My grandfather always said, “Those crazy kids today say the darndest things!”
Over the years and in between showbiz gigs (as we who are hip call them) I’ve worked as a high school substitute teacher. In one classroom, a stuffed monkey (allegedly left by the regular teacher) was hanging from the room’s prominently displayed American flag.
Said monkey was clinging to the flag with his long arms. The kids were pointing at the monkey, whispering and laughing. I overheard one of them pose a question to which I, as a responsible substitute, felt compelled to answer. “Why would a monkey be on a flag anyway?” asked the curious student. “Because he’s just so excited to be an American,” I said, mentally patting myself on the back for my quick wit.
The room exploded with laughter. “Hmmm,” I arrogantly thought, “Although I AM quite witty, the joke didn’t seem to warrant that much laughter. My delivery must be impeccable today!” That’s when I noticed that some of the kids looked shocked at my retort and so I took a closer look at the monkey.
It was then that I noticed that the flag pole was unfortunately extending outward from in between said monkey’s legs and therefore…yes, I had unwittingly made a joke about a monkey’s “excitement” to a room full of 14 year olds…a joke not only inappropriate, but much less patriotic then I intended….
Lesson: When teaching high school, take note of any items in the classroom that could be seen as remotely phallic and avoid mentioning said items and please don’t mention those crazy kids today to grandpa…. AWKWARD….
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Growing up, sports were big in my town. More specifically, football and gymnastics were huge. My high school had incredibly gifted football players, like Tony Siragusa who went on to play for The Baltimore Ravens and win superbowl rings. The girl’s gymnastics team was filled with equally amazing gymnasts, some of whom later competed in the Olympics! I was not one of those girls.
Miraculously my freshman year, I made the team! The balance beam became my competition event, probably because it was the event at which I sucked the least.
Nervously approaching the beam for my first competition routine, I put on my serious gymnast face and presented myself to the judges in that painstaking, arched back, arms in the air stance that gymnasts are required to do prior to any routine. So far so good. “They must give at least two points for my fabulous stance,” I thought. All eyes were on me. The room was radiating anticipatory silence.
I mounted the beam fairly well. Amazed that I actually landed on the four inch death apparatus, I hooked my thumbs together as one and arched into a back-bend. Bonk! As my hands made contact with the beam my spindly arms gave out, and I fell to the floor smashing my head on the wooden beam of torture in the process. The room gasped.
Stunned, I sat on the mat. The first rule of serious gymnastics is that spectators are not to speak during a competition. Neither are the competing gymnasts, especially during their own routines. Standing to my feet, I slowly turned to face the team. With my hands out to the side pulsating each syllable I said, “Whoa-ho-ho!” roughly translated, “Did you see that?!” The team was frantically gesturing for me to both shut up and to get back up on the beam. In a serious gymnastics town, apparently no one checks to see if a team member is injured. The games must go on.
I remounted the beam. I did a cartwheel. I fell off. I did a split leap. I fell off. I did a pirouette. I fell off. I did a pose. I fell off. I finally dismounted. I fell off. At least falling off is allowed in the dismount. I returned to my seat next to my teammates, and unenthusiastically awaited my score. It never came.
As the meet moved on to the uneven bar routines, I quietly asked a teammate why I still hadn’t received my score. She whispered in my ear, “When you get below a five you have to walk to the table to pick up your own score.” Ouch.
I dragged myself to the judge’s table. Turns out I was right about one thing. They do give you two points for the painstaking, arched back, arms in the air stance, and apparantly .9 for showing up. I got a 2.9.
The next year, I joined the choir. Much safer for everyone.
Life Lesson #1: Sometimes when you are down, it’s okay to stay down.
Life Lesson #2: Don’t try to be someone else. We all have unique gifts.
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This past Friday, I accomplished more writing than I usually do. I was inspired by two phenomenal people. One, an award-winning author who for 27 years gleaned valuable life lessons from a 750 lb. black bear and the other a 13-year-old who fell in love with said author’s words and courageously asked him for advice on how to follow her own literary dreams.
Having read Mr. Mikaelsen’s affecting “Touching Spirit Bear,” I was aware of the novel’s testament to the power of both pain and encouragement to propagate inner change, but unaware of the author’s tremendous passion for eradicating bullying and inspiring today’s youth with his own story of tumultuous beginnings, inspired life choices and monumental successes.
Mikaelsen travels the globe sharing his personal story with students. I attended his presentation at Polytechnic school in Pasadena, CA, where the audience of 9-14 year olds sat riveted by his fascinating account. The author’s narrative included his bullied life as a child, his confession of becoming an angry bully himself, fulfilling his dream of becoming a pilot, the lessons he learned from raising a BEAR who knew how to curb his own strength, (yes a bear!) the unlikely discovery of his writing gifts, (thanks to a caring college professor) and his current bold choices to make each day count. Chronicling his life thus far, Mikaelsen spoke with vivid detail, urging the audience to make their own lives count.
After thanking the author for his impassioned talk and exiting the auditorium, I ran into Addie Lillard, a smart 8th grader whom I’m privileged to know thanks to a night filling in for her family’s babysitter. Addie is passionate about stories. The evening I spent at her home, she carried a book with her most of the night. She seems to put every spare moment toward the development of her imagination, immersing herself in new literary worlds every chance she gets! I want to be this kid when I grow up!
Addie asked if I thought it would be okay for her to go back in to solicit Mikaelsen’s advice for aspiring authors. I assured her that I believed Mikaelsen would be thrilled to speak with her and thankfully was right! What followed inspired me through the next week! After I introduced her to the author, Addie eloquently asked for advice. In that moment I too fell in love with Mikaelsen’s words. He told her to focus on feelings, to write every day, thinking about the things that move her, and to try to capture those moments because the truth of those feelings will compel the reader, regardless of the story’s plot. She thanked him and turned to leave, but stopped to add, “By the way, that presentation was AMAZING!” As we left, Addie and I excitedly chatted about how we agreed with Mikaelsen’s focus on emotion and she seemed eager to put his advice into practice ASAP!
Ben Mikaelsen possesses a rare talent not only for writing affecting children’s literature, but for enrapturing kids with vibrant storytelling and cautionary warnings for bullies headed nowhere. “Touching the Spirit Bear” has the unique ability to speak to both the bully and the bullied. Its protagonist Cole is an angry juvenile offender, who must decide whether to allow his near fatal mauling to lead the way to humility, or become even more hardened, risking the healing of not only his own soul but the soul of an entire community. I am beyond thrilled to inform others interested in films aiming to positively influence young minds that producer Robert Burke and “Ten-One Entertainment” has optioned “Touching the Spirit Bear” for the screen and the poignant story is currently in development!
My first stop after the event was Starbucks. Not for my high-maintenance Venti, 3-pump, Mocha with coconut milk frothy beverage, although I did enjoy one, but to fervently pursue my own dream of writing screenplays that uplift, enlighten or elicit copious laughter. On a high from witnessing the visceral effect Mikaelsen’s books and presentation had on the students and reminded once again of the power of story to effect change, I wrote more than I had in weeks. So thank you Ben Mikaelsen and thank you Addie Lillard.
I left the house in plenty of time to make it to a friend’s wedding. Plenty of time that is without a traffic jam two minutes from the church. Not wanting to miss the bride’s grand entrance, I ran up the endless staircase leading to the humongous ornate cathedral only to meet the bridesmaids lined up and ready to go, with the bride not far behind. As I stepped through massive double doors and into the sanctuary’s center aisle, the processional song began and to my horror the entire congregation was on their feet staring at me.
In retrospect there were many reasonable options I could have taken. I could have sashayed up either side aisle. I could have slipped into a back pew, but neither of those options made their way into my brain. With all eyes on me, including the video camera’s (the videographer seemed to be adding me to the wedding footage) I inexplicably rushed up the length of the center aisle, heels echoing the whole way, to meet the rest of the wedding guests, who stood in the first few rows. As I finally slid into a pew, I turned around to watch the processional to find that the bridal party had been following me in and was now more than half way to the altar. Oops.
I hope my friend the bride, doesn’t mind that I decided to join the perfectly matched wedding party in my plaid coat and little black dress. I’m sure she’ll laugh about it when she watches the wedding video. Ok, maybe I’m praying that she’ll laugh. I’d do the same for her. Maybe.
Later at the reception, one would think that I would have tried to be a respectable guest and call no further attention to myself. Respectable was not in the cards for me that day. I’m Irish and have insanely pale skin. Nicole Kidman has nothing on me, but when the DJ played a salsa, I could no longer contain my inner Latin dancer. Three minutes into the dance my flailing arm smacked the groom’s father in the face. He was not my dance partner.
Moral #1: Be sure to arrive super early for any wedding but wear the same color as the bridesmaids just in case.
Moral #2: Don’t Drink and Dance.