One. The teacher of virtue and the stand-up comedian very nearly have the same job: both stand before a room full of people and tell stories and make observations which highlight the absurdities and idiosyncrasies of the human condition. The comedian gauges the audience by observing slight alterations in human faces. He must clock the mood of the audience, measure the volume of responses to certain stories and wager how far the audience is willing to go on dicier subjects, and determine if they are clued in to subtle cues which set up jokes later in the set.
A brief address to the student body on the subject of our daily prayer and hymn-singing, which the upper school performs first thing every morning.
How many of you have been to a wedding, a funeral, or a memorial service in the last several years?
1. Get ready to not be amazing. By the time you’ve been teaching for five years, you will look back on your first year and say, “I was such a mess back then.” This is true no matter how badly or how well the first year goes. Teaching is very difficult and it takes many years to get good at it.
Waiting Room Blues (After Anne Sexton)
Today let me be the one in the waiting
room who is sicker than you. A trip
to the pharmacy will likely suffice
for what you've got so stare at me
as I have also stared at the sickest. How I grind
my palms together gaze out the window
don't read the magazines. What does that guy
have? you wonder rightly glad
you are not me that you will buy
a coke to wash your CVS antibiotics down
in an hour. I have been you looking at me
In the lobby of a local cinema, I was approached by a journalist conducting interviews.
INTERVIEWER: Excuse me, sir, would you mind telling me what movie you’re going to see?
GIBBS: Uh, sure. I’m about to see Jurassic World 2.
INTERVIEWER: Very good. And why are you excited to see this motion picture?
GIBBS: Oh, I saw the trailers for it and I thought they looked pretty good.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say this looks like a life-changing movie?
The following sample comes from How to Be Unlucky: Reflection on the Pursuit of Virtue, which is now available.
What follows is a loose paraphrase of a conversation I lately had with my daughters about some fine new horse toys they received as gifts. I believe that Marjorie Williams, who wrote The Velveteen Rabbit, and whose work I reference to my children, was both a metaphysician and a proverbialist. So far as her proverbs are concerned, a few notable counterexamples are allowable, but are not sufficient to debunk her wisdom.
Gibbs: I would like to talk to you about your new horse toys.
Your problem, said my priest, is that you do not know God. Several months ago, after I made confession, my priest delivered this diagnosis, which I found a shock and a relief. During the confession which I had just delivered, I admitted that my mind constantly wandered during the liturgy, that I did not pray as often as I should, that I did not regularly set before myself the life of Christ and the saints. I also confessed that God was little more than my foul-weather friend, a Thing I turned to in times of fear and sickness.
Around ten years ago, I spent a little time claiming to be a pacifist, and then one day I took a look at myself and said, “In what sense are you a pacifist? Be honest. You’re not a pacifist.” Aside from a few dozen comments I had made on social media, and a few arguments I could summarize, there was simply no evidence that I was a pacifist. At best, I simply no longer enjoyed violent movies as much as I had as a teenager.
The other night I listened to yet another discussion on NPR about fake news, and someone commented that Americans really need to train high school students “how to think” so they have the tools necessary to identify fake news. Another panelist countered with the suggestion that high school students are already learning “analytical thinking skills,” given that their chemistry and biology classes cover the scientific method. Alas, I am not sure we know how to think about “how to think.”