Grateful

Hello everyone, all of you delightful and inspirational bloggers out there. It is high time I thank you for the journey you have set me on with your writing and craft. I began this travel a little over a year and a half ago, I suppose a few months earlier than that, but things began to get pretty serious around March of 2013. In April of 2013 there came the ‘poem a day’ challenge, that complemented National Poetry Month, and for the first time in over 30 years, I stuck to the plan. I know it had a lot to do with the people here, and your support, your ideas, and your wonderful and intriguing writing.

To me, writing has always been a release (familiar words) but even more so in these blogs I have been able to shell out some of the skeletons in my closet, albeit mild in relation to Stephen King I suppose – man how does that guy live with himself? My writing has allowed me to gain greater confidence in my words, and a lot of it has to do with an extremely welcoming community of bloggers.

So now as my summer begins to close, and I think about returning to my classroom, I am confident my pace will continue as is, and I will forever delight in the fabulous array of creative and genuine energy these pages offer all of us.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to be a writer, again.

Thom

 

Slated Departures

“Why it’s easy”, she told him as he looked to her for guidance. Simply make it a priority and it will happen. In his mind, all he could think about was this didn’t happen in his world. It was far too expensive for one, not to mention that so many other things mattered. She had done it before, and for her the sense of departure was real, attainable, and frankly necessary for her well-being. She was not nearly as tied down to the landscape that he felt described his every being. In all of his 25 years, he had only imagined the other world. He’d read books, watched television shows, and certainly grasped the imagery of the world apart from him with much romantic flair. Often he would take on the persona of a character he embraced, dress like him, act and express in that manner, and finally try to speak in his tongue. There’s where it stopped though. And now today, he was contemplating this adventure.

He told her he would have to quit his job, he was too expendable to receive a leave of absence, so this was certainly a factor. She responded to him with words that were clearly the reason he loved her. “This is life right now”, she said, and her smile beckoned him to trust her and he did, with a kiss that became an embrace in the morning sunlight. He had never been so happy in his life. Every part of that old familiar loneliness was gone, and he looked into her eyes and saw the future, and believed he needed to allow this delightful woman to move him forward. He began to plan in his head, and she knew the second she caught his eye, this was happening. She grinned, and stepped away, sat on the sofa and began to page through the morning paper, glancing back at him for a moment to make sure his wheels were still rolling, which they were, he was beside himself with excitement.

He quietly then, in his own fantasy, began to envision sitting in a corner cafe, the cobblestone stretching beyond his eyes, becoming a village facade. He sipping tea, and she, writing while consciously guiding this man through a world he a day ago, could only imagine.

A Conversation (prose)

peace

dialogue

I went to lunch with a friend today and we got onto the subject of coping skills. We’re both teachers and we encounter a lot of teenagers on a regular basis, most of which carry a lot of baggage into the classroom each day. There are times when we truly do not get the full extent of what is happening in their lives being so caught up in our own need to deliver an assignment, a lesson plan, an expectation. We seldom take the time to ponder a world outside of our own.

My friend began the dialogue by referencing a particularly charming young individual whom we both have had extensive interactions with. I mentioned this student’s personal struggles, and he agreed and we both immediately remarked about how this young person’s integrity is such a measure of their character surrounded by the constraints of having to survive in a society that can be ruthless and demanding. I looked at my friend and remarked about how times like this make my more prominent issues become rather trivial and this reality leaves me feeling shallow in the light of another’s personal struggles. He followed with a theory that we all provide ‘gifts’ in our own unique manner. I knew what he was saying but it certainly didn’t give me an opportunity to feel like I was off the hook.

We both chose teaching for the chance to change people’s lives in a positive way. We certainly didn’t choose this profession with a goal in mind to make our charges feel miserable. In education today, we are in an ever-changing atmosphere of new initiatives and proposals to address and hopefully change the way we teach our students. A lot of that focus is to better education, and reduce the constant scrutiny that schools, and more importantly in this case, teachers receive in regards to their ability to prepare children for a successful future. Conversations like this one often leave me feeling curious, not confused mind you, but simply wanton of a solution to my purpose both in the classroom and in my life.

Having the ability to know why we are who we are and what we will become is a huge asset when determining our path in life. I can easily use nostalgic memory and pointedly look at different periods of my life and know the mess I was as perceived by the society around me, and with more certainty my own evaluation of my accomplishments as I plodded through a couple of directionless decades of my young adult life. Today, I look back and recognize the frailties of my actions, and I also am left to consider how my life choices might have brought different results had I been more conscious of my future. I may sit in a room of group recovery and not have to wait long before someone makes the common remark, “I don’t regret any of the mistakes I made in my life. They have helped me become the person I am today.” Though there certainly is truth to that analogy, one must I believe, also acknowledge that those ‘life-changing’ mistakes could have been easily avoided, and life might have been a tad easier than the challenges that consumed the reparation of those errors. Ok, so back to my point of conversation amongst friends.

What today’s conversation left me with is contemplating how relative our lives may be in the bigger scheme of things. That seems like a shallow outcome at this writing, but it is what I am left with at the moment. When I think about a student who has lost someone at a young age, and is asked to return to their daily identity without missing a beat, I find myself rather impressed with that resilience. That reality makes my life feel trivial as I said earlier, so what do I do about it? Here is my partial solution.

I will appreciate the beauty of their being, their ability to endure the travesty or choices that have been placed before them, certainly not their own choosing. I will offer my own support and admiration for their ability to capture the true essence of natural humility that has allowed their lives to become easier within the face of pure terror and sadness, and express my gratitude for their showing me how to recognize the sweeter realities of our existence as human beings on this earth.

Feels like a God moment to me now … I do cherish these conversations!

Days Like These … (on bullying) prose

bullying

I often wonder about my passions in life. I know I became a teacher for a reason, but that isn’t always enough to satisfy my curiosity. I love my job, I love the students I work with, and love all the challenges that come with my classroom and the stage work that occurs after the school day is over. Yet, I often still feel unfulfilled. I do have a beautiful family, wonderful wife, two healthy children that certainly create my reason to exist beyond all or any of my internal struggles. When those challenging days capture my psyche and I question what I am doing or entertain discouragement, my children come to mind immediately. My family and my students often help me to identify a source of purpose in my life, and then an afternoon like today occurs.

I spent the afternoon at a conference named Safe Students, Safe Schools sponsored by the Adler Graduate School in the Twin Cities. The conference was designed to address the issue of bullying in our schools; however, the goal was not only to mollify the many facets of the bully, as much as it was about exploring the whole process of identification. We often forget about the human nature of the bully when all of our energy is spent focused upon addressing the needs of the victim. Today’s conference intended to speak upon the many facets of the issue. The speakers were strong minded and provided wonderful resources to address the topics of the day. Like any conference there was a desire for more definition, more reason for attending, more need to recognize the burden of addressing such an issue in our schools without trivializing the actual label of the process. There seems to be strong commitment to raising awareness in the schools, but sadly, the execution of solution often falls short and the problem becomes a minimized initiative rather than a recognized need.

When I attend sessions like today I often personalize my reaction to the process. I think of my classroom and how I respond to my students on a daily basis. Today, I naturally thought of those students I find most troubling, the ones that interfere with the process of my classroom, the individuals whose sole purpose is, in my mind, to play a power game against my abilities and inevitably label themselves alone, as hostile and disruptive. I think of those situations that interfere with my teaching. I imagine those scenarios that have me wishing I could have the student removed rather than deal with their constant behavior issues throughout the day. I fail to think about their contributions as a human being and focus more upon their insubordinate angst. And then it happens, a speaker takes us along a different course of action. A person, a human being spends time baring their soul, telling their personal story of their child as a student in the classroom, from their perspective as a caring parent.

Tom Mauser’s son Daniel was not a bully, far from it. He was, and is, in Tom’s mind a thriving young man, filled with vigor and energy to capture the attention of his loving father and mother, and younger sister. Daniel Mauser is dead. He was a victim of the Columbine tragedy that took the lives of 13 people on a typical school day. Tom is quick to point out he does not want to ‘white-wash’ this personal tragedy by calling it an incident. He is adamant in telling us that before he begins the story of ‘that day’ that we as audience recognize it as a tragedy and nothing less. Tom Mauser is a real human being with the courage to speak to an audience of strangers, though active listeners, and relive the story of the day he lost his son to a shooting at Columbine High School in 1999. Tom Mauser then proceeded to bring all of us the horrific details of the day he lost his son, starting with pictures of his birth and through the early years leading up to his young age of 15 at the hands of the assailants. What is important to recognize here is that Tom began this whole story reflecting upon what was on his mind that day. He was attending a conference. He didn’t imagine that this day would begin and end the way it did, losing his son in a high school big enough to hide a percentage of its population on a typical school day.

I listened to Tom as I thought about my school and the potential for such a tragedy. I thought about my students and found myself thinking about ways to approach those students I wanted nothing to do with. I thought about why I became a teacher, and realized those are the challenges that I certainly signed up for when I chose this career. I thought about my own family and how easily I find my priorities becoming skewed when I fail to focus upon what is important in my life. I thought about calling my son and daughter. I then thought, thank God I am attending this conference on a Saturday.

© Thom Amundsen 2014

Scotch on the Rocks -prose-

scotch

Nine years ago, I had one of these. Around 4 in the afternoon, as soon as I could after getting out of work. I know I probably had two before going home for about 1/2 hour and then taking off with the excuse that I had correcting to do. My school basketball team was in the state tournament the next day. It was St. Paddies day. I remember because that was the day that I had my last drink, at about the time of this writing. I left my favorite watering hole after finishing a martini. See I had made the transition to martinis because that was the natural progression necessary to be a full blown alcoholic. That night I slept on a thin mattress with a metal frame nailed to the floor. Unfortunately, I virtually remember everything about that experience.

I recall sitting in the bar knowing it was midnight, and thinking I could get to the next tavern on time for last call, and then I would just have a quiet road to get myself home unscathed. I got into my car, pulled out, followed the avenue with one eye on the rearview mirror scanning for any cops. I pulled up to a left turn lane with a red arrow and waited for all of about 30 seconds before I decided to make the turn without a green. The lights went on just out the right corner of my windshield and then followed the back of my car for about 150 feet until I pulled over to the side of the road, in plain view of the next bar I was heading to. I could have parked the car and run in, but I probably would have created a scene. Instead, I became the scenery.

The officer that arrested me was an extremely gracious man. I waived my right to walk a straight line as my body careened against the side of my car as I was being escorted to the back. He read my rights, and I was soon in the back of a squad car, another patrol intervened to record the entire arrest. My common phrase at the time was, ‘my life is over’ almost a chant that lasted for a couple of hours, audibly to no one who would listen. After processing I told the officer he would hear from me in six months, that I’d had my last drink. I hadn’t a clue how often that guy probably heard the same thing but never got the calls.

I remember my head spinning as I was walked out to another squad to be transferred to jail. I was basically put into a drunk tank and told I would be processed in the morning. That would be a Friday, and my team would be playing that evening. I suddenly thought of Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers, but the glamour didn’t stay with me, and I soon passed out. Have you ever woken up and suddenly felt something was terribly wrong? Or, did you ever have that instance of wondering if everything that seemed to be drifting in your mind actually revealed at truth? When the officer woke me, I asked if I could call my wife. He told me I needed to get my jail clothes first, and soon afterward I was wearing pajamas and brought up to the actual jail, where I later met a gentleman named Bubba.

The room was painted white with a heavy metal phone, and a small fuzzy tv in the middle of a wall. There were around a dozen beds in the room, all seemingly filled with patrons. I was relegated to the top bunk. Imagine climbing up a secured ladder, while hung over and feeling the embarrassment and shame with each step. I got to the top and laid down, only to realize I had to use the bathroom. As I crawled down, I looked at the metal caged wire across the thin basement like windows that showed no scenery but only allowed white light to encompass the frame, the only light of day I would see for many hours. I walked into the bathroom, and found a metal toilet, a metal basin, a metal shower head with no curtain, and I began to weep. I knew I wouldn’t last a day in this place and I hoped I could be released before the weekend kept me for three days.

On the outside, my wife was scrambling to get bail together. We were in the middle of a winter storm, she was forced to drive across the city in weather no one in their right mind would attempt. I have thanked her many times for that gesture, and I think I will probably thank her again before I go to bed tonight, in my home, in my bed, with a comfortable mattress, pillow I love, and a beautiful woman that I can hold while my final waking moments drift into a peaceful reality.

Today, I celebrate nine years of sobriety. I chose this to save my marriage, but more importantly to save my life. Had I not quit drinking it would not have had an opportunity to kill me before I took my own life. So I am a fortunate man. I have my family, I have my peace of mind, I have my home and all the responsibilities that go along with being a father, a husband, a teacher, a director, a positive member of our society. What I do not have is an urge to return to the events that lead to this story, and for that I am grateful.

A scotch on the rocks was my drink of choice. I loved to roll it in the cubes of a cocktail glass, imagining myself to be that suave guy at the end of the bar that attracted attention for his debonair personality. The reality was, I was simply a drunk that created no positive persona in my community of alcoholics. Nine years ago I was given an opportunity, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I am not reminded of how fortunate I am.

Here’s to you and yours and may the spirit of our Lord be with us to carry our load in all of our endeavors. I am a grateful human being.

Wandering Souls -prose-

The other day when I wrote I was upset about the circumstances of a loss of human life, one that would be thought of as too soon. Some might call it a waste of a good life. I remember hearing a colleague, a person I consider a friend, even though they might not value that same connection, say those words in reference to the loss, and I walked away confused and sad. How do you call a human being’s life on this earth a waste? I mean, they did exist, they did touch lives, they did create memory by their actions. All of that really does count even when they are cut down early by impulsive actions that could easily have been prevented. Yes, that part of it is a waste to think about what might have been, what could have been.

I wondered what I might write about today, as I wanted to touch on some aspect of my daily life. I spend the majority of my time in a coffee shop watching the people around me when I am not working in the classroom or on the stage. I have found that in recent weeks, with my writing becoming more emphasized I look at certain aspects of my daily life far differently. I feel like a writer these days, I feel I can call myself that without any reservation. I don’t know if I will ever get published, but I do know with certain accuracy that I write on a daily basis. So I guess that makes me a writer, correct? Now the task ahead is to continue to explore why.

The Beatles song ‘Nowhere Man’ is playing in the background as I write this passage tonight. I find that rather cool because that song has always had such meaning in my life over the years. I remember when I was 16 and I first heard the song, I wondered how profound it was that Lennon wrote a song that related directly to me. Back then you know everything revolved around our teenage egos. I recall wondering about the words and whether the people around me could perceive this reality of my identity. A person could really sink in the mire of such a mindset you know. I am fortunate that somehow I battled through.

So tonight, I’m just writing to sort of bring my thoughts out of my head a little bit. Not really sure if I am summarizing my day, or giving any pointed thoughts that are amounting to any value, but I suppose it feels pretty good. I think about that kid we laid to rest a week or two ago, and I think about all the others that are passing before us, and I wonder about God’s plan. I am thankful to be able to keep a journal and actively say good night at the end of my reflection. Good night.

Lest We Forget We are Human Beings -prose-

human condition

There’s a famous line in the relatively obscure movie Freedom Writers that has stuck with me since the first time I heard it in context. ‘You know what’s gonna happen when you die? You’re gonna rot in the ground.” – Erin Gruwell. The context speaks to a young African American student wanting to be recognized as an original gangster – instead of living by society’s standards. I’m struggling with this statement today as I recognize the loss of another young man in our community to drugs. I want people to remember him. I want people to recognize the value of genuine beauty he brought to the people he interacted with in his world. I don’t want people to remember the mistakes he made that cost him his life. He was just growing up, and he made an egregious decision that effected his well being, and it ultimately tested his mortality and won.

I have spent a lot of the last week pouring over his Facebook page looking at the commentary from his friends that supported his recovery; a constant barrage of positive words in countless threads offering hope and prayer for this delightfully idyllic young man. Those posting are gradually moving to quiet and heart-felt memorials, as people begin to recognize his hours are now seemingly limited, perhaps reached at this writing, and people are now asked to remember his spirit and the moments that he touched their lives with his remarkable energy. I glance back at that opening comment in the movie, and I realize it was delivered harshly to drum home an important point. We cannot, no one in fact, overcome the grasp of our human condition’s mortality.

The time for this young man to depart may very well have been far too soon for those closest to him; indeed, also for those whose love for him goes well beyond an occasional encounter, those who knew of his positive spirit at parties and gatherings, those who remember his dynamic upon entering any room of people. Yet, today I wonder if this might be God’s plan. Are we not often asked to face our important decisions when we experience a major crisis? Does that moment often not change our lives, or at least put us in a position to start to actively make healthier choices? Perhaps we need to really grasp the reality of this occasion and recognize that this young man’s early departure is meant as a harsh learning tool for those closest to him, beyond the agonizing family, and more directly to the people in his social circles that likely carry on similar lifestyles.

So when I speak of the beauty of a young man, I also ask that all of you, young people and old please respect the diligent nature of artificial stimuli that is not meant to interact with your human capacity. I ask all of you to speak to each other, and help one another know there are other healthier departures from the daily grind, than the insidious gesture of testing your mortality at the hands of an illicit drug of choice.

I am my own example of the harsh reality of drug and alcohol use. I am standing here today with an addictive personality. I am realizing how vulnerable we all are to our own selfish pursuits, even when we’re not aware of how quickly these ideals may turn our lives upside down. I have experienced consequence, and am perhaps fortunate that my actions did not sacrifice my own humanity when as a young experimenter I thought I could beat any challenge. Today, I know I cannot and know I have to take a higher road, and acknowledge the damage that drugs could very well continue to wreak upon my life. I now look towards my children, my students, and anyone that feels they have that ticket to escape the fragile reality of our mortality and I plead with all of them, I beg all of you to take a pause, be grateful, and go forward with your life in a healthy and respectful manner.

Rest in peace and Godspeed to our good young man of smiles. Others will certainly join you very soon on this fast course to immortality. Eventually we will all be there with you as the natural course of time calls out our number. I hope that your example can help a few fend off that early departure from life as we know it today.