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HerdsmanInterviewDear Journal,

I’m thinking about a career again, and not teaching, or Target, or any of the various other jobs I’ve had in my life. As much as I enjoy teaching, I think summer school is going to be it for me for the foreseeable future, and maybe that time was past anyway, what with all this new common core stuff that is driving others crazy. And it seems as if the career trajectory at Target is in an endless holding pattern. Maybe I’m just tired of waiting, and working hard, just to ultimately stand still.

But what other experience do I have? I was looking at my resume again the other day, and I noticed that there really isn’t anything past writing that I haven’t covered in my two other “careers” to date. It’s just too bad that the odds are as poor as they are for writers to make a living simply doing that. I write every single day, and I have various projects I constantly juggle, but where is that one home run that will land me in J.K. Rowling land? I don’t know, but I haven’t ruled it out yet.

Sometimes I go into the library and I see these tutors with children, or teenagers, or even adults, helping them learn what they don’t know, and I think I can do that. Indeed, I have done that several isolated times in the past, but it hasn’t gone past a set period of time, and I haven’t really been able to supplement it beyond that. Is tutoring really a career anyway? It reminds me of being a server in a restaurant (another job I’ve done for several isolated times in the past) where you get tips but not nearly enough to live off of in any real way.

Maybe I could be a school librarian because it combines two of my passions — being a teacher of sorts, and being around books and other resources. I’ve joked about it before, too, but it means going back to school and I have enough loans as it is. Why does everything have to be so difficult, even past making the initial decision? I guess I just want things to be easy, but I’ve made it hard on myself and I have to live with it. But I don’t have to accept just one path. Not necessarily, anyway. We’ll see.

Sam

Out of Context

I remember when I used to see my teachers in the supermarket, how my pulse would race and I would want to scream from the top of my lungs, “BUT YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL!” It was unnatural for those scions of the school community to be outside of the red brick walls, wearing normal people clothes, and living normal people lives. I thought only normal people were allowed to do that, but I guess I was wrong.

You see, we have a context for everything and everyone we come in contact with, and usually that context is the original one with which we encountered them. When the time comes that we inevitably see them outside of that context we are often thrown for a loop like I was when seeing my teachers in the supermarket.

What seems like a long time ago I too was a teacher, and I had many students go through my classes year in and year out. Well, after they graduated I would run into them occasionally and they would give me the same look I gave my teachers way back when, like I was an alien with three heads. I work at Target now, and there are several of my former students who have been hired recently, and they still call me “Mr. McManus.” They can’t bring themselves to separate the context I’m now in from the one they first met me in, and they probably never will be able to do that. I don’t mind, not really, I guess. It just goes to show that I made an impression in another lifetime and they can’t put that out of their minds now when they see me.

My wife grew up in a small town where everybody knows everybody else, and we live in that same town right now, so we often run into older folks who knew her when she was young. She still calls every single one of them by “Mr.” or “Mrs.” because that’s the context in which she first knew them even though she herself is over 40 now. It’s a sign of respect, but it’s all because that’s how she knew them growing up, and it’s difficult to change perception no matter how old you get, perhaps because of how old you get.

I told someone the other day that I had written two books, and that I’m working on the next one right now, and she was shocked because all she knew about me was my love of music and that I’m an avid reader. Maybe also because she didn’t really know anyone else who wrote, much less who was published. But she apologized to me for making an assumption based on just what she already knew about me, that she could have been amazed by my writing skill. I told her to hush because she knew me in 15 minute increments and just at work. It was contextual, her knowledge of me, and she hadn’t really assumed anything. It just hadn’t come up because of that context.

That’s true for everyone we come in contact with in our daily lives because absolutely no one is two-dimensional. We all live in three dimensions where we can be a variety of things, and where we can have skills and hobbies that are wide ranging. And it’s funny when others are surprised by seeing us “out of context,” but it gives us just another excuse to show them how layered we truly are, and to discover just how layered they are as well.

Sam

Christmas Memories: 2006

It’s odd how Christmas changes after you have children of your own.

When you’re young it’s about your family and its traditions, those traditions predicated by your parents and continued in the face of waning enthusiasm by you and your siblings — you know, when the magic wears off. Then you’re a teenager and a young adult and you’re trying to figure your own life out, much less the life of a fictitious character from the North Pole who may or may not be living on the tip of an iceberg. During that time you wear the costumes ironically and give things like cameras to your friends just because.

Then you grow up all the way, and you get married, or at least have a significant other. Valentine’s Day takes on more significance, but Christmas begins making a comeback too. You buy and make sentimental gifts for each other and that makes it all less ironic somehow. By the time kids come along you’ve gotten into a pattern that for all intents and purposes works for you. You buy each other $100 worth of presents each year and wonder why your credit cards always seem to be maxed out come January, but you’re happy.

Then the first kid comes and you realize you’ve been doing it wrong for years. Christmas is, after all, a holiday for children first and foremost, and you come full circle when you have some of your own. That’s when you begin to create your own family traditions that will at some point become the ones your kids will eventually mock ironically as young adults. Or maybe they’ll appreciate them so much that they pass them on to their own children.

It’s what we hope, of course, that having those children of your own will bring back the magic for you, that magic that has taken years to disappear and that only seems to emerge somewhere near Disney World. But it’s not a mouse that brings back the real magic. It’s instead a burly man from up north who may or may not be a distant cousin to Jesus Christ. Time to leave out those cookies and that milk. Continue Reading »

Tepid

imageI tested the water
Easy, easy at first
A tentative touch
Apprehensive at best
Petrified at worst
Wanting it to burn
For old time’s sake
A scalding lake
To cleanse my sin
Sloughing off this skin
Like so much steam
But instead it’s tepid
Cool and clear
And mockingly calm
Desperately shallow
Like I used to be
Before you shook my faith
And I was baptized again
In the essence of you
Always so lukewarm
When what I crave is heat
Boiling over into love
The way it used to be
Before I met the ghost
Of who I might become
Rising in the steam
But that was just a dream
Testing the waters.

Sam

Yellow

image

Pencil Marks

Write-Your-Name-in-Graffiti-Step-1-550x391There are pencil marks at various heights on the wall just outside the kitchen, with names scribbled in to identify each one specifically. One of them has my name attached to it but it doesn’t match my true height — not even close — because it has been a dog’s age since I posed on that wall. I remember it well, though, standing there tall and proud, fighting not to rise on tiptoes to give myself false height, knowing that the next measurement wouldn’t be a real one if I did that.

Occasionally I pass the wall and stare at the marks like they are Sanskrit etchings rather than rudimentary judges of growth. There are four distinct lines and various faint erasures under and between them, memorializing in history my sisters and brother in addition to the one bearing my name. The pencil is still in the tray beside the phone as a testament to the yearly ritual from long ago, but it hasn’t been used since Sandy turned sixteen and decided it wasn’t worth it anymore to keep track, what we refer to as “the straw that broke our Mama’s back.”

Mama died last year, instantly transforming those marks into treasured memories instead of the eyesore we could never paint over for fear of her wrath. I honestly don’t think she knew what any of our social security numbers were but that wall was a shrine. Often as time went on and we got too old for the ritual I would find her standing there with pencil in hand and a wistful expression on her face, as if any minute one of us would come traipsing in and ask to be measured again. Of course we never did, but that look became as familiar to me as my own clothes.

It’s my house now, I guess you could say, insomuch as I’m making the mortgage payments, spending an exorbitant amount of money on upkeep, and living in it, but it will always be Mama’s house as far as I’m concerned. It still has her smell in the cedarwood walls, her voice echoing off the bathroom tiles, her pots and pans tucked away like children ready for bed in the pantry, and her careful pencil marks on that wall just outside of the kitchen to remind me of her love.

Sam

Mocking Socks

mismatched1These little socks mock me. I get them warm from the dryer or slightly stiff from the drying rack one by one and line them up like little soldiers on the bedspread. Some of them obviously match others, and I am ecstatic that those pairs made it safely together through the washing and drying process, but others sit there aimlessly wondering where their solemates are. I feel badly for them and send them back to the bottom of the basket to wait for the next load. But regardless of matches or not, that’s just the beginning of my issues.

Once I find the socks that actually do match I fold them up together, one single fold so that the socks are facing the same way and disappear into each other. They look pretty that way, and besides, it doesn’t take as long as some other techniques I’ve seen. And my socks are easy because they’re huge, clearly the biggest ones, and because they’re all white (okay, and dingy too. Don’t judge me). So I do mine first and put them neatly away in their nest before tackling the much more difficult task of separating my ladies’ socks.

I swear all female socks are the same, or at least as close to the same as to be indistinguishable to the layman’s eye. They sit there with their frills or their fringe or their ridges looking identical to me, so I take care of the colors first — -white with white, gray with gray, etc. Usually one black sock will look reasonably close enough to another black sock so I tentatively put the two together. They frown up at me like I’ve done them wrong, putting them with an ex-girlfriend or something, and are only appeased when I find their true matches later in my sock sorting exercise. Finally I find the ones that are toe-shoed and twinned, folding them in my fashion, but I can’t tell whose are whose.

large“Argh,” I think to myself while studying them as a bird-watcher observes pigeons and crows, trying to differentiate them just enough to say “Madeline’s,” “Alexa’s,” or “Heidi’s.” Oh wait. Heidi is the only one who has the small athletic socks. Check. And Alexa once told me that none of hers have lacy fringe. Check again. Those socks that fit the bill head into Heidi’s sock drawer, all comfy and cozy after having to fraternize with the “lesser” socks on the bed for so long while I deliberated. But some of the socks are neither athletic nor have fringe, and those are so close in size that I cannot go any further in the organizational process.

So that’s where they sit until Heidi comes home and decides things like a general setting forth marching orders. Within moments they are assigned to a girl and placed carefully into each of their bins. And the next load comes out all warm and toasty from the dryer, ready to mock me all over again.

Sam

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