My life has taken a tremendous turn in the past couple of months, which would explain my lack of blog posts. Heading into senior year was enough in itself to give me a bit of a slap in the face, but on the top of that I had a break-up a few weeks ago, and I’ve been a wee-bit depressed since. I’m also dealing with college crap; i.e., deciding where to apply, arranging the propers for the Common App…these are the musings of a grudging high school student who just wants to be done with all of it, for God’s sake. But if you’re an adult reading this, you’ve been there and done that, and none of this is a shock to you. If you’re my age, I’m happy we can be in the same club together. And if you’re younger…just you wait.
Today was one of those days where I simply did not want to be near or around anyone. I feel hate for certain people, dull disdain for others, and indifference for the rest. Yet, there was a glimmer of optimism to my day, and it’s something that’s helped me get through Friday without tearing my hair out.
I have to do a senior Capstone project, and mine concerns the history of science-fiction: basically, I’m researching the genre as a whole and reading as much as I can. For the end product, I’ll have some stories that demonstrate how I’ve grown as a writer and what I’ve learned from my research. It’s a beautifully free project with few constrictions. I had to present a preliminary pitch to a teacher of my choosing, and I chose Jolliffe, a former two-time English teacher of mine. To be clear, I’ve loved having this man as a teacher. I had him Freshman year and then again last year, and he’s been the most understanding and interesting teacher to have: big tall guy with shaggy hair and a beard, and a love for Steinbeck.
I went to Jolliffe’s room first thing this morning, A block, to present. He was reading The Grapes of Wrath for his Junior AP English class, which is what he teaches to juniors every year. He quoted “Danny wants a cup of water” to me for a while, and then when I asked if he’d like me to present, he initially said yes. Then his wife, also a teacher at the school, came in and asked if he’d like to get coffee. He said he would.
So, I found myself walking with Jolliffe to Gatto Nero, a new-ish cafe/art studio near the school. The morning was chilly yet crisp, the way the first autumn mornings seem to. The sun was shining brightly and all of the colors in the Vermont trees were just thriving, it was almost like they were burning. And as we walked, he told me to give my pitch. Obviously I was a bit taken aback, but I launched into it. I had expected to stand before him and talk for five minutes, answer a few questions, and be done. But this guy never ceases to amaze me, and it became more of a discussion than a pitch. Not thirty seconds into my pitch he started asking questions, interrupting when he wanted more clarification or when he wanted to give advice or recommend a change to something. We talked about books, about authors, about the writing process, about relevant science-fiction and bare-bones science-fiction.
Something else happened, and for some reason, I won’t soon forget it. As we walked, a man in a suit passed us. He said, “Good morning, Steve.” Jolliffe said good morning to him and the man said, “Nice day, isn’t it?”
Jolliffe said, “Oh, it’s a beautiful day.”
I thought, Holy shit. It is a beautiful day. How had I not realized? Was I so focused on my internal issues? Was I too distracted by business-like matters to notice the fiery leaves or the refreshingly chilly air? The fact that Jolliffe so easily appreciated the morning spoke volumes to me, and I think I realized I hadn’t been myself for a while. I needed to get back to the point where I could walk alone and be content, not upset. Where I could just look up and appreciate the sky and the clouds, or the smell of burning wood from a chimney. I did just that later in the day, this afternoon, when I took another solo walk after school.
At Gatto Nero, Jolliffe bought me an espresso as well as coffee for a few other teachers (including his wife). Then we walked back to the school and continued talking, carrying coffee and drinking espresso. My pitch, written in scribbles on a piece of notebook paper, had long since been folded and tucked in my back pocket. Somehow I didn’t need it anymore, yet he knew more than anyone about my capstone.
This is what teachers are supposed to do. They aren’t meant to sit and just listen and tell students what they want to hear. They’re meant to surprise you, make you think, make you question yourself. And then when you’ve hit the right target, they’re supposed to congratulate you and help you further along. Jolliffe did that, and it’s another reason I’m grateful to have had him as a teacher.
Back in his classroom, we spent the rest of the block talking about my college and other life plans. Where I wanted to go, where I was applying, how my family was doing, how I was doing. He knew about my break-up, and had seen me go through this kind of thing twice before. I think he saw that I had finally matured or grown up in some significant manner, because he said something to the effect of, “You’re all grown up, kid.” I think he said that, actually, when he heard how my process of writing stories had changed. It’s funny how I could give a comprehensive autobiography for hours on end, but someone will know me best by the way I write and the way I talk about writing. So much of my soul is within such a seemingly innocuous activity.
I walked away from A block with a better understanding of where I was going in the coming months, and of where I wanted to be in the coming years. I don’t know how it happened, but my English teacher helped me there.