such encounters, I feel that I’ve paid my social toll for the afternoon and can quietly slip back to the couch, my game and social-outcast mode.

Sean had other ideas.  From the car, he drags two cornhole tables painted with Baltimore Orioles and Ravens iconography.  Orange and purple corn-stuffed bags complete the game, and he sets both on the hill below the deck of the cabin.  The rest of the bachelor party pairs up for teams and I finally relinquish the couch for a game of cornhole.  We sit around the deck, sipping cheap beer as the sun dips below the horizon.  The sound of bags falling onto the wooden boards and a homemade Spotify playlist echo into the night.


Traditional Yule

Onesies were Brigid’s idea.  The rest of the siblings had their newborns, new spouses, new houses, new raises, and other welcome topics of the successful adult.  For the singles — Brigid, Kevin, Shannon, and of course myself — still living at home, working as either students or teachers, there were no new achievements or traditional rites of passage to announce over double helpings of pumpkin pie.  For myself, the arrival of yearly milestones — first college degree, first internship, first car, first job, first paycheck, first roadtrip, first love, first heartbreak . . . first hangover — had come to a halt sometime during the last five years.  It was as if while running a marathon, you discovered someone had replaced the road with a treadmill.

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Surf and Turf

The-BeachSomething kissed the surface of the water off to my left.  Reflexively, I began pulling my feet onto the board.  Rodney was on shore, wrestling with his ankle-strap; his surfboard drifted in the tide pulling at the strap like an impatient child.  The rental guy had mentioned how to attach the strap to the board, but excitement and eagerness to start had smothered any useful advice.

“We’ll figure it out,” Shannon had said.  It’s practically a family motto.

We had searching half of the morning for a ideal surfing spot and the remaining half for surfboard rentals near Kapulua.  The beach was located on the western side of Maui, just south of Lahaina.  Large black stones like giant pebbles scattered across the sand.  Smoke billowing from townhouses past the park promised barbecues; a few families ate box lunches at picnic benches; a man strummed his guitar while his wife stared into the tide.  Otherwise the beach was empty.

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Hooked-up“I just need an hour of your time,” Dad muttered as my foot hovered over the basement stairs.  Inwardly, my gut tightened with a sickening amalgam of anxiety and dread.  It was almost 9 am and already I felt drained.

My father’s sense of time is generally exaggerated to the point that I had already given up my Saturday as a loss.  After a week of teaching gas laws and grading fifty ten-page labs on molarity (I loathe repetitious activity.  It is the water torture of the soul.), a Saturday morning without immediate plans provides an opportunity for refueling my mental, physical and emotional energies.  For Dad, it’s a chance to simultaneously plan and execute a Honey-do list while enlisting the aid of his inactive children.

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Snow Promises

I wrote this particular post, just hours before the Blizzapocalypse hit the East Coast.  Weeks later, a small storm has covered the area in about 1-3 inches of snow and freezing rain reminding me of this following unfinished editorial, which I’m sending to you all now.  

The world is changing.  I feel it in the water. I smell it in the air.  I see it in the crowds outside the grocery stores.    

I love the promise of change snow brings with it.  Minute by minute, as each layer of ice and flake cake the ground, trees and roadways, snow promises to change the world.  Tomorrow, we will have gone back in time, 65 million years into the past when man would hunt mammoths with long pointed sticks.  No other season grants us this clean slate upon which we can rewrite the world.  Even spring, with its promises of renewal, resuscitates the world of last year, of 2015.  Moreover, the change is gradual: day by day we are given an extra bud, a new leaf or two, one or three extra berries on the vine.  Winter is the contractor with no budget:  “Give us twelve hours and we’ll remodel your entire landscape.”  

The goal and curse of science etches itself in the belief that the universe follows a constant and unerring pattern.  That with inquiry, experimentation and discovery we may predict the outcome to any phenomenon.  To, in short, map the whole of time and space to one solitary pattern and drive chaos from their borders.  This desire grants us control through the sacrifice of spontaneity.  Imagine if you could predict the most minute cellular spasm or broadcast the results of every war, election, and Oscar race.  You would have power, knowledge, and control . . . And it would be boring as hell.    

Winter reminds me to embrace the chaos of change and to wonder at the unexpected.  Like seasoned salt on the surface of a bland meal, this incoming blizzard promises to season the next few days with a healthy mix of excitement and beauty.  Tomorrow outside the world will be a new place: white, silent and sparkling, ready to be either shaped into snowmen or crushed into snow angels.  Long live the unexpected joys.  

TTWA: Horoscope

My first assignment from 712 More Things to Write About.  Technically, I set this challenge for the publishers first book 642 Things to Write About, but I accidentally grabbed the sequel from my desk while chowing down on dark chocolate-covered oreos, which I stole surreptiously from my sister’s Mother’s Day present.  Excitement, hunger and sugar rush blinded me, and I’m too stubborn and admittedly lazy to begin again.  

The book’s first suggestion:  Write yesterday’s horoscope. 

A tramautic event will interrupt your daily routine.  Although the circumstances may undermine your self-confidence, you will meet the unexpected challenges skillfully earning others’ respect and admiration in the process.  Try not to be so hard on yourself when perfection is not achieved; life will reward your efforts in time.  

So yesterday, a student of mine fell to the floor during class, overcome by a sudden seizure.  If you’ve never experienced a seizure before, I can only describe the moment as terrifying: legs and torso spasming violently against the ground; the sufferer unresponsive; a feeling of total helplessness for left to watch.  The experience left me rather pale and exhausted, despite the assurance from my boss and vice principal that I had reacted appropriately.  Television has warped all my thoughts concerning the best methods to react to emergencies.  Contacting the administration and paramedics feel inappropriate when compared with the exploits of Spider-man and Optimus Prime, but the ability walk on walls and transform into a semi would not avail those suffering from non-super-villian emergencies.  

Still, I felt like I should do more.  In daydreams, you always feel prepared for dinosaur attacks or zombie warfare, but when an honest-to-God emergency does emerge your scenarios and strategies fall short.  Thus, it felt rather good when one of my students who watched the attack congratulated me on my quick thinking and confident instruction. 

“You did good, Mr. Murph,” she said, noticing the paleness in my face as the paramedics wheeled my student from the school.  “Thank you for keeping calm for all of us.”

Calm?  My heart felt like it might break a rib in agitation.  

The student returned to school the following day as if nothing had occurred.  She waved me down and — in somewhat poor taste — laughingly explained “I just want to let you know that I’m not dead.”  Good to know.  

Things to Write About

Working among hormonal teenagers and equally hormonal parents all day, I arrive home every afternoon with only enough energy to shed shirt, tie and one shoe before collapsing on a recliner to Netflix and ponder my lot in life — Hey, it’s not a lot but it’s a life! *rimshot* Some evenings the very act of closing my eyes feels like a Herculean trial. Finding time to write is one issue, but finding topics upon which to cleverly spin epics and brushes with death appear limited while teaching at a Catholic high school — which for the sake of my life and sanity is a good thing.  Posting details about my class and chemistry lessons edges on the unethical; besides most days prove all too repetitive and boring unless you happen to relish tales of paperwork and two-hour meetings on teaching paradigms and the philosophy of grading matrixes (neither terms of which I can adequately express my loathing).  Moreover, with a new principal and administration — we receive more status updates than a thirteen-year-old’s Facebook page — I am yet uncertain which emails should be carefully scrutinized or tossed like so much spam from the latest male enhancement drug or Egyptian princesses seeking potential investors for mysterious oil reservoirs.

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