Friday, December 22, 2017

AJ's DIY Stuff: Episode One: Shower Steamers

What happened to me over the course of three days?

Two days ago on Wednesday I was busy grading midterms exams with all the enthusiasm of a house-elf, hopelessly dreaming of freedom for the holiday. Two days ago I was partaking in the festive fellowship of my colleagues at our Christmas party, enjoying tasty chicken, vegetables, and a few holiday spirits. Two days ago I was singing karaoke in downtown Wheeling, belting out "Dancing in the Dark" while mimicking Bruce's moves for a sparse yet adoring crowd.

One day ago on Thursday I was riding around Wheeling, stopping at Minit Car Wash to make sure the Explorer was minimally clean for Christmas. One day ago I was shopping at Kroger, blindly searching for Arm and Hammer on the wrong side of baking goods aisle. One day ago I was back in downtown Wheeling, picking up my CCHS State Championship gear from Shirts 'n More, then making the short jump to Centre Market for fish sandwiches at Coleman's. One day ago I was fighting sleep in bed, obsessively making Christmas Jib Jab ecards which I continued to send out and post until the early morning.

Today, what was going through my mind as I made shower steamers? What peculiar and deviant voice was speaking to me in my mind, encouraging me to make a video blog about the creation of those shower steamers? What personal issue did I hope to resolve by spending nearly five hours of my Christmas break making the shower steamers then creating this ridiculous video?

What happened to me? Why would I make this silly DIY video about something so bizarre? 

I should have just written a simple blog post. I should have just read a book. Right? Tell me I am right. Naw. Don't do that, please. I LOVED IT! I still do not quite understand what inspired me to do this, but I do know that I had a thoroughly enjoyable time making the steamers and the video! 😜

It is Christmas. The year is drawing to a close, but there are still plenty of days on the calendar, numerous minutes awaiting us all on the clock. Moments still exist to embrace a lost inner child, the kid who wants to enjoy life, the one who revels in the magical spirit of the season we are experiencing. The weary soul in us all who wants to forget about the feverish pace of this world should reward himself with an opportunity to smile and do some crazy stuff.

Merry Christmas to everyone! 
Thanks for reading the blog this year!

Please take a look at my quirky video. I had a blast doing it, and there is a special message for everyone. 

Still missing you.

Saturday, December 2, 2017


It is Friday. I am standing in front of a porcelain sink in the men's restroom at school, lifting my head to the mirror in front of me and beginning to wonder to myself, "What am I doing with your life?" Sighing, I fill my palms with icy water spraying from the faucet, splashing it on my maroon head. I take some dabs of foaming soap from the adjacent dispenser then begin to lather it all over my cold face, slowly removing the spirit paint. How did I arrive at this point? Why is my face in such a bizarre and disturbing condition? Why am I here in a school bathroom at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon when most of the more sensible people have vacated the premises? I need to retrace my steps, travel backwards in time from this day to one nearly seven days earlier.

Central Catholic High School emptied quickly this afternoon, the students sprinting to their cars after the pep rally to close out the school day before the state championship game the next evening. The students, the teachers, the family members, and so many other guests radiated the anticipation of the first state championship game at CCHS since 2011. The pep rally was a traditional "family" affair. The cheerleaders performed the routine destined for their own state championship the following weekend, the school sang the fight song two times, Coach Young inspired the throng with his emotional and spirited pep rally speech, and the student body just cheered and cheered. Everyone did their part; I did mine.

Honestly, I don't understand what I am doing half the time; sometimes I find myself in the middle of a situation and begin to question my motivation. I suppose it is akin to gaining awareness in a dream then desperately wanting to wake up. Anyhow, earlier in the week I had asked to have a part in the pep rally to bring our No Shave November to a close. We had raised so much money for the Schiffler Cancer Center at Wheeling Hospital, and I was incredibly proud of the students involved in this project, an effort to raise money in honor of those in the CCHS family who had fought cancer throughout their lives, an effort to make sure those in the future could fight the same way if tragically called upon to do so.

I was so nervous talking to Rob, the SGA president and pep rally announcer. I was worried about going out there during a pep rally before the state championship, so it was a good thing my face was already painted red. The Central family seemed to love it though because we know the importance of helping others in need even when we ourselves are on the verge of greatness. Nothing beat standing by Ian, Rob, Connor, and Luke, the four students who inspired me to jump in and help out with this worthwhile cause, convincing me that it was not just about coming to school unshaven for a month. I announced the large amount we had raised to thunderous applause from everyone in the gym, turning over the microphone to the guys to announce the winner. Of course, I did my "strange humor" thing, switching the envelope with the winner of the best beard with a "planted" envelope that actually had my name in it. The shocked, exasperated expression on Ian's face as he read my name was CLASSIC! The boos were absolutely glorious as I basked in my new-found villainy, stealing the award from the true winner! My dark acclaim proved short-lived as our principal Becky Sancomb stepped in to right this wrong. Nothing beats a good kayfabe, right?

By the time eighth period arrived nearly an hour earlier, I was ready to go to the pep rally. Ring the bell, Becky. Send us to homeroom. Get this show on the road. No luck though. Not for me. My eighth period AP English students wandered in looking tired and ready to go as well. They knew what was coming though; the students who had avoided me all day  entered as I insisted that each senior put some maroon spirit paint under their eyes before the pep rally. The eye rolls of cynical teenagers are truly precious, aren't they? Of course, they turned this all back on me. I was so tired. I had no energy to resist.

After I had drawn lines on all the brave souls who begrudgingly succumbed to cheers of their friends, Owen asked me the question which led to my becoming a hot mess of maroon spirit paint. "Hey, Bucon. Can I paint a CC on your head?"  You see, I am slightly bald so people love to make bald jokes. 

Shortly thereafter Owen had drawn a crooked CC atop my head that looked like a damned swastika from certain angles. I could not walk to the pep rally like that, but I was not confident I could clean my head so my group of seniors, God love them, suggested that I just smear the CC on top of my head and start again. One thing led to another and they kept finding more and more ways to paint my head, each taking turns preparing my pate for the pep rally. I should have just have stopped them, gone on with my planned vocabulary enrichment activity, but I really don't know what I am doing sometimes. Yep. Hot Mess!

As I continue to retrace my steps I head back to the previous day which had concluded with a press release event at Wheeling Hospital with Doctors Merrick and Georges. Ian, Connor, and I were representing the school for No Shave November. At the beginning of the month Ian, Connor, Luke, Rob, and I sat down and hammered out a plan to raise money for Wheeling Hospital's Schiffler Cancer Center. This was the culmination of a month of serious and funny announcements, examinations of continually growing facial hair, and days of collecting money from sponsors and voters. 

We all did interviews with the press who came to record the presentation of our check for one over thousand dollars, a check which when coupled with matching funds would exceed two thousand dollars. Ian and Connor took turns being interviewed with the two local news outlets present while I spoke with Doctors Merrick and Georges, learning that the money we had raised would be used to help those who did not have money to pay for their own PSA tests and treatment needs. As a prostate cancer survivor myself and knowing that our friend Jamey Conlin had the same type of cancer, I could not escape the importance and significance of what had happened this month. 

Taking a break from our conversation, I looked over to see Ian and Connor, adorned in their maroon, doing their interviews with WTRF and WTOV. I struggle sometimes finding words that reflect the understanding and insights in my heart. I hear my students. They speak of "family," "loved ones," "Conlin." They are nervous, but they finish the interviews, realizing for themselves the importance and significance of what we had accomplished.

I had sped to Wheeling Hospital with Becky shortly after returning from the CCHS Canned Food Bag Distribution Day. We were both dead tired, having traversed neighborhoods in the hilly area near Park View and Springdale. Every year CCHS does this as maroon clad students travel throughout Wheeling distributing flyers and bags which will be filled with canned goods and other food products to be collected on December 9th and taken to Catholic Charities as part of their biggest food collection of the year.

It is an opportunity to work side by side with our students, and while serving a vital purpose in the community, it is a chance for us teachers to learn more about our students, ones who may one day be inspired to lend a helping had on their own, ones who may become those seniors who will see the need to raise money for a worthwhile cause. 

So we walked those hills Thursday morning, placing those bags carefully at each door, checking the map to make sure we were covering our designated areas, referring to street signs so we would not become lost. As I recall each sign post we read, as I rememberthe laughter and camaraderie, a touch of clarity develops.

I continue travelling backwards through the earlier part of the week which was filled with the anticipation for the bag delivery day, the pep rally, and Saturday's game. I am proud that I managed to have some productive classes this week, but this part all becomes hazy and confusing for me because at the time I was so driven, so determined to accomplish something, to be someone, to affect my world in a manner which is difficult to articulate.

So I fly through Wednesday, Tuesday, and Monday, arriving at the previous weekend for the opening act of some play that ends with my washing maroon spirit paint from face at 2:30 the following Friday afternoon. This is my life; it was what I do. Like so many others, I search for some meaning, questioning when it will eventually reveal itself. 

Last Saturday I stood on the stairs at Bishop Schmitt Field at Wheeling Jesuit University Stadium watching the Maroon Knights football team punch its ticket to the state championship. The air had grown chilly and I was totally under-dressed, so I stood close to the press box in a futile effort to stay warm while continuing to watch the game. It was there that all of this chaos began for me; it is there that I have gained clarity.

The maroon was everywhere. Everywhere. The overflowing stands surrounding the sunlit field, the area behind the press box where spectators gathered to laugh and talk, the concession stand which sells killa taco-in-a-bag. Sometimes we need to take a moment to absorb the community in which we live, the heartbeats of the past merging with the heartbeats of the future. I gazed through the crowd behind me, one which was filled with former students I had taught last year as well as those who sat in my class five years ago. Alumni, current students, and family members huddled in the seats watching the game unfold, supporting their knights until the clock signaled that no time remained. On the field, decades of tradition coached current carriers of that same banner. 

I saw Chance Siebieda down there. I met him my first year teaching at Central. He was a classmate and friend of my niece Emily, both members of the CCHS Class of 2013. Chance was a remarkable student back then and probably a fantastic coach now. Chance will deny the first characterization, but I personally know it to be true. As a teacher I could not be more proud to see a student fulfill goals and dreams the way someone like Chance has. As the years wind away, I tend to become caught up in the chaos and confusion around me, not embracing those moments  in front of me that emanate a rich understanding of life. This past Saturday I felt the traditional nature of community, that which allows the past to live again in the present, that which affords the individual a glimpse into the impact and connections he or she has made, that which joins generations and ideology together as a book cover which protects pages of stories once told and those yet to be read.

I return to the porcelain sink in front of me, drawing more of the icy water into my palms. I look up in the mirror and slowly begin to remove the last vestiges of maroon, knowing that some will always remain.

Photo Credits:
Betsy Knorr
Becky Sancomb
The Students in Eighth Period Who Used My Camera

Sunday, November 5, 2017


Peeling back facades, exposing inner hearts, revealing the underbelly of society occurs daily, hourly, instantly. Spin around cable channels, flip through newspapers, hit the social media platforms, or simply listen to those who cross our paths looking for an open ear. 

Sometimes we can sink in a morass of hopeless, a quagmire of negativity that taints our everyday existence. I have been there, more often than not. I am guilty of succumbing to the swirling darkness as the world seems to move farther and farther from my immediate control. I do not do so intentionally, but the challenge always remains to find that balance, to hear those stories, to witness those moments, to act in those moments which make life a little more bearable for those in need.


We had an early release day at school last Friday. After a long Thursday, an exciting Day As a Knight during which prospective grade school students spent the day with us at Wheeling Central and the subsequent four hours of parent-teacher conferences for our current students, I do not feel guilty saying that the early release day was a blessing. I was experiencing a good tired, but I was also cranky, impatient,  and running on fumes. Once I cleaned up the mess I had made of my room, I left around 1:30, drove down to Center Market to pick up a couple fish sandwiches for my mom and myself for dinner.

The line was not long, but an elderly couple slowly wound their way through the line directly in front of me. The wife ordered their meal, led her less mobile husband around the metal stanchions, then paid the Coleman's cashier. Any tension I had, any eagerness I had to retrieve my food, any anxiety I had regarding the line not moving quickly enough dissipated as the three of us moved closer to the exit.

The older lady took the food, carefully maneuvered her husband around the corner to leave, then stopped to fill a paper container from the ketchup dispenser. Her hands were full, literally and figuratively, the bags of food in one arm, her husband awaiting her next direction. She pumped the plunger on the ketchup dispenser, but the back was loose and kept popping up from behind, preventing the ketchup from ever dispensing. I reached over, pushed the back down, and smiled while offering, "Here, let me help you with that." Relief flowed over all of our faces as we both left through different doors.


Saturday morning I opened Facebook to see what was going on in the world of my family and friends, trying to bypass any news articles about the government or accounts of turmoil in the world. I cannot always avoid this, but sometimes I just need to do so. I came across my friend, my former student Sabrina Thompson. When I visited Sabrina last year in New York at Google Headquarters, she spent the day showing me around New York, taking me for my first rides on the subway. Sabrina occasionally recounts her experiences on the subway, and I often wonder what I would do if I were in her situation. This is her most recent adventure on a packed subway train related through my voice with Sabrina's own Facebook comments.

"It is the a.m. rush hour. I squeeze into a train car. The next stop I see a VERY pregnant lady (at least 8 months) inch onto the crowded train. No one sitting can really see her belly because it is packed. After I saw her swaying and about to fall, I tap her and say, 'Miss, would you like to sit? I can ask someone to get up for you." 


That is the kind of person Sabrina is; she will call out people for rudeness and disrespect in a heartbeat. She sees two people near her. One is a man who is out-cold, fast asleep with his "had cocked back and mouth open."  Beside him is a a young woman "in her early 20's doing her make up on the train."

Sabrina waits until the woman is done before smiling politely and asking her to let the pregnant woman sit down. I wonder what I would have done. Seriously. I can only imagine what would have happened. Sabrina confirms my worst fears as she recounts how the 20 year old immediately makes a scene by yelling, "Bi*ch, you mean to tell me you are not going to ask the man to get up but another woman for a woman? Your mind is f*cked up!"

Sabrina persevered and told her that he is sleeping and that she would have gone elsewhere were she sleeping as well. The 20 year old continues to curse and finally moves because the entire train is now watching her behavior, and she begrudgingly allows the pregnant woman to sit down. Sabrina describes the 20 year old who is standing beside her as "still talking smack," but Sabrina is the more level-headed of the two, putting on her headphones and not saying another word since the pregnant woman now has a seat. 

Others have witnessed this scene and "out of the blue some older West Indian lady...watching this go down scolds the HELL out of the 20 year old! (T)his lady laid her out saying a combo of 'you never know what tomorrow brings and if you need someone to intercede...INTERCEDE...INTERCEDE on behalf of you!'"


Most of my friends understand my passion for BBC's Doctor Who, the science-fiction series about the last time-lord of his race, a person who simply tries to make any situation in which he finds himself better. The Doctor is more successful than he is not, but he is always about making choices to do the right thing. This is by far my favorite speech:

“Winning? Is that what you think it’s about? I’m not trying to win. I’m not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It’s not because it’s fun. God knows it’s not because it’s easy. It’s not even because it works because it hardly ever does.. I do what I do because it's right! Because it’s decent! And above all, it’s kind! It’s just that.. Just kind. 

If I run away today, good people will die. If I stand and fight, some of them might live. Maybe not many, maybe not for long. Hey, you know, maybe there’s no point to any of this at all. But it’s the best I can do. So I’m going to do it. And I will stand here doing it until it kills me. And you’re going to die too! Some day.. And how will that be? Have you thought about it? What would you die for? Who I am is where I stand.. Where I stand is where I fall. Stand with me. These people are terrified. Maybe we can help a little. Why not, just at the end, just be kind?         

The Doctor

Most people do not ride subways every day, but the subway is definitely a microcosm for a world in which we find ourselves. There are those moments when we are standing in line at the fish market with a person who needs help carrying bags, there are those instances when we see someone struggling internally, there are those times when we have an opportunity for action, when we can be a voice for reason, when we can stand with those who need support. We know when to do the right thing, when there is a moment of need, when we need to intercede on behalf of another, when we need to just be kind.

Google Images
Sabrina Thompson
Stewart Seyfried YouTube Channel

Sunday, September 10, 2017


I do not know how long I carried around that old burnt-orange gym bag. I know I chose this style decades ago while shopping at the old Value City store in Benwood, WV, where there now sits a Kia dealership. Back when it was brand-spanking new, the gym bag's burnt-orange waterproof canvas possessed a warm glow and its black plastic bottom was hard and solid, providing a sturdy foundation for all the crap I carried in it. This gym bag once maintained some semblance of form even when it was not overstuffed with odorous Nike cross-training shoes, sweaty reversible shorts, stinking shirts, socks, and drawers, as well as those moldy towels. 

I recently noticed that my burnt-orange gym bag had slowly started to fall apart. The canvas has faded, the color devolving into a patchwork of limited original color interspersed throughout lighter faded spots, water stains, and dark scuff marks. The hard plastic bottom has cracked on all of the corners while the firm bottom matting has grown irreconcilably softened, unable to confidently bear the weight of all that I carry with me. This gym bag has served me for so long:  gym trips, work days at school, vacations to the beach, trips between North Carolina and West Virginia. This gym bag traveled with me to more places, carried stuff I needed and stuff that was useless, and now mirrored the malaise and indifference that had begun to permeate my life.

As much as I loved, still embraced, and comfortably carried my old burnt-orange gym bag, I knew it was time for change. 

I traversed across the Ohio Valley, stopping in every store I thought would have gym bags on their shelves; I searched online at Amazon Prime for a new bag that could be sent to me in two shipping days. Nothing matched my vision for the future, the new directions I wanted to take. Nothing matched until I went to T.J. Maxx at The Highlands. Honestly I had given up hope until there it sat, the burgundy red gym bag with black and dark gray trim. Damn! Those side pockets were huge, adorned with shiny new zippers with hard plastic pulleys on each end. The top flap unzipped to reveal a spacious interior, one which had a sturdy matting which reminded me of my old bag when it was once new. This was it. This was the new gym bag to carry all of my stuff, to take me places I wanted to travel in the future, to transform me into someone who desperately wanted to move into the next stage of his life.

Monday night I packed the new burgundy red bag with my school clothes for the next day. I stuffed my shoes with a belt and socks, I neatly folded my trusty khakis, dress shirt, and tie, and, finally, I filled my travel bag with deodorant, shaving necessities, and a toothbrush. I carried my burgundy bag down to my Explorer where it waited for me until the next morning when I began my early morning workouts, exercise that I could not accomplish when I wanted to go with my burnt-orange bag after school. Despite a restless night's sleep in anticipation of the upcoming day, I had a bounce in my step the next morning. 

I left the Wellness Center that morning, put my gym bag in the back seat, then headed off to school through the rainy morning. As I began ascending the stairs to my third floor classroom, my wet plastic lunch bag slipped through my hand, scattering pieces of the stoneware container, rice, chicken, and veggies across the tiled floor. I had to laugh at this. I shrugged it off, cleaned up my mess, taught my classes, ate a couple granola bars and surviving tangelos for lunch, straightened up my room, then headed home for the day. I carried that burgundy red gym bag upstairs to my bedroom where I took out the damp clothes then repacked it with my work clothes for the next day. 

I continued the week repeating the same ritual with my burgundy red bag, finding a rhythm, doing my best to ignore the rascally gremlins as they appeared throughout the day: the students who had extra "sass" in their voices, the random events that trashed my daily schedule, my crazy coworkers (you know who you are 😏). I wanted to focus on some positive aspects of my life: the enthusiasm of the largest senior class I have taught since returning to Central, the colleagues who were excited about doing something new in their classrooms (you know who you are 😏), and my renewed energy. I stayed a little longer every day, reading some good essays, coming up with some new rewards on Classcraft, and listening to Stevie Nicks as I enjoyed being in the moment.

On Friday afternoon I threw my burgundy red bag in the Explorer and sped to Morgantown where I spent the evening with my North Carolina friend Kathy and her husband Kelly while we watched their daughter Emma Jane shut out the Mountaineer soccer team as goalie for the Duke Blue Devils. Kathy captured pictures of me posing as a childlike fan with the Duke team as the three of us greeted the players after the game. I even picked up some promised autographs and well-wishes for the soccer players in my classes. Everyone seemed surprised that I made this trip. "Go! That sounds like fun!" I think they knew it was a trip I needed. It was more special than I ever realized it could have been. Kathy and I, the consummate English teachers, talked about how this was so surreal for both of us. That is what we English teachers do even in our spare time, even when we have not seen each other in a year, even when we live five hundred miles apart—we discuss the underlying meaning of everything.

Back in the day I was content coming home to quietly relax after a hectic week. In the future I will more than likely do that again and be perfectly fine with that choice. Back then I had a burnt-orange bag that suited me fine for where I was at the time, where I wanted to go, who I wanted to be. I am not tossing out the old bag. I will put some "stuff" in there, some sweatshirts I no longer wear, some dog blankets I may not need for a while, some pictures I can keep in my memory for the time being. Now, my burgundy red bag is ready to travel with me to new places, to experience more moments, to live life differently than I had. With any luck this new gym bag will be as durable as the previous, lasting long enough until I realize I need a new, maybe even better, one. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017


The Quiet.

We hear it. It speaks volumes. Yet does it offer anything of substance?

A literal presence—The Quiet—yet a figurative visitor, a permanent guest, a forgotten family member, a possible stranger we overlook as it breathes our air or lives in a corner room of our hearts, one which takes longer to disappear than it did to arrive.

The Quiet.

It is there on a teacher's last day of school. Not the one on which the students all rush out after their final exams, leaving papers, pens, water bottles, candy wrappers, and books strewn about the halls and throughout the lockers. It is the last day of school for the teacher, once everything is packed away and the door is locked. Left behind is The Quiet, vacuously filling the void of the recently departed conversations, joviality, and reminiscences, traveling with the teacher down the long hallway and out the doorway into the fresh summer air.

The Quiet.

It is there when we catch ourselves breathing the air, feeling the temperature on our skin, listening to the wind as it blows. It is there on that final day of summer camp when we hear the distant breakfast bell ring through the window beside our bed for the last time. It is there on graduation day as we jump in our car, soon after we roll down the window, right there before we turn on the ignition, before we switch on our exit music. It is there on a sandy Carolina beach at the break of dawn as we wade through the tide one last time before our vacation ends. It is there on the shaded porch as we finish a good book, understanding life a little better if only for a short time. The Quiet sits with us when we must catch our breath, when we take stock of our lives.

The Quiet.

It is there when we carry our sons and daughters to college for the first time, to the bus which heads to basic training, to a new job in a different state, to the altar where they marry the love of their life. It is there when we must take our leave, looking in the rear view mirror, glancing over our shoulder for one last glimpse of a picture we want to keep forever in our hearts. The Quiet rides in that seat beside us even though we know that there is little room for it. We cannot help but include it as a passenger because it may be the only company we have.

The Quiet.

It is there when we lose someone we love, a family member, a best friend, a loyal pet. It is there as sadness presses down on our chest, preventing us from taking the deep breath that we need to bridge the chasm that has opened in our heart. It is there as regret and guilt force tears to cloud our eyes from seeing life for the grandeur that it is. It is there when confusion erases the words we need to express our blessings and heartbreak. 

Such is the challenge we all face in life. As we grow older, we perceive the The Quiet's fluid presence, recognizing its harshness, its indifference, its persistence, its impermanence, its encouragement, its tranquility.  We carry the burden and blessing of perception in our lives, learning as we age that change, in all of its degrees and forms, always waits at our door, that door which remains perpetually ajar from previous visits. We realize that we cannot realistically keep our worlds picture-perfect all of the time just as we cannot simply snap our fingers and magically send the disheartening and bleak times away. 

The Quiet frustrates us, angers us, and tortures us. The Quiet also stands with us, rests with us, and listens to us; it understands that our lives are full of change and that sometimes life is harder on us than we care to admit. The Quiet remains until it chooses to leave, until we are stronger, until a breaking dawn after countless sleepless nights arrives, until we are ready to live again. 

Taking my time with The Quiet.
Still learning lessons you have
taught me, Ranger.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


"I have to stay to the end; I have come this far."

I look over at Doug Costain, who sits three or four seats to my right on the front row just down from first base at Appalachian Power Park, identical seats we had in June of 2016 for the West Virginia State High School Championship baseball games. We are both there early enough to watch our favorite Maroon Knights (his son Chris being his favorite) take the field for warm-ups, both snapping pictures of the players, both doing our best to capture the moment, the end of a story that has been told for over a year.

As the players throw around the baseballs, I toss out an observation, not a stray one but one with an understanding and sentiment I am sure we both comprehend. "Gosh, Doug. It seems as if we were just here a few months ago - (long pause) - Time sure flies..." I stop short of the traditional end of that phrase "when you're having fun" which just does not seem to work here. Not today at least. 

Dedication. A word with multiple layers of meaning and perspective that permeated so much of our lives since last June. Dedication to the memory of a lost coach. Dedication to tradition. Dedication to school. Dedication to God. Dedication to family. Dedication to the human spirit. Dedication to doing what needed to be done to have an opportunity for magic. This season, this year had been for him. A dedication.

Bottom of the seventh inning. 
Central is down 2-0. 
One out. 
Second out. 
One base hit.
Another hit. 
An error. 
Another base hit. 
Bases loaded. 
One hit. 
One catch. 
Third and final out. 
Game over. 
That's it. 

It is a scenario that has probably unfolded numerous times over countless decades. However, each scenario has its own backstory, its own frame of reference, making it personally relevant and soul-cutting to all participants and spectators.

I go from elation to numbness as Tyler's hit flies hard between first and second base only to be caught by a player I never see, a player no one seems to see there. A catch that ends the game, a catch that ends a year-long quest, a catch that causes most of us to sigh and listen to the silence. What now?

We all wait. Friends, teachers, alumni, and family. We all wait to greet our team as they slowly make their way from the dugout. We all struggle with the words, careful to recognize the gravity of this moment, wondering if there is any possible way to make this better. We all understand what needs to be said: "I am so sorry about the way this ended," "I could not be more proud of you for everything you did this season," "I love you." Some players readily accept the comfort, others quickly find their way to the bus, others fall into a long embrace in the arms of a parent. Dedication takes its toll.

The crowd eventually makes its way back to the hotel to commiserate and even celebrate together. It is a mixture of emotions, people realizing that this one game does not tell the entire story we have all watched unfold. Many people take to Facebook to make their own poignant observations about the season, the year, and even the freshman to senior odyssey many of them have traveled. Heather Rine proudly posts pictures of her son Isaac on Facebook while she writes in her own insightful manner, "we've watched Isaac play for the last time as a Maroon Knight. We may have lost, but we have gained more than I wish to mention." Perfect, Heather. Yes, perfect. 💗

Heather's philosophical husband Jason goes the direct route, explaining to the gathering throng in the lobby that "everyone wants a Hollywood ending but 99.9 percent of the stories don't end that way." Jason's correct as well. Sometimes we expect our stories to have that Hollywood ending, unrealistically making everything right in the world. In this case, Tyler's ball flies over the player's head and the Knights score three runs to win in the bottom of the seventh, sending the team to the championship where they win, celebrating a long emotional season with a state championship hoisted high in the air in honor of their former coach. Honestly, after Jason says this, I end up contemplating his words later that evening then on into the next morning when I wake up to walk around the streets of Charleston still catching my breath the next day from everything that has transpired. I think Jason may have been making another point.

What if this actually were the Hollywood moment for the story we just witnessed? 

Look, I know I am nowhere near to being a baseball guru and cannot come close to seeing the subtleties of the game that so many other people can. Ask anyone who has sat near me during a game. I do understand that leaving three people stranded on base at the end of any inning, more importantly the bottom of the seventh inning, is not cause for celebration, but we must consider the backstory, the frame of reference beyond what we see through the statistics or the play-by-play.

While this season was a dedication to a lost coach, it was also a dedication to the human spirit and that which stokes the flames of inspiration. Rather than looking at three young men left stranded on base, look at them as three young men, representatives of this courageous team who dedicated this year to their coach who died fighting a protracted battle with cancer; look at their dedication to finishing what they started, digging deep for some way to play just one more game; look at them as passionate individuals who were so involved in life and doing what they believed as right, doing it as a team, honoring a vow they made to each other; and, of course, look at the entire team, coaching staff, families, and friends, then ask yourself if Jamey was not looking down and smiling, proud of them, of us, for keeping the faith regardless of the ending no one wanted.

The next day, during a smaller group gathering, Isaac Basinger's mother Amy shows me a picture of this painted wooden plaque she found in the mall that day which reads "Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created. Esther 4:14"  I instantly write it down in my journal knowing darn well that this is a great "after the credits" scene for a movie with a pretty good Hollywood ending. 

"I am so glad that I stayed until the very end."

Thanks, Amy.


I began Time and Space a year ago, not knowing where it would take me. I look all the way back to Life Lessons in the Rain, my first really focused effort, then I discover different points throughout the past year during which I would return to share my thoughts and feelings about this same all-too-real story, not realizing until recently that all the posts sort of fit together. Go figure, huh? 

As I make this post this morning, I have to thank the people who encouraged me to continue writing: my family, especially Mom; my friends from all over, Kathy, Jodi, Becky, Betsy, and anyone I may have forgotten; Sabrina, my former student who keeps popping up in my life as a reminder to follow my passion nowmy new friends, the parents of CCHS baseball who let me be part of the story, especially to Heather and Jason for their kindness when I needed it; the guys on the team, students I have taught who seemed to have appreciated that I was there; and God, for giving me a means to deal with all of my "issues" in life and for His keeping an eye on our "knucklehead" up there.


Wednesday, May 24, 2017


I am still processing what happened this year, the year that became a blur before it even began.

We all have someone in our lives, whether it be ourselves or another person, someone who attaches the intangible nature of memories, love, or values to collectibles. A picture mounted in a century-old silver frame handed down generation to generation. An old wooden rocking chair used by the matriarch of a family to rock the young children to sleep. Plaques of achievement, culminating awards for accomplishment of spirit and determination. Then there are items of glass: crystal wine glasses, depression era milk bottles, figurines etched with tiny letters of the times and places of celebrations. All are one in the same, all glass susceptible to being cracked, broken, or shattered if knocked from a perch of safety. We take great care when moving the glass, carrying it from one place to another, the effort rising and falling depending on the significance of the glass to us or to those who have entrusted the glass to us for safe-keeping and transportation.

The end of May is nearing, bringing to close another year of teaching, the twenty-seventh year for me. Teaching has been the perfect profession because it affords the opportunity to pause at the end of the same chaotic time each year to consider what I have accomplished with my students, tie up all the loose ends, file away the better lessons, pitch the terrible ones, and watch the credits roll until a new year begins in August.

I tend to experience each school year as a season of an episodic television show. While the central cast remains the teachers, the true focus is on the students who walk through our doors, the young people parents have entrusted to our care for nurturing, educating, and even disciplining when needed.  Each year is a different season, containing different conflicts contrasting different triumphs, but all readily available to binge-watch in my memories in order to catch certain themes or story-arcs that leave me with some insight into life itself. Each class, each year is unique, set apart from those which came before or after, not because their challenges or personalities are so dissimilar but unique because of how the students address what life has placed in their path.

In teaching, as in life, preparation only takes each of us to the moment at hand. Once the moment arrives, an unexpected detour sign may appear on a street we travel every day, a train may need the track we are about to cross, or a torrential downpour may flood our valleys, forcing us to carry one another to higher ground until the water subsides.

The loss of our colleague, friend, and teacher, Jamey Conlin, back in October of this school year was that downpour, blurring the horizon of a clear fall day. As a community we did the best we could to navigate through those first weeks, but as a teacher and someone who had also experienced this loss personally, I faced the challenge of grieving myself while continuing to teach my students, the same students who were traveling through their own stages of grief. The loss gave me, hopefully gave them, purpose out of necessity.

I can remain at the stage of denial and isolation better than anyone, locking myself in my own thoughts while leaving the world around me to fend on its own. I could not do that this time. I could not look at the faces of those juniors and seniors who walked through my door every day, selfishly thinking that we could all go through this alone. I could not shake the feeling that many of them would continue to process the emotions of those weeks in their own way and in their own time long after singing the last hymn at Jamey's funeral.

They were glass. I was glass. Fragile. Breakable. Right or wrong, that is how I felt at the time.

The year continued to chug along at an odd pace for me as the students and I slowly moved back into some semblance of a routine (if that is even possible in high school). We read our novels, wrote our papers, practiced our AP test, created our scrapfolio pages. An unusual mood hovered nearby, some unnameable perspective washing over me as I 
paid more attention, listened more closely, processed events more carefully as I watched over the students in my care.

By late winter we began the personal account project during which I ask students to thoughtfully explore a significant moment in their lives, mirroring the style of an author we had read or utilizing devices the author uses while articulating an insight into their own lives or that of life itself. Two years ago I added a challenging twist to the project: create an audio narration of the written personal account to play over photographs or images, fashioning a unique video of this significant moment. I always remind the students to choose some aspect of their lives they are comfortable sharing, noting that creating and presenting the video is the end goal of the process.

So with tremendous care we began the project, discussing possible events and moments, reflecting freely in our journals. As teachers, as adults, as parents, we all need to listen carefully to these discussions, hearing the subtext of their reasons for choices these young people make. After the events of early October, I still remained glass myself and wondered how many of them still felt the same, hesitating to invest emotion into anything, fearful to make any kind of connection which would stunt the healing that may still be occurring.

As humans we have the ability to process our feelings through the arts: writing, music, painting, and now, even video. Being creative can be a cathartic process for us as we express our own unique experiences, giving voice to lessons we have learned, closure to chapters of our lives in order to move forward. We can find that we are not as fragile as a common piece of glass but are as strong as diamonds.

My students, the ones I prayed would find their footing again, the ones about whom I had reservations regarding their resiliency, proved to be diamonds rather than glass, stronger inside and throughout, beyond any outer countenance. Students who maturely acknowledge the passage of time as they leave teams, friends, and families, mourning this loss, celebrating the memories, even while anticipating their future. Students who can pinpoint turning points in their lives, recognizing the obstacles they have overcome while articulating the keys to their success. Students who have experienced death in all of its forms: old age, tragic accidents, suicide, and disease, eventually arriving at their own understanding of the preciousness of life. The stories were all there in the words and videos the students created, those stories they shared with one another, those that they shared with me.

As the CCHS Class of 2017 marches toward graduation day, one step closer to their future, one heartbeat away from new challenges and experiences in life, I watch the credits roll and hum along to the soundtrack of their story. I consider not what they learned from me, but what I may have learned from them. So as I am still processing what happened this year, the year that became a blur before it even began, I am slowly gaining clarity. 

To begin, we as teachers are blessed that every year parents entrust us with their pride and joy, an incredible collection of personalities, minds, and souls. We sometimes struggle with that enormous responsibility as we make specific choices about what each individual student needs to learn in order to grow, but we do our best, with admitted varying levels of success, to help a child from A to B while accepting that X, Y and Z are farther down the road. Much like receiving a collectible presented to us for safe-keeping, we  do eventually return the collectible to its owner, polished, cherished, and cared for, perhaps with even more value than when we first received it.

I appreciate this year's class so much because they continued to be so similar to previous classes. They were students who allowed me and my quirky nature to serve as a guide throughout the year, not necessarily always understanding the journey but hopefully appreciating the end result. I appreciate that this year reminded me that while young people are actually stronger than we as teachers, adults, and parents sometimes believe they are, these same young people still need help finding their way when they are lost. We can listen more attentively, we can offer more avenues of communication, and we can gently nudge them in the right direction whenever possible. They are not made of glass, they do not break, but sometimes it is perfectly fine to treat them as if they are.