Tag Archives: education

The Holy Grail?

The cup of a carpenter? Not so much... O.O

The cup of a carpenter? Not so much… O.O

This week, someone stole into my classroom either before or after hours and left this beauty on my desk. I came in, unlocked the door, and there it was. My students are calling it the Holy Grail because we recently studied Arthur and the room is already a place of myth and legend. (I mean, I may have just knighted one of my students for a picture in the school yearbook…)

The goblet depicts Merlin (I assume you’re familiar if you’re on this blog) in three scenes: one with Arthur in the woods tutoring the Once and Future King, one in his study (which looks like an alchemist’s paradise), and one at Stonehenge. Having no divination powers of my own, I Googled the item’s make and model. This particular cup hasn’t been made in a couple of decades, though I did see it for auction.

There is also a curious phrase etched into the metal at the bottom of the cup, which I was unable to discern using a magnifying glass.

So I have myself a mystery. Even more so because no one has taken credit for the gift.

It’s possible that the goblet was given to me years ago and languished in a cabinet for some time, and that someone rifled through my room and simply placed the cup dead center on my desk. There is, after all, something familiar about it. But it couldn’t have come from the cabinet under my TV or the back cabinets, where most of my oddities are kept, because I was just in there digging through reference materials to help my kids with NaNoWriMo.

Curiouser and curiouser.

From there, the coincidences take a further turn for the strange. My daughters and I just finished watching the BBC series, Merlin, which we thoroughly enjoyed despite its many departures from lore due to being marketed as a family friendly retelling. (Which, for the most part, it was. Except for my mental commentary regarding Katie McGrath as Morgana…)


Morgana, why do you have to be so mean…? x.x

Sure, there were some weird British comedy moments, and Merlin as a Dragonlord would have benefited from playing a little Skyrim, but overall, it was far better than I expected it to be. It didn’t hurt that Lancelot got the short end of the stick (finally!) and that the writers of the show seem to appreciate Gawain about as much as I do. In my not so humble opinion, Merlin was cancelled much earlier than it should have been. The world needs more of this:


Sunday afternoon in the park with buddies and broadswords!

And this…


Merlin: Great Dragon, you’re the best psychiatrist ever! Except when you baldfacedly lie…
GD: Ah, but young warlock, I am a dragon! I cannot grow a beard…

And maybe a little more Katie…

Morgana sword

I don’t even know what to say here besides d-a-m-n. O.O

Here, ladies, I’ll toss you a bone too…

Gwaine is hotter than me

Just 5 seasons, BBC? You suck. But I digress…

On top of all that, my latest passes at  teaching T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (which kind of got swept under the rug) and Le Morte d’Arthur left me fixated on the tale of the Fisher King and Arthur’s languishing in a similar stasis after Camelot is broken by Lancelot and Guinevere’s affair. The idea of Arthur, with whom I’ve always identified (but especially in times of adversity), needing a powerful relic like the Holy Grail (ironically a female symbol) in order to be reborn has definitely occupied my thoughts of late. And I’ve kept that to myself–which is kind of a big deal for me.

Yet here the chalice sits:

Merlin Gob 2

Drink me!

What do you do when someone breaks into your classroom and puts a goblet on your desk? Even if you’re me, you still consider things like poisoning, and you send missives (re: Facebook shout outs) to the universe inquiring as to who might be responsible for this. I lasted until about fourth hour laboring under such logic, which–again–is kind of big deal for me.

Then I filled the Holy Grail with Monster (hey, it’s me!) and pounded it. Am I reborn and the land with me? Well, I’ll let you know if it starts raining blossoms in Arizona.

I still don’t have any real answers to this mystery, but sometimes it isn’t answers we seek–merely a path forward. (Although I’d still like to know why the hell BBC cancelled Merlin! I’m suffering through Winx Club with my kids right now!)  

To whoever put the goblet on my desk, thank you. At the very least, I look pretty legit drinking from it while lecturing on Shakespeare. And, if you are an assassin, you now know that I’m immune to iocane powder.

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Filed under Education, Fantasy, Rants, Writing

“It’s Like Riding a Bike”

bike“I think it would be nice,” my mom starts in while the girls are over this weekend, “if we could go on a family bike ride like we used to when you were little.”

I listen. I’m 31, and I’ve been doing this single dad thing for about four months now. I’ve gotten to be a pretty good listener.

The trouble is that Aurie and Kiera never really learned to ride their bikes. There never seemed to be any time to teach them. Aurie’s bike, which she has outgrown, still has the training wheels on. Kiera’s bike, also much too small for her, is sitting in my storage unit (my chateau, so to speak).

“Kiera ought to be able to use Aurie’s bike,” I wager.

So we pull around Aurie’s old steel horse from the side of the house. It’s still in pretty good shape. Schwinns are like that. A little air in the tires, a little adjustment to the seat, and it’s good as new.

My parents’ property sits on a cul de sac. This is fortuitous for children riding bikes or playing ball because there is seldom any traffic. Soon enough, Kiera is tearing around on her big sister’s bike. It takes my dad about five minutes to get outside with his camera and start taking pictures. There is something magical about watching a child learn this, after all. It’s a rite of passage without being a loss of innocence, and that’s a truly beautiful thing.

I take a few pictures and videos myself.

But the real rite of passage comes when we brave the local Walmart and pick up a new bike for Aurie. It’s 24” with no training wheels—too big for my daughter to sit on the seat with her feet planted on the ground.

“They grow like weeds,” my mom says. “You don’t want to go any smaller than this one.”

Again, I listen.

We fold back the seats on my Honda deathtrap and cram the bike inside. This is no small task with the girls, but we manage. My mom and I explain to Aurie that this is something of a special occasion. As far as either of us can remember, no one ever got a new bike outside of birthdays or Christmases.

Aurie is stoked to have a new bike, but scared because there are no training wheels. This is especially true because we bought helmets (one for each girl), knee pads, and elbow pads. Once we’re back and she suits up, though, she makes a Tron reference and is ready to try.


I have to laugh. My kids are cool.

My mom lets me try to teach Aurie to balance and peddle for about 45 minutes. She’s done this with four kids of her own, running up and down the block, holding onto seats and handle bars for dear life. In a way, this is becoming a rite of passage for me, too. I’m pretty fit from four months of hitting the gym and eating better, so the cardio isn’t that bad. On the other hand, Aurie is tall for her age and weighs about 92 pounds. When she leans the wrong way at 10 mph, I have to physically course correct her without planting my feet, or she’ll fall. I liken this to Conan redirecting charging stallions on foot by sheer brute force, but it really isn’t half that impressive.

Conan vs Horse

Damn, I wish we had done this when she was five. I won’t make the same mistake with Kiera.

The neighbor comes out and offers his advice. My mom comes out and has a whole step-by-step system for what Aurie should do that involves starting at the curb.

Friggin’ mechanics and math majors. My daughter’s brain doesn’t work like that—maybe because neither my brain nor her mother’s brain works like that. This is a rite of passage. Aurie has to feel the balance. It’s not something I can do for her. It’s not something anyone can control with their steps or processes or methods.

This is the part where I stop listening.

Aurie has to experience the freedom for herself.

She also needs that seat lowered, I realize, so my dad and I take care of that while I pound a Vitamin Water.

After what seems like the umpteenth time running with her, even though the handle bars aren’t straight and her balance isn’t perfect, I let go. I’m ready to leap for that seat, but she doesn’t fall. I count to three and grab hold again.

She keeps peddling and doesn’t even notice.

I tell her to stop ahead at the stop sign, and I let go again. This time, I try to let her see that I’m running beside her. She doesn’t catch on, and I grab hold of the bike again when she hits the brakes because I’m afraid that she’s going to fall.

This goes on a few times before I announce to her:

“Aurie, look at your shadow.”

The afternoon light throws our silhouettes ahead of us, and my daughter can see herself riding and Daddy sprinting beside her without one finger on her bike.

“I’m doing it by myself?” she shrieks. “I’m doing it by myself!”

“You have been for a while!” I manage between pants.

I’m seriously pretty tired by this point.

We discuss turning and stopping and how to get out of trouble without dropping the bike. I use martial arts terms like “horse stance” because we’ve both studied karate.


What? This is a teacher thing. Connect to prior knowledge.

Then, elated and confident, my beaming daughter runs my ass ragged all over the neighborhood. My parents think this is hilarious.

Karma, they laugh.

The truth is I’m just happy to be healthy enough to do this for Aurie.

Before Aurie got on her new bike, my mom told her it would probably take a week to get it right, and not to be discouraged. She learned in about two hours. After about three hours, my butt was planted on the seat of a loaner bike, peddling beside her. We did go on that family bike ride—Aurie and I in the lead, Kiera and my parents following behind.

You never know, can’t truly appreciate, how good your parents were to you until you go through something like this.

For me, the hardest part, far more difficult than all the running and Conan course correcting, was letting go of my daughter for just three seconds.

The best part was riding beside her and seeing her smile.

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Filed under Education, Family, My Writing, Rants

The Importance of Symbolism


Whenever the term “symbolism” comes up in my English class, I hear a collective groan that is normally synonymous with detention or the suggestion of a looming research paper due date. My seniors tend to get over it once I force them to read a novel and create their own symbol to represent it, but in the meantime, getting “buy in” for this concept during a guided reading is like performing a root canal while deep sea diving the Mariana Trench. My classes can walk the grounds of Old Main, and I can point out different images that may signify something, but the effect is seldom much better.

If we watch a film together, however, the students instantly and innately grasp symbolism. I’m beginning to wonder if this visual-spacial requirement has to do with all the technology of our postmodern age, or if it smacks of this generation’s lack of connection with the self.

Or maybe they’re just hormonal teenagers that aren’t ready to consider that a tree entirely dead on just one side represents duality and dichotomy.

Half Dead Tree

Jumping to that conclusion is easy until I have the dream conversation with them. This usually happens after we’ve read Conrad or Hawthorne or have discussed Palahniuk. (Yes, I teach Palahniuk. Bite me.) Nearly everything we dream is symbolic, and as our dreams are the playground of our unconscious minds, symbolism must then be deeply couched in what makes us individuals. It’s only when we consider this connection that we can understand how grasping this “English trope” truly enhances and affects our lives.


This morning, after three days of rain (something we don’t get much of in my part of Arizona) and no sign of it letting up, I decided to go for a run (something I don’t usually do). This would just be insanity if I didn’t understand the rejuvenating aspects of water, or the concept of symbolic baptism that I’m always explaining when we discuss The Count of Monte Cristo. I was one with my body and nature, which is a pretty big deal for Captain Cyberspace here. None of the things that have been bothering me lately mattered.

I was clean, empty, free.

At least I was until I had to get into my car and realized that it looked like something from an episode of Hoarders. With symbolism in mind, I began to wonder if this cluttered death trap did not represent me in some way. They say a master of symbology can walk into a person’s bathroom, take a gander, and tell everything there is to know about him or her.

As someone who considers himself pretty adept at reading signs, I decided my car represented all the baggage, the proverbial “junk in the trunk” I’ve been carrying around. So I cleaned it all out. I had basically given up on it after the kids destroyed the upholstery, but it really isn’t so bad. Driving it like that had been getting me down, but it wasn’t until I realized that I was still connected to the rolling junkyard that I had the motivation to do something about it.


These sunrises I’ve come to take for granted living in the Southwest? They mean something too.

I want to say to my students that they’re living the most epic movie they will ever see–life. Each of them is a main character, and just because life isn’t scripted doesn’t mean that the images that dominate our lives don’t contain some deeper meaning. Reading literature isn’t just about literacy; it’s about learning how to live. I want to say these things, but this is what makes me “the eccentric weirdo”. Sometimes, especially lately with the Common Core Standards cramping my style, I feel like I’m surrounded by an army of Gertrude Steins. They chant their insipid mantra, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose! A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose!”


Really? Is that all you see?

I see love, life, romance, vigor, the heart’s true bloom. I see passion and innocence juxtaposed within Nature, which enables us to understand human nature. I see something as delicate and evanescent as a dream. I see everything that makes life worth living.

I see beauty.

Keats wrote, “Beauty is truth, and truth beauty–that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

When one understands symbolism, the beauty of the world is not merely skin deep. Decode, decode, decode! Smell the roses. Watch the sunrise. Dance in the rain. Clean your hoardermobile.

We could all use a little more beauty, a little more truth.


Filed under Education, Family, Rants, Reading, Writing