Ridiculous

Devin Hester *finally* breaks Deion Sanders’s record last night.

And, of course, he does it in a Falcons jersey. Unbelievable.

Can’t help but laugh at the irony of him doing it against Lovie Smith, though.

Credit to Atlanta. They figured out in about eight weeks of summer what the Bears puzzled over for eight years: How to get quality mileage out of Hester as both a receiver AND a return specialist.

Anyway…happy to see Hester finally get his record. Just wish it could have been as a Bear.

Congratulations, 23…er…17. You deserve it.

CVA

Steven Moffat and Doctor Who Series 8: What’s That Crazy Son-of-a-Gun Up To?

DANGER: THERE BE SPOILERS HERE!

We’re three episodes in to the new season of Doctor Who, and I’m dying to know what Steven Moffat has up his sleeve. I remember reading a while back that part of “the Moff’s” plan for Series 8 was built on deliberate parallels to the show’s first season. So far, that holds up. The Doctor is in the first of a brand-new set of regenerations, he’s sporting the face of a 50-plus-year-old earthling, and he’s traveling with a young teacher from Coal Hill School (and is about to pick up second). But, as any savvy viewer can tell you, the recent parallels to the program’s history hardly end there.

The question, of course, is what are we to make of it all?

Deep Breath

Moffat goes out of his way to highlight the connections between this episode and his Series 2 entry The Girl in the Fireplace. The Doctor can taste the deja vu in the air – the stranded ship, the clockwork robots scavenging through humanity for spare parts – but can’t seem to remember where he’s seen it all before. Even the reveal that he’s aboard the SS Marie Antoinette, the sister ship of the Madame du Pompadour, fails to stir his memory. At the close of The Girl in the Fireplace the tenth Doctor leaves without ever learning the ship’s name or discovering why the Madame du Pompadour herself was seemingly so critical to its operation.

The Girl in the Fireplace aside, there are at least four other scenes in Deep Breath that connect back to earlier episodes in the revived series.

First, the newly regenerated Doctor is mentally unstable (itself a potential homage to the entire Colin Baker era), and his first appearance – stumbling from the TARDIS in a borderline incoherent state before passing out and having to be cared for by his companions – echoes David Tennant’s first appearance in The Christmas Invasion. In each case he arrives in the same general time and place where he met his current companion: mid-2000’s London near the Tylers’ apartment in The Christmas Invasion and Victorian-era London (where the Doctor first met *a* Clara face-to-face) in Deep Breath.

Later in the episode, the Doctor is struggling to remember who he is and wrestling with the fact that his face is disturbingly familiar to him. The Doctor’s inability to piece together his own identity is reminiscent of the eighth incarnation’s confusion after regenerating in the TV Movie. I think it’s safe to assume the fact that he feels like he’s seen own his face before is a deliberate reference to The Fires of Pompeii (in which Peter Capaldi played the Roman Caecilius opposite David Tennant) and is all part of the “master plan” that Russell T. Davies supposedly started hatching when Capaldi was being considered for Doctor #11.

After the episode’s climax, the Half-Faced Man’s arrival in heaven appears to take place in the same garden that features in The Girl Who Waited. This could, of course, be coincidence (there are a finite number of shooting locations, and an even more finite number of immaculate garden terraces), but the fact that there are shots featuring the same views shot at essentially the same angles seems to suggest otherwise.

Finally, the Doctor and Clara’s final scene – where Clara comes to grips with the Doctor’s new face, chooses to continue adventuring with him, and the pair ultimately decide to get to know each other again over coffee – strongly parallels the final scene of The End of the World, wherein Rose chooses to commit to a life of travel with the ninth Doctor and the two of them decide to catch their breath over chips.

Into the Dalek

Before even addressing matters of story, the placement of this episode parallels the show’s first season. The Doctor and the Daleks meet for the first time in William Hartnell’s second serial, almost immediately turning the show into a phenomenon in its native Britain. Here, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor has his first encounter with the Daleks in his second story as well. Furthermore, because of the events of Asylum of the Daleks (more on that shortly), this is also effectively the first time a Dalek has met the Doctor.

Within the context of the revived series, this episode bears remarkable similarity to the Series 1 classic Dalek. In each case, a lone Dalek has been found and imprisoned then subsequently tortured and subjected to experiments. Both Daleks are in the midst of a crisis of conscience, questioning their own existence as well as their destiny. As each episode progresses, the Dalek finds itself inadvertently restored by a time traveler (Rose in the first case, the Doctor in the second), which prompts an inevitable killing spree. Both Dalek and Into the Dalek reach an emotional climax when the Dalek in question overcomes its own nature (thanks again to Rose and the Doctor, respectively). In Dalek, the title character taunts the Doctor with the suggestion that he “would make a good Dalek”. Capaldi’s Doctor is told much the same, although in a notably different context. When the Doctor laments that perhaps there can never be a “good” Dalek, the Dalek corrects him: “You are a good Dalek.”

Into the Dalek also echoes the Series 7 premier, Asylum of the Daleks, wherein the Doctor meets *a* Clara (called Oswin) for the first time (though he never actually sees her). Clara/Oswin literally spends the entire episode inside of a Dalek, her quarters a mock-up of the interior of a Dalek’s head/dome. This presages the Doctor’s discovery that the mysterious Oswin is herself an inmate in the asylum. Like the title characters of Dalek and Into the Dalek, she’s bound by chains, being held in isolation, and on the verge of madness as she fights against her own nature. Oswin’s a Dalek…but she’s a good one in the end.

Robot of Sherwood

The setting and nature of this episode – and even its title – are reminiscent of the Tom Baker-era Androids of Tara, which itself is colored with shades of Robin Hood. Both are set in a Feudal(ish) society, both include mechanical beings in pivotal roles, and both feature storylines about noblewomen who are kidnapped and potentially coerced into marriage as part of a jaded nobleman’s bid for power.

As far as more recent parallels are concerned, Robot of Sherwood is also reminiscent of The Fires of Pompeii (Peter Capaldi’s debut appearance in the revived series). The plot revolves around aliens who are stranded in Earth’s past and improvising with the technology of the time in their efforts to restore themselves to power. The threat to Pompeii is self-explanatory, and a similar threat looms as Medieval England faces the possibility of annihilation.

The antagonists of Robot of Sherwood also echo those of Deep Breath. In both episodes, robotic aliens are trying to fix a damaged ship so they can continue on their journey to The Promised Land. This element evokes additional memories of Series 5’s The Lodger, in which mysterious aliens (one of whom bears passing resemblance to William Hartnell from where he lurks in the shadows) are abducting humans in an attempt to make their derelict ship (which may or may not be a TARDIS) operational again.

Tune in Next Week…

Questions still abound about where Steven Moffat is taking us – Is there something I didn’t spot in Into the Dalek‘s glimpse of Heaven? Is The Promised Land another Utopia? Should I be worried that the Cybermen are set to feature in this season’s finale…and were introduced in Hartnell’s final episode (the Doctor’s first regeneration)? – and the answers aren’t forthcoming. I suppose all we can do is wait until Saturday. Listen looks like a creeper, and I know we’ve had a few of those since 2005…and 1963.

Are there any parallels I’ve missed? Anything you think I’m reading too much in to (besides Doctor Who in general)? If you have a thought, a criticism, or even a theory about where this regeneration is headed, please share it in the comments section below. I will probably be updating this post as the season progresses – probably more than once – so I’d love to hear what you have to say.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

The Curse of Fandom: Can I Bear to Watch This?

It’s the first Sunday of the NFL season, and I’m scared.

I’ve noticed in recent years that my emotional state in the fall has grown inextricably linked to the successes and failures of the Chicago Bears. I am no longer a casual fan watching with casually detached interest. I no longer watch football on Sunday afternoons with the remove of a fan watching a TV show. I am slowly but surely crossing the line into superfandom. When the Bears win, it brings both climax and catharsis to my week. No matter what else might be bringing me down, I can go to bed Sunday night with the assurance that all is momentarily right with the world. When the Bears lose, the frustration follows me the rest of the day and haunts me into the night. I wake up Monday morning wound up and already desperate for next Sunday to get here already so I can get some release.

And when the losses start to mount? When a game becomes a streak?

You’re probably better off asking my wife about that.

Better yet, don’t. I don’t want her to get mad at me.

Anyway…I suppose I can trace it all back to 2011. We’d been spoiled the previous season, watching a stalwart defense and stellar special teams buoy an emerging offense en route to the NFC Championship game. The team got better and better as the season went on, and they were only an injury away from playing in the Super Bowl.

If Jay Cutler finishes that game, the Bears win. Just sayin’.

When the 2011 season finally arrived, it came bearing otherworldly expectations. And the season seemed to follow the same blueprint as the year before. The Bears started slow, hit some bumps in the road early, but made steady improvements every week. By mid-season, they were systematically dismantling some excellent teams. They were hot, and they looked like legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Then…disaster. Injuries to Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Johnny Knox devastated the offense and cost the team the season.

And that season nearly cost me my sanity.

Watching as the losses added up and the odds of making the playoffs continued to shrink became a weekly exercise in anger and misery. By the time the playoff window finally closed for good on Christmas night (irony), my emotional nerve endings were already fried and I was nearly numb.

The 2012 season was more of the same, although this time it was the defense that caught the injury bug and collapsed late in the year. Not that the offense did much to help.

Then there was 2013. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know how I feel about 2013.

But here’s what really worries me. The wife, a psych major with a Masters in School Counseling, pointed out that I seem to be projecting my issues with my own football team onto my favorite pro team. In other words, the Bears have started bearing the brunt of my frustrations with my own players. The line between coach and fan has grown increasingly hazy.

In 2010, we had a lot of talent but it never fully jelled. We finished the year 9-2, but got dominated in our second-round playoff game. In the end, we were never anywhere near as good as we should have been. In a lot of ways, losing was a relief. Still, the after-effects of 11 weeks of stress and frustration lingered. Thank God for that 2010 playoff run.

In 2011, we were even more talented. And all the pieces seemed to come together. We were winning games by an average of 30+ points, and we beat the eventual 8A state champion (at their place, no less) on the road to a 9-0 regular season. The wheels came off in a second-round playoff game that we lost 7-0 at home to a moderately talented but very well-coached 6-3 team. Our team was undone by its biggest playmakers’ own egos. We were finished long before we should have been, and the Bears were all I had left. Watching them find new and more pathetic ways to come unglued each week compounded my sorrows to the point that my family could hardly stand to be around me on Sundays.

2012 was our state final run. We lost 10-8 in Champaign. It was the one black mark on an otherwise perfect season spent coaching an amazing group of kids. But it was followed by an inexplicable meltdown that kept the Bears out of the post-season and cost Lovie Smith his job.

Last year, our defense was never as good as it should have been. And that defense let us down in the state quarterfinals. Critical breakdowns in the closing minutes cost us a late lead and, ultimately, our season. We racked up a lot of wins, but we lost to every good team we played. Sound familiar, Bears fans?

And now, the 2014 season is less than three hours away. I’m not coaching this year, but is that going to make things better or worse? Without a team of my own, I don’t have any emotional baggage to bring with me on Sunday afternoons. At the same time, the Bears are now my one and only outlet as far as football is concerned. Is this season going to be easier since I can no longer project my own professional issues onto my favorite professional team? Or is it just going to get harder since the Bears are now my sole emotional investment in football?

I guess only time will tell. I’ll let you know how it all plays out.

As always, thanks for reading.

And GO BEARS!

CVA

Top-Down Tuesday – Marvel Studios and The Avengers

In the wake of the San Diego and Chicago Comic-Cons and in the calm before Age of Ultron – and to commemorate the fact that I finally got to see Guardians of the Galaxy this weekend – I thought it would be fun to take a critical look at Marvel’s Cinematic Universe as it stands now. A few words of warning, though…

1. The rankings that follow are based solely on my own opinions and my own personal tastes. No other metric was used in gauging the quality of each film.
2. These rankings only include major motion picture releases. No “One-Shots” were included, nor was Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
3. I only saw Guardians two days ago. I haven’t had much time to ponder it, but I feel obligated to include it here. You may hate where I rank it, and I may end up regretting what I say about it. But it is part of “Phase 2″ and it will make this list an even 10, so I’m going to run with it.

So, without further ado…

Number 10

Iron Man 2 Title

Without a doubt, this is my least favorite film in the franchise. Iron Man 2 falls victim to what I like to call The Spider-Man Syndrome (more on that later) which its predecessor so ably avoided. What we’re left with is a Tony Stark who’s become a sad sack, a climactic battle with a villain that’s basically just another evil Iron Man, and a two hour long excuse to give some backstory on S.H.I.E.L.D. and to introduce Black Widow. The end result is a film that plainly and simply isn’t any fun (Scarlett Johansson kicking ass notwithstanding).

Number 9

Thor 2 Poster

Although I think this movie is marginally better than Iron Man 2, I feel like it suffers a lot of the same issues. And – much like IM2 – it represents a significant drop-off in quality from its predecessor (again…more on that later). That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its high points. I love Christopher Eccleston in pretty much everything. And Stellan Skarsgard manages to steal every scene he’s in. Unfortunately, the movie was bloated with action sequences and left me feeling like I’d just watched a Star Wars spin-off rather than a worthy sequel to Thor.

Number 8

MCDINHU EC040

First, the obvious: It’s infinitely better than that warmed-over piece of crap that Ang Lee made with Eric Bana in 2003. To paraphrase Entertainment Weekly‘s review of The Avengers, however, there’s just no getting around the fact that The Hulk is better in small doses. Think of it this way – how much can you really watch a character who becomes incapable of having meaningful dialogue right when he becomes the most interesting?

That said, one of the ways I judge films is by how willing I am to re-watch them. In four years, I’ve had absolutely no desire to see Iron Man 2 ever again. Even when I did my pre-Avengers Phase 1 binge, I skipped it. I could probably convince myself next spring to watch Thor 2 during the requisite Phase 2 marathon, but I’ve felt no real compulsion to re-watch it yet. The Incredible Hulk is the first film on this list that I’ve seen multiple times and I can see myself watching again someday.

So it’s got that going for it.

Number 7

Iron Man 3 Poster

First, it’s a significant improvement over IM2. Second, it establishes that this is a comic book/cinematic universe in which there are consequences. For Tony Stark, the events ofThe Avengers can’t be swept away and conveniently forgotten (see also: Stellan Skarsgard in Thor 2). Tony Stark’s PTSD drives the character without dragging down the movie, lending IM3 a healthy dose of realism without being heavy handed (see Iron Man 2). Finally, I know it may have pissed off a lot of comic book purists, but I loved the bait-and-switch with the Mandarin.

Or is bait-and-switch-and-switch? I still haven’t seen All Hail the King. Regardless, Ben Kingsley’s incredible.

Number 6

Guardians Poster

Like I said, I just saw this movie. It could easily move up or down this list in the future. If it does, I’ll post an update and an appropriate mea culpa. That said, Guardians was a much better movie than I expected it to be. Admittedly, there were some elements of it that echo The Avengers: A team of disparate and borderline dysfunctional personalities is pressed into service together by an onslaught of nearly impossible circumstances; that team is brought together, shattered by its own egos, then reforged in the wake of apparent defeat; and even Groot has a laugh-out-loud Incredible Hulk moment during the climactic battle on Ronan’s ship. I assume that a lot of this is deliberate, given the fact that it’s all punctuated by musical leitmotif’s that heavily echo Alan Silvestri’s Avengers score. The end result is that Guardins of the Galaxy feels like a film forged from shared thematic DNA rather than a retread of The Avengers. It has larger-than-life but also very relatable characters, intense and enjoyable action sequences, and more laugh-out-loud moments than the other nine films on this list combined. Oh, and a green Zoe Saldana fighting a blue-skinned Karen Gillan.

And that’s hot.

Number 5

Iron Man Poster

Numbers 5-3 on this list were the toughest to rank. I think they’re all excellent, and they’re nearly interchangeable on this list.

More than anything else, I give major kudos to Iron Man for simply being fun. Even more, I give credit to Iron Man for simply having fun. I’ve always loved and respected this movie for being the first major comic book movie to break away from what I earlier referred to as The Spider-Man Syndrome. Basically, after the 2002 release of Spider-Man, studios weren’t allowed to adapt a comic-book property for the big screen without somehow turning the main character into a sad sack of existential angst (see: Tony Stark, Iron Man 2). It worked for Spider-Man and it worked for Tobey Maguire. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for the slew of mediocre films released in its $800,000,000 wake. It’s like I woke up one day and suddenly there was no such thing as a superhero that didn’t hate himself/his life because of the unbearable burdens of being a superhero.

Enter: Tony Stark. It was a breath of fresh air watching a character leading the rock-star life who simply reveled in the fact that he got to be a superhero. Isn’t that every little boy’s dream at some point? Why did Hollywood have to ruin it for us? Thanks, Robert Downey Jr., for bringing the dream back to life!

Number 4

Captain America Poster

Captain America was always my favorite comic book when I was a kid, so I admittedly have a bit of a soft-spot here. I went into this film skeptical of Chris Evans (who wouldn’t be after Fantastic Four?) and worried that Cap’s 1940’s 98-pound-weakling-with-a-heart-of-gold persona wouldn’t translate well to the 2011 cinema. But I also walked into the theater more than a little giddy to finally get to see Captain America get his due on the big screen. I left feeling satisfied that Evans had pulled it off. So, too, had Hugo Weaving (who made the Red Skull deliciously sinister as only Hugo Weaving can) and his make-up/effects team (who prevented the Red Skull from looking cheesy while also keeping him from looking repulsive). There was one moment – in the wake of Bucky’s apparent death – when I feared that the Cap was going to go all Spider-Man on me, but the filmmakers did an admirable job of acknowledging Steve Rogers’s sorrow and giving him time to mourn without letting him (or the film) wallow in melancholia.

If I had to register one formal complaint against Captain America, it would be this: No Scarlett Johansson. I still think the post-awakening sequence at the end of the film would have been a lot more fun if she’d been the one tending to/watching over Steve Rogers…then chasing him into the streets of New York. Alas…

Number 3

Thor poster

This is the only film on this list that I didn’t see in the theater, and it is one of only two titles (along with Guardians of the Galaxy) that I never really read when I was younger. Because of this, I went into Thor expecting nothing. And I was blown away.

Like most of the world, I had initially scratched my head at the decision to sign Kenneth Branagh as director. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Branagh as an actor, and I have deep respect for his efforts to faithfully bring Shakespeare alive on screen. But…directing a comic-book movie? Really?

Ironically, it was Branagh’s own description of the Shakespearean-ness of this incarnation of Thor that got me interested in it in the first place. And, frankly, I think Branagh more than anything else is what makes this movie work. I have never seen another comic-book movie so light on action and so heavy on dialogue. It’s a character-driven tale of loss and redemption whose classical elements are almost perfectly balanced by well-placed and intense action sequences and some equally well-timed moments of laugh-out-loud comic relief. It’s serious without taking itself too seriously, and it’s truly Shakespearean while still managing to be fun. In a word, it’s awesome.

Number 2

Avengers poster

It’s not perfect. The requisite “assembling” of the team was bound to clunk a little bit in the first act. But once The Avengers gets rolling, it is insane fun. The action in the third act especially is a sight to behold. Large stretches of it track the various characters through a series of long takes that blend one into the next with a minimum of cuts, lending a true sense of scale to “The Battle of New York”. Like my other favorites on this list, The Avengers tempers its action sequences with some perfectly placed belly laughs. And, as a bonus, this is the film that finally seems to get the Hulk right. What could be better?

Oh, yeah…

Number 1

Winter Soldier poster

One of the ways that I judge movies is by how long I think about them after they’re over. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want every movie I see to be particularly philosophical or intellectual. Far from it. It just means that the movies I like best are the ones that capture my imagination. The Avengers did it. The Winter Soldier did it even better. I don’t even care that whole recorded-consciousness-of-Zola sequence was patently ridiculous. The conflicts it causes and the action it sets in motion make for a great ride. And, yes, the thematic content therein is in fact intellectually and philosophically troubling.

As a side note, for my money this film also has the best soundtrack of the series. It’s dark, it’s pulse-pounding, and it’s a perfect undercurrent to the film’s steady descent into conspiracy and darkness. The scoring as much as the film itself stuck in my craw for days after I left the theater. All three times.

If I have a criticism of the film, it’s this: Unlike in comic book story-arc of the same name, the Winter Soldier is really just a subplot here. In some ways, his inclusion is a little bit of a waste and almost feels like a cheap trick to get fans into the theater. I would have liked him to have featured as prominently as the title suggests. But, I suppose that’s what Captain America 3 is for. I can’t wait.

So…there it is. Was I overly harsh on your favorite? Am I too rose-colored about my own? Post a comment below and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

If You See Me Tonight…

Tonight, for the first time in over ten years, I’ll be going to a high school football game as just a spectator. I’m already sick at my stomach over it. I’ll be there with my father, who’s always been my biggest fan. I know he’s looking forward to hearing my “insider’s perspective” on the game as it unfolds, but I don’t know how much there is I can really tell him. I’m going to be there to support the players I coached last year and should have been coaching this year. I’m also going to be there because I have friends coaching on both sidelines. Beyond that, I’ve distanced myself from it these past few months. It was the only way I could think of to keep from hurting.

With that in mind…if you see me tonight…

…please don’t take it personally if I seem a little distant or act a bit aloof. I’m not used to sitting in the stands and really don’t know what I’m doing. And I probably feel like I’m watching my prom date make out with my best friend.

…please don’t ask me why I’m not coaching. I’ve answered that question enough over the past three months. The political answer is because I need to take some graduate classes and I want to spend some extra time with my family. The truth is that my family and my children are more important to me than yours. I know that as a teacher I’m probably not supposed to say that, but anything else would be a lie. It doesn’t mean your son doesn’t matter to me, though. If that was the case, then I wouldn’t there at all.

…please don’t ask me if I miss it. I do. So much so that from where I sit right now the thought of being at the game tonight without really being there sets my stomach churning and the bile rising.

…please don’t ask me about my replacement. He’s only in his second year coaching, and he worked with our Freshman team last year. I barely know him. He’s young, but he always seemed like he knew his shit. I think he’ll do just fine at the job, and I will tell you that he’s doing great whether he is or not. For your sons’ sake, I hope he is. I’m going to be real here, however. There’s a dark, selfish, and egotistical part of me that wants to see him fail.

…please don’t ask me what I think of the defense’s game plan. I had no hand in creating it, but I’m sure it’s sound. If anything goes wrong, it will be a breakdown in execution rather than in scheme. With that in mind…

…please – when there is a breakdown on defense – don’t ask me how I feel about it. Especially if it’s an issue with the defensive line. If/when something goes wrong, I’ll be stuck watching just like you. Except I’ll be watching from beneath the ponderous shadow of the sense that I should be doing something. So, the short answer is this. I feel helpless. I don’t know if my presence on the sideline would make any difference, but I’m frustrated and feeling guilty all the same.

…please don’t make any jokes about me going to talk to the team at halftime. If the game’s going well, they don’t need me. If it’s going poorly, I won’t have a sense of humor about it.

…please don’t ask me about the offense. Please especially don’t ask me about the play-calling. Just….don’t. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years. And I just don’t know.

…please, if we lose, just leave me alone.

Sorry if that seems like such a negative way to start a Friday morning. I needed to get that out of my system. Time to be positive now.

Wish us the team good luck.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA

To My Incoming Ninth-Grade Students on the Occasion of Our First Day Together

We’re going to be meeting each other for the first time today. I will greet you at the door and shake each of your hands. I will ask you how your day is going or how you’ve liked your classes so far, and you will likely walk past me without making eye contact while muttering the word “good” or grunting something that might be “fine”. After the bell rings, I will introduce myself, take attendance, and get you seated where I want you. Then I will challenge you to brainstorm more meaningful or more descriptive responses than good, fine, and ok. I will make you write them down, and I’ll make you share them with the class. Hopefully you’ll have a laugh, hopefully you’ll have a moment where you feel smart, and hopefully you’ll learn something from your classmates. Tomorrow I will meet you at the door again. I will shake your hand and ask you another question, but this time I will challenge you to give me a better answer. Good, fine, and ok simply won’t be good enough any more.

And so it will begin.

At this point, I suppose I could give you a laundry list of my obligations to you and your responsibilities to me and to the class. I could discuss the syllabus, the readings, the grammar rules, and the vocab words. I could tell you about writing and public speaking and projects and discussions. But I won’t. There will be plenty of time for that later. Let’s leave it at this: If you show up every day and give your best effort, you’ll be fine. It’s all I’m ever going to expect of you, and it’s exactly what you can expect of me. Just try your hardest and the rest will take care of itself.

With that said, there are some things that I am going to try my hardest to remember this year…

I will do my best to remember that you are starting in a new school today, that everything is vast, strange, and confusing. There are classrooms whose numbers run out of sequence and offices known only by foreign-sounding names and unfamiliar acronyms.

I will do my best to remember that you are surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces – hundreds of teachers and thousands of students that you’ve never seen before – and that you may go the entire day without ever seeing your closest friend that you’ve gone to school with your entire life.

I will do my best to remember that this is a time of change and transition for you. You’ve not only left behind your old school, but you may be choosing to leave behind old sports, old activities, and even old friends.

I will do my best to remember that you are getting your first taste of new subjects, new extra-curriculars, and new expectations.

I will do my best to remember that even though you still look like children, you are desperate to be treated like adults.

I will do my best to remember that your life right now is a maelstrom of anxiety and uncertainty.

And I will do my best to remember that you likely have no idea what maelstrom means.

Unfortunately, there will be times that I forget these things. There will be times when I am impatient. There will be times when I confuse you, frustrate you, and even let you down. I can promise you that whenever these things happen, I will give you my heartfelt apologies. They will likely be little consolation.

But let me ask you this…

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that, even though I’ve been here for over ten years now, there are offices in new places and teachers in new classrooms and I’m still trying to figure it all out?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that my closest friend at this school was moved to a different building over the summer, that this is the first time in my career that I’ll be starting a school year without him?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I recently had to give up coaching two sports that I love? That when the bell rings at 2:37 today I am going to walk out of this building feeling lost, confused, and alone because I am not on the practice field and not surrounded by my friends?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that I’m taking classes and being a student myself for the first time in over ten years? That today’s my first day (night) of school, too?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that, as much as I’m going to try to talk to you like adults, I can still be a big, nerdy kid?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that my life is the foggiest and most uncertain it’s ever been since I started teaching?

Would it make you feel any better if I told you that a maelstrom is a violent whirlpool or a mess of confusion and turbulence?

For whatever it’s worth, I understand the situation you’re in right now better than I ever have before. I’m already walking in your shoes – a lesson we’ll discuss extensively when we read To Kill a Mockingbird next semester – and hopefully I can see things through your eyes. I’ll do my best to be tolerant, understanding, and supportive. Hopefully you can do the same for me.

I’m already running late, so I need to wrap this up. I hope you were able to sleep last night. I know I wasn’t. I hope you wake up excited and ready to face the challenges that lie ahead.

I’ll be waiting for you at the door.

Sincerely,

Mr. Alexander

Starting Again…with a Great Big Asterisk This Time

School starts today. It’s Institute Day, which means no students. Instead, we get to sit through the same District, Union, Building, and Department Meetings that we’ve been having on opening day for over ten years now. I’m sure we’ll hear most of the same jokes, stories, and statistics that we always hear in the same canned speeches and recycled pep talks that we’re forced to endure every year. Then, near the end of the day, we’ll finally get some “individual time” to make sure our rooms, plans, and copies are in order so we’re ready to actually teach when the students arrive tomorrow.

School starts today. Which means summer vacation’s over. 4:00 am still feels like the middle of the night, my morning routines feel completely alien, and coffee has already ceased being a warm, delicious luxury and become a strong, black, dire necessity.

School starts today, which means life returns to routine and structure.

But with so many things returning to normal, I am becoming painfully aware of how much everything is going to change.

I quit coaching at the end of last school year. Despite the sentiments I recycled a few days ago about trying to achieve balance in my life, it was actually a very sudden decision. And it’s one that I’m still coming to grips with.

I started this site 18 months ago and during that time I’ve often wondered what it might be like to step away from coaching for a year and blog about the experience. How might my life change if I excised one of the fundamental facets of who I am? How might the balance of my life change if I were to set aside the thing that unbalances and undermines it the most? How much could I actually accomplish if I was done working at the end of school each day and actually had my weekends off? How good of a teacher could I be? How many projects could I finish around the house? How much more time could I spend with my daughters?

How much writing could I get done?

I suppose now we’ll find out.

This post is late coming, seeing as I began my “leave of absence” (I have a hard time believing I won’t go back at some point) at the start of summer vacation. I nearly cried when I had to face my position group on our last day of spring workouts and tell them out of the blue that I wasn’t going to coach them this year. I went through finals week with a ponderous void weighing on the hollows of my heart. I spent the first two weeks of summer – normally devoted to June football camp – alternately feeling like I was late for something and had forgotten somewhere I needed to be. But by the start of July, summer was mostly just summer. I did some graduate coursework – a luxury I never had time for before – which helped to keep me busy. I extended the annual trip to my grandmother’s house by an extra day just because I could. And I soaked up as much time as possible with my two young daughters and my wife. I only felt the absence of coaching when I stopped and let myself dwell on it.

You might have noticed, though, that this blog went dormant for three months. So did my writing. Sadly, I wrote significantly more last summer when I was both coaching football and preparing the house for a second child. This is where the questions about balance come in. Because I wasn’t coaching this summer, because I knew I had the extra hours to spend with my family, I felt obligated to spend ALL my extra hours with them. I took less time for myself this summer than I ever have before. In the end, I feel like I accomplished nothing over the past two months.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved every minute I spent with my family and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. But it makes me wonder. One of the carrots that eased this decision for me was the promise that I would have more time to write. Yet so far I’ve written next to nothing. Ironically, the start of school should help with that. Structure is good for me. So are the pre-dawn hours. If nothing else, they’re the only time I really get to myself. The doubt still remains, though. Am I going to be a better husband, father, teacher, and author this year now that coaching has been put on hold? Am I going to finally strike a satisfying balance in my life? Or am I going to find myself wasting more time simply because I have more time to waste? Growing lazier because I don’t have the pressure to focus my effort? Actually taking less time for my own needs and my own dreams because I feel like I have the time to spend with my family thus I must spend all of that time with them while I have it?

I’m so accustomed to balancing my life against the massive and unstable weight of coaching, will I be able to keep myself level without it?

It’s the first day of school, and the morning writing hour is drawing to an end. I don’t know how ready I am to start a new year, especially while still sorting out such a major change in my life. I can tell you this much, though: I’m excited to be back in my office watching the sun come up while I type.

As always, thanks for reading.

CVA