Back to School Night

My lesson on Native Americans allowed us to make ceremonial masks.

“. . . and now I would like to introduce our newest teacher, Mr. Murph . . .”

Dr. T pauses to laugh.  A few amused smiles dance across the faces of my fellow teachers.  I politely offer a grin, grateful for a few extra minutes to map out my introduction.

“Actually, our second Mr. Murph . . . as you can see we’ve hired not only another Jess, but another Murph as well this year.  As many of you know, we already have a Mr. Murph teaching gym,” she gestured toward the grizzled man in grey sweats, two seats down; Mr Murph nodded.  “For the sake of the kids, we probably won’t change his name.  So we’ll have to think of another nickname for you, Murph.  Have you thought up anything yet?  Mr. Murphey, maybe?”

“Um . . .” I momentarily falter.  “Well, the kids have dubbed me MK . . . uh, using my first and last initials.”

“Ooo . . . I like that . . . Mr. MK,” Ms P, the drama teacher, interjected with a deep British accent.  “Kinda rolls off the tongue.”

A frown lingers on Dr. T’s face for a second or two, yet just as quickly, she returns to her sales-pitch, all smiles and gratitude.  Two weeks into my teaching post at Unity, and I still felt rather guarded toward the school principal. Though impressions varied among the staff, I treated my employer with polite respect and mild indifference. Continue reading

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A Year Teaching: The Good

So I should probably mention that I detest public speaking.  Had I chosen to enlist as a coal miner, model, or French mime this phobia would not be a problem and in the case of uh . . .  mime-ery an attribute; yet teaching necessitates standing before a class of over-stimulated youth and – unfortunately – talking.

Fancying myself Sherlock Holmes (seriously for ten consecutive years, I donned a hunting cap, pipe, and syringe – I was nothing if not authentic) I approached society with a polite but friendly reticence, preferring the company of a few close friends and family to crowded bars and orgies.  The rest of the family were more extroverted: Dad and Katie could find themselves stranded amid the snow-capped wastes of, say . . . . Siberia and make fifty new friends within the hour.  They’re born on stage.  I always chose to work behind the curtain, making others look good while hoisting props and managing the fires; to paraphrase Prufrock, no Prince Hamlet, am I, indeed.

This is not to suggest that I possessed no skills whatsoever in the profession.  Somehow my own inherent nervousness in the classroom seasoned my lessons with an honest excitement that cannot be duplicated by an 80-year old professor who recites his lessons with the same enthusiasm a twelve-year-old recites the Code of Conduct.

Moreover, it helped that my level of maturity synched well with the kids.  My lessons on chemistry were peppered with references to alchemy, talks of wizardry, potion-making, philosopher’s stones, and turning lead into gold.  I compared the strategies of the British army in the Revolutionary War to turn-based RPGs like Final Fantasy VI.  Wanted posters in Assassin’s Creed formed a good foundation for ‘memory’ in the immune system:  “The more posters around, the easier it is for white blood cells to find culprits.”  Nearly every lesson on photons, force, and philosophy referenced films:  “Back to the Future,” “Star Wars,” or Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Continue reading

A Year Teaching: Prelude

Honestly, I am a liar. This needs to be perfectly clear before we begin ere any misconceptions should occur. Throughout the last three years, many – if not all – of my tales, blog posts, have been . . . enhanced in some manner: names altered, timelines rearranged, conversations modified – by which I mean plucked from thin air. Mostly I do this in order to retain the humor or feelings of the situation which can never be recreated if I simply recite the events as they occurred. Continue reading

Lightning Crashes

Internet deprivation has once again driven me to people-gaze at Panera Bread. Last night with the sound of thunder and a few rogue sparks, our modem fried: circuit boards blackened, wires caramelized. The sequence of events that followed our bandwidth’s demise is akin to the first radio broadcast of Wells’ “War of the Worlds:”

FLASH!  BOOM!

FLASH! BOOM!

FLASH!

BOOM!

Zap!

Pop!

Fzzzzzz . . .

Screaming . . .

“Murph, the internet died!”

“No Internet? Son of a &%$@! What about my &#%$ exam tomorrow?!”

“Wait, that means Xbox Live is down too . . .”

“What no Call of Duty? No COD?!”

More screaming ensues. Fire, flames, flood . . . The dead rising from their graves . . . Dogs and cats living together . . .

You get the point. Needless to say the fam is quite indisposed at the moment. Shut off as we are from the digital world, it’s like we’ve gone back in time to the early 80s or worse, the 70s. Shudder. My job as the house’s IT specialist (Ha!) is to carry out any necessary or immediate digital transactions in their stead. I scribe a list or two, much like a digital grocery list, and venture off into the world to search for potential WiFi hotspots . . . hopefully one with food too.

This morning as storms slide silently across the sky, butting up against one another with the grace and violence of rival hockey teams, I shuffled out into the rain, seeking potential hotspots like early man sought the warmth of campfires. Nowadays even the supermarket offers WiFi access beckoning laptop owners with Starbucks coffee and a buy-one-get-one-free deal on eggs. After some deliberation (having skipped breakfast, an omelet sounded good), I drove to Panera, deciding against the much preferred local booksellers in exchange for Panera Bread’s above-average iced tea and a WiFi connection without the fifteen dollar access fee.

Luckily they were still serving breakfast.

One egg sandwich (Wahoo!) and a half-a-gallon of unsweetened tea later, I settled in my chair and examined my fellow customers while my laptop blinks and buzzes to life. The bakery was veritably empty (the din of my laptop’s start menu sounded like a foghorn), only a dozen or so old women and men spending their retirement munching on Asiago-baked bagels and reading the latest Patricia Cornwell.

tread_ellipticalsStretching my legs toward the fire I noticed . . . did I mention there was a fire? No? Ah well, much like those found in a ski lodge (or at least those ski lodges I’ve seen on television), the fireplace sat in the middle of the room, encased in iron and mesh and formed the lower portion of one of the bakery’s supporting pillars. Three soccer moms had also cuddled up beside the gas-powered furnace, warming water-soaked feet and discussing the benefits of various exercise equipment:

Woman in Sneakers: “Look, you don’t understand. Everyone says the Elliptical feels better on the knees, but you have to work twice as hard to even feel tired.”

Woman with Floral Purse: “But a treadmill is just running. You can do that anywhere.”

Sneakers: “Not in thirty-degree weather you can’t.”

Woman with One Eyebrow: “Martha’s husband, Bill, nearly died on a treadmill just last year. Alice, you remember.”

Sneakers: “He was close to eighty though.”

Eyebrow: “Six children, nine grandchildren . . . shame.”

Pause.

Purse: “Alice, how much did you pay for your Elliptical again?”

I tuned out the eavesdropped conversation as the women discussed prices, department sales, and their children’s third quarter grades. My attention returned to my email. One of my classmates had written to me, eagerly asking if I passed my Comprehensive Exams. Over the past semester after a poor showing during the first round of exams (I got a little too creative with my essays and failed – I promise to write more on that debacle later; professors despite popular opinions do not appreciate thematic subtlety.), my professor worked with me to help shape my writing into something more straightforward, indifferent, and blunt like a fill-in-the-blank quiz. Another fail and I’d be forced to shell out more tuition for another round of classes. No one wanted that – least of all me.

Master's Degree . . . Wahoo!

Master's Degree . . . Wahoo!

I had anticipated the exam results in another week or so; thus, with beating heart, I filtered through the last day’s mail, avoiding several Victoria’s Secret ads and a 40% off Borders coupon – save those for later. A quick scan of my inbox found the desired email. Praise be . . . I passed my Comprehensive Exam. Masters Degree! Another letter or so behind my name. Another piece of paper . . . Wahoo!

In celebration I consumed a tomato and mozzarella Panini and another large iced tea – ‘cause that’s how I roll. Immediately I signed onto Gmail and told Dasad, who after happily congratulated me, waited a few seconds before popping the dreaded question:

“So now what?”

The question seemed to hover in the air for several precious minutes, while I attempted futilely to understand what he meant. No dice. Instead I watched an old lady in pink sweats and matching headband refill her coffee before responding.

“Wait . . . Huh?”

“Job-wise, what’s the plan now? Library? Some office somewhere? That government job you talked about? What?”

“I-I don’t know,” I typed, including the stammer for effect. Don’t get me wrong. The question presented itself each and every day for the past twenty-years or so, but finding myself with little to no resources to adequately answer it, I proceeded to procrastinate my response, putting any serious thought until school ended, until I graduated college, until I finished my research, until I got my Masters. Now I began to wonder if I could push the decision back until I got married, but realized the wait would be too long even by my standards.

Still the books don’t buy themselves. Writers are more numerous than PhDs; the market is saturated as any blogger can admit. Perhaps it’s time to stop seeking an ideal job, and instead find something stable . . .

Still stability was never my thing; I approach jobs like a nomad considers borders. One comes to relish the absence of routines, tomorrow’s unexpected creation or journey. As Weezer sings (da da da . . . sucking up to Bob, growing old and hoping there’s a God) too many of us live merely to extend existence, cradle to the grave with my hand on the snooze alarm.  And that doesn’t sound very appealing either . . .

Still one must grow up sometime – in theory. I suppose that I’m still looking for that perfect middle ground . . .

“Well,” Dasad writes. “Personally I think you’ll get bored at a library. Too much repetition, you know? Not enough reading or at least discussion about reading.”

“Yeah . . . You wouldn’t happen to have any positions like that at your place, eh? Storytime leader for the IT consultants?”

“Would there be nap time and snacks?”

“Sure.” After all everyone loves cookies and sleep.

“Will look into it,” Dasad writes following up with a smiley face. “Just nothing too fantasy-based. If I can’t stomach Tolkien, any lesser master will send me retching . . .”

“You kiddin’? Nothing but O’Henry for this soon-to-be-unemployed student.”

“Ha,” Dasad laughs. “Tales of hobos and tramps, eh?”

“We all have our heroes. Poets, writers, and academia-addicts like me need to extract inspiration from somewhere. Why not the wandering minstrel or out-of-work vagabond? As long as it gives me story-fodder and time to write, right? Maybe I’ll consider teaching for a while too. At least then I’ll have my summers off . . .”

“Bum, why not just work for the government?”

“And eschew my last ounce of dignity?” I laughed taking my last sip of iced tea. “Even gypsies have their pride . . .”

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. — James Barrie