Sunday, March 26, 2006

laugh me to the end of time

Finding myself with a couple of hours to kill, a sunny afternoon, and nothing else to do, I can no longer avoid the conflict that rests at the core of this blog and my quarter-life crisis crusade: the stigma that dogs my current profession of choice, the time-tested chide that "those who can do and those who can't teach."

I'm of two minds on this: officially, intellectually, I know this is untrue. Teaching is a profession, a skill, an ability in itself. Still, in the darkness I fear it's true, if only for me. That teaching is a default choice - a more preferable, safer option to another occupation that I'd rather do, but can't.

Not quite wise, but growing wizened in my quarter-age, I know that the resolution to these conflicting perspectives will be frustratingly inconclusive and unsatisfying, as they usually are to all the "big" questions, like a tie in hockey or the inevitable answer to "was it good for you?"

I'm sure that both responses can contain some truth - that I'm genuinely satisfied by teaching yet simultaneously unfulfilled. However, there are some underlying attitudes that make the "can do/can't teach" expression more interesting and more complex. First of all, it assumes that "can do-ing" in whatever occupation is a vaguely better option than teaching. There have got to be at least a couple of high school math teachers out there on this sunny Sunday afternoon with their kids and their dog, happy that they're not cozying up to a quadratic equation.
The second implicit assumption is that the failure of "can't do-ing" lasts painfully forever. I'd love more than anything to dispatch this belief as well, but I think it warrants a closer look.

Maybe I'm alone, but I only think of this aphorism as it pertains to actors and artists, musicians and writers, all of a breed that couldn't cut it in the wild. The weak zebra, though trailing the herd and soon to be tracked down by a lion, still noble and majestic in its tragedy. Are there accountants who say of Bob, "he couldn't make it as an accountant," to explain his sudden switch from business school to teacher's college?

I think I make this assumption because the permanence of the saying implies that the person who "can't do" is aspiring to some kind of greatness. The person's relative "fall" to teaching looks tragicically facile and mundane in comparison. Maybe it's just that we don't know many truly great accountants, or we merely forget about them until tax-time. (I imagine Bob must have found the insincerity particularly hurtful.)

Let's for a moment suppose that as a teacher I'm one of those "can't do-ers", and the something else that I aspire to "can do" is something creative: writing, filmmaking, advertising etc. As a teacher, I can feel comfortable about the constant potential of my unsowed creative oats because I tell myself that teaching is a "good for right now" option. That I like it and I'm good at it, and it pays the bills, and I'd be happy to work at that and write or do whatever in my spare time, off time, and free time.

Except that I don't really write or do any of that stuff now. I have enough free time that I could be more creative if I wanted do, but for whatever reason, I don't...

I think I've got to try to understand the reasons why I don't, or I will continue on my current path dreading a future non-writing teacher me who will be spending all his pension money on either a therapist, a divorce or a sports car. Accounting, though, for the possibility that in the future, we'll all be alien-colonized slave labour, or that depressed middle-aged philandering will become socially acceptable, or following the over-use of fossil-fuels, hemp powered tricycle's will no longer carry the same kind of mid-life crisis cache.

The place I will have to look is, of course, the possiblity that I don't actually want to be a writer or a filmmaker. That I like reading and I like films, and my mistaken aspiration is more accurately located in a desire to be great at something, anything. Moreover, to be widely regarded as being great at this whatever. Now, I don't know how many times you've seen "Mr. Holland's Opus," but unless I learn to sing 'Beautiful Boy' in sign language, I don't think i'm going to find that kind of greatness there. Not the kind that movies and television have taught me to expect and respect.

Teachers are real people. Movies and television only taught me to be a person two-hours at a time. Maybe that's where the expression "everyday people" comes from - people who live every day, as opposed to 30 minutes a day, once a week, September through May not counting re-runs. They only show shows of the stars. How am I going to truly accept real life as one of many chucklers on a laugh track (however entertaining and distinctive my Whitzman laugh may be).

If i don't know this by now, will I never, never, never know this at all? How the hell am I going to get this monkey off my back? I'm starting to understand that nobody ever knows where they're going to be in five, ten, twenty years, and that you've "found" as much of yourself at forty-five as you do at twenty-five. Still, there is something that feels particularly committed and lacklustre about "high-school teacher."

Of course, this fret-fest may be completely academic in a couple of weeks if I fail to gain admission to teacher's college. (it just sounds wimpy: "teacher's college." grad school may lead to crippling debt, but at least it has a more emphatic syllable structure.)

In the meantime, I'm going to start developing other career options that will serve a similar purpose - that is, provide a capable alibi to distract me from pursuing something that I actually want to do. So with that said, I'm sure I could continue to convince myself that i will soon, tomorrow, five more minutes ma, pretty please right after this next commericial, sincerely try hard to pursue/avoid all my creative aspirations if I'm doing some other noble job in the meantime. In preparation of not getting into teacher's college, I will begin in earnest a list of alternate career moves for my next post.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

since I was knee-high to a hip-hopper

Haven't written for a while; was hosting this little awards show in Los Angeles, trying to keep a low profile though so I don't really want to talk about it.

Glad it's over too, because now I can finally focus on my blog. It makes me feel needed with an intensity that I haven't felt since I was vice-president of the AV club in high school.

I remember fondly those halcyon days, the innocent hijinks amid a haze of pot smoke. Lately though I've been forced to sober up to another's stark reality in contrast to my own fuzzy wonder years . The fragility of youth, cliche that it is, recently revealed itself to my new student and it's made him a Sad Young Man. SYM's a good kid but he's had a bad thing happen to him in a situation that a lot of us have probably gone through unscathed. We'll be working together over the next couple of months, trying to get him through grade twelve english, trying to get him back on his feet. Trust that I'll be reporting our regular and exciting literary discoveries.

Before you go digging up that dusty copy of Streetcar in preparation, you'll want to hear about the rest of my regular work day. With my afterrnoon hours, I buckle down into a more solitary world to transcribe an ongoing series of lengthy and occasionaly interesting interviews with "successful" Canadians. The interviews are part of an ambitious book project to find out how successful people managed to make it throught the forest of twenty-something indecision and doubt. Initiated by a group of young go-getters with upper management written all over them, I'm hesitant to accept that the wisdom uncovered will be helpful in the way they hope it might. But by gosh, the implication that it might sure seems to make the interviewees feel good. What do you get the person who has everything indeed.

You'll definitely be hearing all about these adventures, but not today.

Hope there's still people reading. I've got so much snide angst to share.

p.s. I've been watching celebrity poker lately. Any chance that Kathy Griffin is really Andy Dick in drag?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Smells Like Teen Spirit

I had planned to write about the tedium of daily work routines, but the topic was too boring to confront even in conversation. Instead, I want to scrutinize a recent personal discovery: as I begin my working life, it seems that I have become obedient. The sassy, lippy, smart-ass adolescent has grown humble and respectful of authority. This new man is an advocate for the five-paragraph essay structure, for reading the book instead of watching the movie, for towing the party line. When did all this happen? When did this become me?

In order to contextualize this epiphany, let me backtrack a bit. After two months of increasingly arduous post-summer unemployment, I have been enjoying daily work as a grade 12 English teacher since October, slinging hash for a fledgling private academy. ( I couldn't think of a cool industry-insider term for teaching, so I borrowed lingo from another field.) My students have thrived in the small class environment and have legitimitely improved their ability to understand and write about literature.

Damn, it felt good to be a gangster! (still stealing slang)

My enthusiasm waned slightly when the school administrator expressed concern that my marks were too high and requested that I grade future work in a deeper shade of red. Moreover, I was rankled by the insincerity of their request: they didn't want to earn a reputation as "one of those" academies.

As a younger man, I might have thundered back indignantly on behalf of my students. After all, they were going to receive a grade drastically lower than what I had led them to expect. But like the woman in the long black veil, I said not a word, even though I had every right to be frustrated. The administration never helped me to establish evaluation guidelines and now they wanted me to tarnish my reputation for theirs.

Still, I acquiesced and now I'm left wondering - what am I to make of my begrudging allegiance, my new-found professionalism?

Perhaps my behaviour represents a step towards emotional maturity. If I had responded with self-righteous contempt, I would have been avenging my wounded pride as much as anything. (On that note, am I the only one who's ego talks like a lisping Wally Shawn in The Princess Bride: "A criticism? Of my work?Incontheivable!")

I don't think I can claim a unanimous victory in the name of progress without mourning the loss of my rebellious lip. Once a proud and mighty weapon, authority figures would tremble in its presence. Parents, teachers, coaches, random clergy - none were safe. Now that I'm crossing over to the other side, becoming a mister - the man - I can imagine that the victims of my youthful disrespect must have secretly admired the caustic irreverence. My sass was a necessary evil; I carried the torch of youth which they let smolder out. Like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, deep down they wanted me on that line, they needed me on that line.

Does this occasion really mark the beginning of my sanctimonious Tom Cruise years? Now that I'm actually responsible for my own income, have I been cowed by the hand that feeds me? Shit, I don't even get paid that much! I could have at least held out for more money.

I feel like I've betrayed my teenage self by growing up, but then I look around me and realize that I have been betrayed by my childhood heroes. All my smart-alec inspirations have gone the way of the walkman. The young Corey Feldman, who yapped his way onto the silver screen and into our hearts, is now a disgrace. A once proud Ferris Bueller now goes by the name Mr. Jessica Parker and seems only to speak in public on eponymous daytime talk shows like Rosie, Ellen and Oprah. Zack Morris finally graduated from Bayside and became a cop on NYPD, while Steve Guttenberg finally left the Police Academy and became a throwaway punchline on the Simpsons. (maybe I should be more concerned by the fact that I ever revered Steve Guttenberg)

No wonder I've gone soft - all my rebellious role models have grown old and stale. As my writer friend observed recently, we are now older than most of the athletes we revere. Rap's gone corporate and I'm not cool enough to keep up with legitimate underground punk. Facial hair might be my sole remaining outlet for petty resistance.

Let me know if I'm alone in this struggle. Young people, do you feel me? Old people, regale us with stories of bosses triumphantly told off.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Paper or Plastics?

It's been a few days since this space was created, and in that time I have decided that I don't want to maintain an idle, unfocused blog. Instead, I plan to use this space as a forum for those who share my so-called quarter-life crisis concerns. The search for a rewarding career has begun - oddly concurrent with the end of my interest-free student loan grace period - and it demands my constant attention.

In order to understand my career malaise, let's trace it back to its source: the movies. A langorous and ongoing childhood dalliance with the movies can be doubly blamed for my current confusion; not only do I keep waiting for the story of my life to unfold before me, I get bored during the commercials and flip the channel. Can't make up my mind. Want it all. Sound familiar?

No movie speaks more to the point of this condition than The Graduate. (While I'm laying blame like Wilt laid wood, I'll pause to reflect on 1960's America as my mecca of disillusioned self-entitlement; in 40-odd years, young men in my position went from sexy iconoclast to "not marriage material"). When we meet The Graduate's anti-hero, Benjamin Braddock, he's somnambulating his way through his own graduation party. And then he's exposed to a future brimming with potential: "Just one word. Are you listening? Plastics."

Though the film spoke to another generation, this scene still strikes to the heart of my current post-graduate indecision. What could be more mundane than a career in plastics? I think I'm like a lot of people my age, who may lack focus and inspiration but know what they don't want to do. Plastics. Like Benjamin Braddock, we all want our future to be"...I don't know....different." From a distance, most jobs seem similar. They all seem like plastics.

We all want to do something great, something special, something that doesn't make us feel like we wasted our time. Maybe that's the problem: we're getting tripped up by an adolescent conflation of "special" and "great," with a generous splash of "different than my parents" to the mix. Like Albert Brooks ponders in Defending your Life: How come everybody is someone famous in a previous life? Everybody thinks they were Catherine the Great. How come nobody was Joe the Butcher?

For the moment, I'm trying out life as Jon the ennglish teacher. Actually, I really like it. It's similar to life as Jon the english student, but better: more money coming in, more reading, more learning. Still, I know that I will continue to be dogged by the spectre of something more "special", something more "different," possibly even something "great". Go west young man, and all that.

We'll meet back here to discuss the trials and tribulations of careers in progress and careers on the horizon. Perhaps the potential insights we gain from this virtual paper will help us avoid a career in plastics.

Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Luke, I am your blogger

So here I am.

....(ahem)

okay. i'll get over my virtual stage fright soon, I'm sure, and you won't be able to shut me up. for now, I'll just introduce myself and get the ball rolling.

Another casualty of the recently graduated, I will treat this blog as my space to play. To share the ideas that nobody is paying me to entertain. To force my witty observations on loyal friends and family. To write sentence fragments with reckless abandon.

Until later, all. And in case you haven't yet heard: yes, it is true. I have learned to whistle.