For my nephew upon his graduation from high school

You were born a few weeks after I moved out of my parents house. My sister named you after me. I never really figured out why . . . . I’m sure you wonder sometimes as well. I mean, look at us. We’re different, you and I. Me? I’m a romantic dreamer with delusions and grandeur, childlike whimsy, and a sense of wonder that defies my 38 (nearly 39) years. You are a stoic, mechanically inclined, solid thinker with determined eyes and far more strength of character at 17 than I had in those bygone days of my youth . . . . But I don’t want to write about me. I don’t want to write about your mother and her strange decision to make her only son my namesake. Unfortunately for you, she did, which keeps us irrevocably connected. It also doesn’t help you that I’m a writer.

So today, the day after you graduated high school, I want to write about you.

You didn’t have it easy when you were a baby. I’m going to gloss over some of the more specific parts, but let’s be honest, back then your birth father was an immature deadbeat. And your mother, God bless her, was confused and scared. That tired, old saying comes to mind, “They were too young to have kids.” But were they? He was, to be sure. He possessed a complete lack of understanding on how to father, something I would have thought somewhat intrinsic until I became a teacher . . . . Whatever he is to you now, whatever level of forgiveness you’ve granted him, we must never forget his betrayal when you weren’t old enough to take care of yourself. Really, bad parenting is nothing more than the ultimate betrayal, isn’t it? To survive, you, your mom, and your older sister bounced around a bit, going from apartment to your grandparents’ house, back to an apartment, and forth to your grandparents’ house again . . . and again . . . and again. It’s a story as old as time that oftentimes leads to less than desirable results for the children involved. I know. I’ve been teaching for awhile now. I’ve seen what such living conditions, even when they don’t last long, even when there is at least one loving parent, can do to a child . . . . I’ve seen it a lot.

But those less than desirable results never occurred in you. The madness of those early years faded, if not from your memory, than from having any lasting detrimental effect. Your mother found some stability that resulted in three more sisters for you. In a way, your mother and the man she married, your adoptive father, have already broken what was sure to be a cycle of bad fathering and weak children. In other words, the bad things, the really bad things, haven’t occurred for you or to you and I don’t think they will. The list of reasons for this is long. I mention your mother and adoptive father. But they have had help. There have been more people involved in molding you than I think you know. The same can be said for anyone.

Truth be told though, more than your birth father, more than your adoptive father, more than me, or any teacher, uncle, or friend you have, it’s your grandfather, my father, who has had the biggest impact on your life. I see it in your mannerisms and behavior. I see it in the way you walk and talk. I see it in the literal and figurative shadow you cast. He has shown you how to be a man. He has shown you how to find your silent strength and use it to help people, to love. At times, seeing you makes me wish I would have paid more attention to him growing up. But that’s the regret of any child of a good parent, isn’t it? There are many who have touched your life, but he’s the one I see in you the most. He’s the one I’m happiest to see there. He’s the one I’m jealous to see there. He’s the one who will be there long after all the others have fallen to the wayside and you are the man you will become.

For your graduation present I offer you this small phrase, something to remember when times get tough, when decisions you never thought you’d have to make come screaming at you like a freight train on cocaine (because they will):

  • If someone tells you to be a man, don’t. That’s cliche, dated, stupid, and ignorant. Be your grandpa. Like you, like me, like all of us, he’s eternal.

Oh wait. I forgot this one. And it’s the most important:

  • Never change your name. It’s got a nice ring to it.

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I love you.

There are no bad teachers

A friend of mine on Facebook posed a question about teaching the other day. I don’t remember who. I don’t even remember the question exactly. It probably didn’t have anything to do with my blog this week. Sometimes my mind can pick a jumping off point at the end of a diving board and land far, far away from the pool.

Anyway.

Whatever the question was, it got me to thinking about teaching . . . . Well, maybe it has more to do with the fact that I am now four days away from the end of my 10th year as a Bellevue West High teacher/adviser and my 14th as an educator.

Anyway.

Specifically, what it got me to thinking about was what it takes to be a good teacher. The more I thought about it, the more I came up empty. “I have no idea,” I told myself. I mean, other than the obvious skills one needs: one must be a good speaker, one must have knowledge of his or her subject matter, one must like kids, one must know how to look good in a button up shirt and cardigan sweater with the possibility of a bowtie every now and again.

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Nailed it.

Seriously though, there is something more to it. I know, not only because I teach, but because I learn as well. In fact, all my cards on the table, I’ve been to more than my fair share of college classrooms in which the person lecturing at the front of the room was in no way, shape, or form, a teacher. Lecturer? Maybe. Teacher? No. No. Absolutely not.

There is a special grit, after all, one must have to not only stand in front of a classroom of students all day and not only disseminate knowledge but teach it. Anyone can know a thing and tell people about it, but it takes a particular type of person to actually teach it. It takes a certain amount of firmness and kindness, vulnerability and strength, a certain amount of understanding combined with force. It takes knowledge, wisdom, an open mind, and a desire to be (as much as I loathe to use this cliche) a lifelong learner. It takes respect for knowledge and wisdom and disdain for ignorance and arrogance. It takes a person with much hubris who is simultaneously humble. It takes a living, breathing paradox.

And that’s what teaching is, a paradox, for all of those reasons and more. Most glaringly, after thinking through all of this, I came to a stunning realization. There are no bad teachers. Teaching is simply not something one can do poorly. Right now you may be thinking to yourself, “Wait a minute, Stueve. That’s bullshit. I remember this one teacher who was awful. And hey, didn’t you just say a second ago that you sat in some college classrooms where the teacher sucked?”

If that is indeed what you are thinking, then on both counts you are correct. I’ll even go further and direct you here to read about the worst learning experience of my life. But hold on. There’s more. If a person is actually teaching than that person is a teacher, regardless of where he or she is doing said teaching. There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ to it. If a person tries to teach and can’t, then that person is not a teacher. In other words, teaching is something one cannot do poorly. One either does it or does not do it. Or, as Yoda would say:

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Maybe that is why there is such a misunderstanding about this unique, profound, and paradoxical profession. After all, contrary to popular belief, the devil’s greatest trick was convincing mankind we needed the word ‘paradox.’

I was going to, but then I didn’t

You know what? I was going to wax philosophical on the problems with education in America today. I was also going to touch on everything great about it. I was going to spend my second-to-last post before the end of the school year in a huff of educational theory. It was going to be bold.

Then I realized it has all been said before. Every opinion on education that could ever be has already been. What is one more voice in the mess of screaming voices? What makes mine unique?

“Well, you’re a teacher, Stueve! That’s a unique position to have when writing about education!” you might say.

If you were to say that, my response might be a simple shrug. “True,” I would reply. “But what does it matter?”

I have a set of beliefs about teaching based on being in the classroom for most of my life, as a student and as a teacher. But what legitimate theorist doesn’t? In fact, most of my political, social, and religious beliefs are formed through the lens of education. But what professional educator’s isn’t?

I am the consummate scholar. I make mistakes. I beg forgiveness. I brush my wounded pride off and try again. My beliefs change when new information surfaces that forces me to rethink old thought patterns. I use this to help make me a better teacher and to help mold my beliefs about what teaching should be.

One variation or another of this philosophy built upon the backs of these same ideas has already been written though, has already been read, and has already been put into practice. What more can I do?

Nothing really. Nothing grand anyway. Nothing profound. Nothing bold. All I can do is teach. All I can do is learn. All I can do is grow. All I can do is wear my educator’s badge with pride, hubris even.

Wait.

I guess that is pretty bold these days.

 

 

God’s Grandchildren

Many moons and seasons ago when I graduated with an MFA in creative writing from the University of Nebraska, I was lucky enough to give the commencement speech. Looking back with a detective’s eye, I still can’t figure out how that happened. I learned all of my detection skills from Batman too, so you’d think I could . . . . Anyway, I had what I thought was a great idea. Unfortunately, I was nervous. I was happy. I was excited. I was sad. I was scared. My emotions were in one of those blenders from the 50s–big, loud, shimmering silver, and full of remnants of previously mixed emotions . . . .

I can remember only two other times when I felt anything similar. The first  was during my wedding. Almost 15 years ago I married a neighbor girl I had known most of my life. It was 11pm on the Las Vegas strip. We were in a little chapel that has long since found its home in the romantic stars. The second was when my son was born with a congenital heart defect that left him little more than a seven pound slab of meat for the first few seconds of his life. He has since recovered and only has a few scars across his chest, abdomen, thighs, and heart to remember the traumatic occasion of his birth. I don’t include my daughter’s birth in this list because for me there were no worries during or immediately after. There was no mix of emotions, only joy. As far as I could tell, she slid right out and started screaming at me to pay attention to her. She hasn’t stopped since. My wife would probably disagree about this description of our daughter’s birth, so don’t tell her about it, okay?

I’m getting away from myself here . . . again. That sometimes happens . . . .

Back to the commencement speech then. The summer I graduated, I had this idea milling around my brain, this concept, if you would allow me the hubris. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had spent the previous two years fully immersed in both creating and studying the creation of art. I was beginning to see art in all its sundry forms as something more than. That is to say, I was coming to the conclusion that art was not only what it was. Rather, art was is a holy thing in so much as people are holy things. If we are God’s children–and I like to believe we are, though I haven’t figured out what God or how God or who God yet–then I posit that what we create can surely be considered God’s grandchildren.

When I gave my speech on this somewhat ethereal topic, the aforementioned mix of emotions got me all tongue-tied and twisted (there may have also been a few drinks lurking in that emotional mix as well, I can’t remember too clearly). It wasn’t only the emotions and the drink though. It also had something to do with this concept that still today may be too philosophical for my provincial mind.

But I’m going to try, damn it.

So, speaking of art, I like to think I have created some beautiful art for the world, henceforth to be called grandchildren for the omnipotent above us, around us, and within us. I like to think God is fond of the grandchildren artists birth in the world. It is the natural order of things after all. How many of us have witnessed our own parents stumbling over themselves to bask in the glory of their grandchildren?

If I’m on to something here (and I’m not claiming I am, more like hoping) then we, God’s children, are more than simple creations made to bring glory to a magnificent being by singing praises, praying, and even helping people. These are all fine endeavors, some more noble than others, but there is more. We are made to create grandchildren. And that, dear readers, is what artists of all stripes do. We take up the cosmic cause and bring beauty to the world with our prose, paintings, sculptures, buildings, songs, plays, poems, etchings, carvings, tattoos, jokes, photographs, dances etc, etc, etc. We bring glory to God in what we create. We take up arms against the ugliness that exists on this weary plain and fill it with the light of creation. Our artistic children are God’s grandchildren.

It’s a point that could be argued, I know. It’s a philosophy that isn’t fully developed, I know. But it’s mine and I stand by it. Also, I’d like to give it to all artists out there. So when someone asks me why I waste my time with poetry or stories, I have the perfect answer:

I am creating God’s grandchildren.

Batdance

When I was a kid I was one of Prince’s more casual fans. It wasn’t that I disliked his music. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, I did, in fact, love it. Hell, for better or worse, “Raspberry Beret,” “Peach,” “Little Red Corvette,” and “Kiss” basically helped me form my idea of the ideal woman. Truth be told, in more recent times, this image might have had something to do with it too:

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If that looks familiar, it should because:

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I know. It confuses my sexuality in all the right ways. And don’t even get me started on what some of Prince’s New Power Generation stuff taught me . . . .

Anyway.

In 1989 I hadn’t been quite so schooled in my own preferences yet. I didn’t own any of Prince’s tapes or records or anything like that. I just listened to his songs when they came on the radio or watched his videos when they popped up on MTV.

It was a different time, kiddos.

On June 23rd of that year, my casual relationship with Prince’s music changed as I sat in the theater at the premier of Tim Burton’s Batman. When I watched that movie as an 11-year-old impressionable comic book nerd I realized someone outside of comic books could take them seriously, could make them into something everyone enjoyed. At the time (and to this day) I thought everyone should enjoy comic books. I thought the superhero concept was far from an immature trope that should be relegated to adolescent boys’ bedrooms. Sure, people within the industry and fandom had thought this for ages. Alan Moore’s Saga of the Swamp ThingFrank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returnsand Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth are all 1980s releases that treat the superhero concept seriously. But Burton’s Batman was in beautiful celluloid, before my eyes, mainstream. The world at large was finally taking comic books seriously. Fast forward to 2016 and holy crap. Am I right?

Anyway.

Back to Prince who, rumor has it, basically created the soundtrack for Batman in, like, 10 minutes or something, after only watching half of the movie. And I loved that soundtrack, people. Hell, I still do. I don’t know what’s going on through most of it, but that doesn’t matter. It’s so funky! And check out the video for “Batdance”! What the hell is going on in it? It’s insane and . . .

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When I realized I loved it, I realized that not spending my hard-earned cash on more Prince music was an egregious error. I wasn’t purchasing his work because it was outside the scope of my world. I wasn’t getting out of my safe and familiar shell. Though I enjoyed it, I was doing to his music the same thing the world was doing to comic books.

I remedied that situation immediately and Prince’s music has been with me since.

 

I’m giving away some books. Want ’em?

Have you heard of Former yet? Some folks really like it. I think you might too. In fact, I’m so behind it, that I’m giving away a few copies. That’s right! I’m giving some away! What?!?!?! Enter here to win a free copy of Former!

Doesn’t that sound awesome?

I'm faced with a conundrum on #SpringBreak Day 5.... What to do with my comp copies of #Former? #writing

High school journalists

Occasionally cool things happen at high schools. Contrary to what pop culture might have you believe though, it isn’t often. Last weekend the Bellevue West Winter Guard team became world champions. The day they returned to school, our student journalists were there to report on it. Here is what they came up with:

If you would like to see more of what these students do, check it out here. And hey, why wouldn’t you want to see more? These kids are clearly awesome.