Real Quests and Heroes

A year ago tonight, Charming was born.  In the annals of my blog, I dubbed him a prince after our first face-to-face meeting in more than a decade.  My sophomores are studying archetypes again, like the week before that post, again fixating on the function of setting, conflict, and plot in revealing a theme.  I declared him a hero before I could possible predict what theme would manifest itself through our acquaintanceship.

I polled my kids to explain who their personal heroes were and why.  The qualities that emerged repeatedly were perseverance, self-sacrifice, love, and inspiration.  The desire to be like their heroes became a refrain throughout all my classes.  Then, I introduced archetypes, explaining them as recurrent characters, symbols, and scenarios we all intuitively recognize.

It’s why we’ll assume that the step-mother in a story is evil even if we happen to be a great one, at home getting ready to make the kids a bedtime snack right now.  It’s why Breaking Bad is set in the desert, symbolizing despair, hopelessness, and loneliness.  It’s why when I leave out the word “personal” and simply ask my students to describe the qualities of a hero, they’ll offer up bold, courageous, strong, and fearless… quite different from their admired qualities in their personal heroes explored just fifteen minutes before.   Now, they name off Hercules, Batman, and Captain America.

Perhaps a more familiar term with associated meaning would be a stereotype.  The stereotypical hero saves a damsel in distress as a part of his quest.  When I penned Charming into existence, I did so on a whim, and I was adamant that I was not, in fact, a damsel in distress.  I didn’t need saving.  When he was just a three-hour conversation on a weekend, I was still dressing out in the Rugged Individualist archetype, perfectly capable of solving my own problems.

Perhaps I was even trying to be my own hero, on a quest to find significance for my life absent any hopes for a husband or children.  And this is where archetypes are most relevant to our lives.  When we read a story or watch a movie, characters typically maintain one of these identities throughout the duration.  In reality, I think we move in and out of different roles more like characters do over the course of a trilogy or seasons of episodes.

At varying points in my life, I’ve been able to identify with the innocent in the coming of age story, the doomed mistress to a star-crossed lovers scenario, and admittedly to the damsel in distress, varied versions of the same story carried out with half a dozen different protagonists in as many cities over the past twenty years.  A myriad of favored books and TV shows circulate through my inventory, and not surprisingly, a brief accounting shows they reflect the current state of my own character.

A year ago, after naming him, I explained, “He’s charming because he’s like fall.  The temperature moves between warm and cool, different memories triggering the varied sides of him.  His insights, stories, suggestions, and confessions made him brilliantly colorful.  And there’s a fire just starting to warm the brisk, dark nights of his soul. .”

If we rewind WordPress to one week before that, I declared that I was falling in love with fall, and that a prince’s only quest with me would be to break through the cynical repercussions of my past.  I wrote that the story I was writing wasn’t about Prince Charming yet.  I used those words.  Four days later, I met him.  Three more days, and I didn’t realize I was beginning a new story already.

I couldn’t see it when I was in it.  I couldn’t see that there was a part of me that did need saving.  It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I’d righted my relationship with God that I could see where my quest for significance had brought me, that I’d reached the climax in the story, where meaning and purpose would come through fulfillment in Him.  Charming wasn’t the hero.  I was the innocent, like Frodo, unaware of my own tragic flaw.  He was Sam, the faithful companion, helping me on my quest.

I had to finish writing that story, I had to complete the quest that I was on in my life before there could be another plot line.  And I couldn’t see it when I was in it, but Charming played an integral part in restoring my faith.  I didn’t see that the falling action and resolution had ended… not really until now, looking back at my own words and thoughts from a year ago.  And I’m not sure that the quest Charming was on when he met me has been fulfilled yet either, after he emerged from his own dark night.

Even the fashion-challenged among us know what it means to fish through the closet in search of the clothing, shoes, and accessories that fit the “look” that we’re going for that day.  If I’m going for sporty, I choose a T-shirt, workout shorts, tennies, and a hoodie.  We understand that certain items are intuitively recognized as going together.

The same is true for an author when attempting to weave a certain message about life into a short story.  He starts with that theme.  Ray Bradbury, writing in the 1950’s, observed the shift into reliance on technology for entertainment, and imagined for us a writer walking the silent streets of a city in 2053.  Archetypes are timeless.  We’re reading this short story, The Pedestrian, in 2016, where we can identify with this theme tenfold.  Bradbury keeps emphasizing how cold and dark it is, making comparisons of his current surroundings to a desert and a graveyard.

It fits the “look” that Bradbury was going for in that story, the statement about society that he wanted to make.  He created a world in which technology had led to alienation and isolation in the future.  He used the Outcast archetype, banished by society for failing to conform to the norm, walking outside while everyone else is watching television.  It fits the “look” Bradbury was going for.

That story was set in November, where you could see your breath like puffs of smoke.  But in September, I don’t even need a jacket yet.  That’s the fall I love, and it fit the story I was writing before I met Charming.  Something was coming to an end.  My summer plants died, and I’d planted autumn mums instead.  I retired my hydrangeas and put out a scarecrow and pumpkin display.  My quest to find meaning absent love had ended in a church pew, and I started writing another story, playing another role without realizing it.

A year and a week ago, I wrote that I would fall in love when I met my perfect match.  Four days later, that story began.  We met initially simply to swap stories about life after divorce.  I couldn’t have anticipated that we would begin to share stories, living life after divorce together.  Charming’s my perfect match for the look I’m going for, and he is a hero… because of the qualities like my kids named, not the archetype.  Superman doesn’t fit the look I’m going for in this story.

He inspires me to want to be better, to be more like him.  I think Charming’s quest is to find happiness and mine is to find love.  We’re only in the rising action here.  Unlike Bradbury, I still don’t know what theme is going to be revealed in our story, but I like that we’ve come full circle through four seasons to falling leaves again.  Because of Charming, I see fall as potential.  As hope.  As promise.

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It’s the right setting for the theme I’m hoping will manifest itself, that fall will turn to winter to spring to summer, and I’ll be falling in love with fall and Charming all over again.  We’ll probably be playing different roles in new quests and journeys, but somehow facing them together weaves those story lines together so seamlessly that it’s difficult to discern where his quest ends and mine begins.

On a Dark and Stormy Night…

The rain is heavy, steady, rhythmic around me.  After reviewing the elements of a short story with my sophomores today, I know the role weather conditions play in establishing setting; that setting will influence the tone and the plot development; that when the conflict emerging in that setting with that tone is resolved, a theme or life lesson results.  The dreary, dark night sets the tone for my writing, preparing my readers for pensive, reflective, somber revelations.

Before my English kids discussed what they already knew about short stories for their warm-up this afternoon, my yearbook staff started off the day with focused freewrites on “Memories”.  I wasn’t planning on joining them, but the silence save for scribbling of pencils and pens on paper begged me to open a blank slate, a Word Document, and make meaning of my train of thought, starting with old memories, then moving to recent memories, and finally settling on the memories I’m not making.

By the time we were knee-deep in our lesson on short story last block, I was in the zone, making connections even I hadn’t made in a class setting before.  My eureka moment came after repeating a nuanced version of an explanation I’ve made countless Septembers preceding this one, emphasizing that it’s not about the stories we read, but about what we do with those stories, the skills we’ll develop analyzing them and searching for meaning and themes relevant to our lives.

And suddenly, excitedly, passionately, out of my mouth came bubbling, “And isn’t each day or week of our lives like a short story?  We can identify the setting and how that influences the plot development.  We can identify our conflict, and only after the story is over can we see how that conflict was resolved.  But we know that conflict is essential to the plot in order to create a theme that teaches us, and we grow by having experienced that particular plot sequence.”

When this novel anecdote had settled, I expected blank stares, but these students appreciate instruction beyond facts and figures.  They crave relevancy and currency.  Staring back at me, there were a dozen more eureka expressions, the significance having settled in.

The setting is simply where your characters and situation are introduced.  If this entry were a short story, I’ve just established the setting and given background information for the major players, myself and my kids, and I’ve set the scene on my front porch in the rain.  The point of view is first person, and the reader knows because I’m revealing my own thoughts and feelings.

The rising action is where the conflict unfolds.   Were my freewrite this morning entered into the short story line, there’d be a clear conflict revealed.  And it’s ultimately the type of conflict that fits a dreary, rainy fall day.  That was my next thought after processing my students’ comprehension.  My blogging narratives most typically offer nuggets of hope and grace, lending themselves to universal themes of self-acceptance and overcoming obstacles.  They’re universal because they translate to others’ lives.

But the rhythmic rain sobers me to reflection on a man vs. self conflict that’s drizzled through the last two hundred days at least.  An internal conflict drives this short story.  As I free-wrote, I recalled Sunday morning service with Charming at Restoration Anglican in Arlington.  There must be something in the welcome refreshments, because there were babies in front of us, behind us, and to our right.  The church was inundated with baby cries and cues piercing through sermon and song.

Despite every best, rational, logical thought that I could conjure, my biological clock alarm was going off with no functioning sleep button.  I tried to hide my face with my hair, but I knew my unsolicited tears had been noticed when Charming put his arm around me and whispered something about the abundance of babies in the sanctuary.  When I tried to apologize later for my histrionics, he understood, explaining it away as a physical response that’s in opposition to my current mental mission.

My conflict is internal, but there’s no choice to make.  The battle, instead, is against my own body.  God gave me child-bearing hips and the corresponding maternal intuition that makes me ever aware of how desperately I want to be a mom.  And in that freewrite this morning, I wound up focusing on the memories I want to be making: helping my daughter prepare for a play audition or cheering on my son on the pitcher’s mound at a Little League game.

The setting is a dimly lit street in downtown Hampton, a rented home empty behind me as I write.  The conflict is that I want a home like my brother’s, filled with a family, where accomplishments are going potty on the potty and celebrating a positive note from J.J.’s first grade teacher… and while evolving Pokémon might help Charming and I get closer to the uncertain goal of catching all the virtual creatures in a game that has no influence on the trajectory of reality, it’s simply a distraction… I play because I don’t have kids waiting for me when I get home.

On weeknights when Charming and I are three hours apart, once I’ve worked out at the gym, chipped away at my school work, finished my readings for Bible Study, and wrapped up my Italian lessons, I find myself alone inside this house, and it should be raining when I write about that.  My students could tell you it fits.  And my tone, my attitude toward what I’m writing, my tone toward the absence of a family is solemn and defeated.

So we have the setting and the rising action.  Next to follow is the climax, the turning point of this story.  Today, it was that moment just before my students filed out of my classroom.  I’d turned to pack my laptop away and the chalkboard behind my desk caught my eye.  Half the board is a collection of letters, cards, signs, and sticky notes my students gave me last year. One made an acrostic poem about me of “Thank You” in which the Y stood for Youthful.

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My eyes scanned the notes bearing, “I love you,” and more specific words of encouragement and gratitude.  My body craves motherhood like my students crave relevancy.  I want my life to have meaning beyond Italian lessons and Pokémon.  I pray to be contented with singleness, and when my body opposes this like in church on Sunday, I should probably pray harder, fight harder.

There are cherished notes from some of my young bloggers that get the tears going, too.  The climax was this moment, cataloging evidence that my life has value and significance.   The complication begins to untangle itself in the falling action as my mind focuses on the memories it has already made, in anticipation of the memories to be made with these kids, this year.  More eureka moments.

And there will be more notes to add to the board as my livelihood affords me the opportunity to love on the kids that will be running our country when I’m hoping to retire.  In my freewrite, I asked the question, “How can I find contentment without the fulfillment that comes with raising a family?”  The next word was simply, “Memories.”

I’d answered my own question, ultimately, and this finds us securely in the dénouement, or resolution.  Each year, I teach my kids that every story needs a conflict in order for a theme to reveal itself, to set the stage for catharsis.  In the sobering, reflective rain, a solemn, regretful tone resolved itself into a realm of contentment.  The fresh rain offers a blank slate, a hope in the promise of a sunrise to come.

A lesson in self-acceptance emerged after all as the rain slowed and self overcame self, mind over heart, in a short story of one day in the life of Hampton City School teacher.

What’s the End Game?

Darling Stadium a few blocks off is dark and silent tonight, unlike Friday when the Kecoughtan Warriors defeated Denbigh as a promising kick-off for the Class of 2017.  The loudspeakers let me enjoy the pre-game festivities from the white wicker love seat on my front porch.  When my kids are playing, I walk over during first quarter.  The stadium lights illuminate some confidence, but my brisk pace on the walk home later evidences the hint of fear.

My now quiet, quaint, historic street intersects a neighborhood with a history of violence, particularly during night games between Hampton City Schools and Newport News Schools, like Denbigh.  Last fall, shots were fired on one such game night, the game was cancelled and rescheduled, and there was a drive-by on make-up day.  Four houses down from me, hidden from view by my evening glories.

Police presence is high at cross-district games now. That night, I was greeted by a handful of now friendly and familiar faces and chatted with some of the officers before sneaking onto the sidelines to snap some action shots.  Some of my young bloggers had motioned me earlier to come join them in the stands; once I had a sufficient gallery on my SD-card, I sat a couple rows behind my girls.

Rapunzel and Snow White were laughing with their friends, a pleasant co-ed group of well-natured teens, unknowingly inviting me to take some fan candid shots.  At school functions, I prefer to experience the event from behind a camera lens rather than sitting in the stands.  When I walk into a gym full of teens and grown-ups at pep rallies, I look from the students to the teachers and back again… and I just don’t know where I should be.

But with a camera strapped around my neck, I fit in no matter where I’m standing.  I can even take some risks, stepping out into the floor during a routine to catch a shot I wouldn’t get from another vantage point.  It’s not quite as dangerous as venturing out into a shady neighborhood alone, but it gets my heart pumping in a way that the back to school routine has largely managed to stifle.

As I sat and watched my kids in the stands and my kids on the field, it occurred to me, as it has on numerous occasions scattered throughout the past decade, that I will go to high school for the rest of my life.  Most adults go to work every day with other adults.  I spend the majority of my waking hours each day with teenagers.  And though they aren’t my peers, I identify with them perhaps more than with my colleagues.

I felt I best fit at that game in that moment just behind them, a part of their moment only in so far as I was catching it on a camera.  I’ll admit, there was a PokéStop at Darling Stadium, so I alternated between catching photographs and Ratattas.  The simple motion of tossing a Poké Ball with a flick of my finger made me anticipate Charming’s arrival in just a couple of hours.  We’d been tag-teaming this new hobby for a week, and we had plans to go on another Poké Date in my neck of the woods.

Shortly after the Warriors clinched the win, an uncharacteristically awake Charming arrived at my place.  Despite the hour, we grabbed a drink outside at Marker 20, my old stomping ground from my summer of online dating, and we used a Lucky Egg to double our experience points while we evolved the characters we’d been storing up all week long.

The next day after my nephew’s soccer game at First Presbyterian Church just a few blocks from me and Darling Stadium, we drove up to Gloucester Point where I’d read online that we could find some rare Pokémon.  It was a gamer’s Poké haven.  Lures were constant.  We caught eleven new characters in two hours, including the elusive Pikachu!  I was giddy with excitement, like a school girl, like the people I spend most of my waking hours with ten months of the year.

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The greatest source of influence on my character comes from the inspiring and challenging minds of adolescents.  Getting wrapped up in this joint adventure with Charming to catch all the Pokémon is more than just an escape from responsibilities.  I’m experiencing their world in their way.  I remember when the world was the same for me, nearly two decades ago.

And navigating that bridge from childhood to adulthood was a lot like playing Pokémon.  There is this lofty goal that is way out there in the future.  You’re not even certain what the reward for achieving that goal will be.  You can’t know if it’s worth the time or the risk.  You don’t even know if you’ll ever get there.  It’s far off.  You use a Lucky Egg and evolve Pokémon to find some immediate gratification that helps keep you on track, but you probably won’t admit, out loud, that sometimes the quest gets old.

I believe the teenagers who navigate adolescence best play anyway.   They get creative by giving themselves short-term goals they can accomplish on their way to this far-off future dream of being a successful, self-sufficient adult.  Things like honor roll or a new extra-curricular.  Charming did that this weekend at Glouchester Point.  After catching a wealth of Pokémon, he taught me how to fight with our characters at the Pokémon gym there.

Last night, I had a bit of the Monday blues, missing the days of sleeping in and hitting the beach.  I wasn’t engaged with school work or computer troubleshooting.  I was bored of the routine.  Charming had explained how getting our Pokémon characters into a gym to train could earn him coins to buy items we could use in the quest.  He can collect once a day, so the more gyms where we have Pokémon at that time, the more coins he earns.

Last night at this time, you’d have found me creeping up with my brights on into a dark, empty playground, hoping I could get near enough to the gym’s virtual location without having to get out of my car.  No, there wouldn’t be much of a story if that were the case.  This was worse than walking in my neighborhood with the lights of the stadium and police nearby.  I was standing alone in a park, trying to fight other Pokémon and take control of this gym, cringing at every sound in the distance.  Riding the rush, I managed to get another fighter into the gym at First Presbyterian Church where we’d watched my nephew play soccer just a few days before.

A few minutes later as I parked in my driveway, my heart was still pounding.  There was this thrill in facing a fear, of putting myself in a situation with unpredictable outcomes.  I had a motivation with a timeline.  I wanted Charming to get those coins and buy a bag upgrade so we could store more potions and balls and fight more and catch more.

And the motivation itself is good, inherently.  As teens, with the future so far off, it’s difficult to stay on track.  If they’re lucky, they’ll find someone like Charming who inspires them to keep motivated with short-term goals.  For him, it’s scuba diving and flying.  For me, it’s writing and gardening.

But I can see how, in both Pokémon Go and in the teenage experience, the human mind is easily molded by motivation to seek and attain more and more.  I could never hit enough PokéStops or catch enough Pokémon in a month to catch up with people who have been playing since the game hit the streets.  There are always Pokémon out there, programmed by a game designer to generate and present themselves.  If I’m not playing the game, I might miss something; I might take a risk in the wrong park gym at the wrong time… because I lost sight of the end game.

I see it in my students and I see it in myself.  We want that far-off dream in a kind of cheery-eyed optimistic way.  When my students conducted interviews in class today, I heard again and again that they want to get good grades, go to college, get a good job, and make good money.  They’re playing the game, but there’s no passion in it.  Do we know what we’re after, really after?

Where is the thrill in the pursuit of the quest when we can’t be certain how the game will end?  When we don’t know what the payoff will be for our reward?  Our Warriors trained, fought, and won on Friday.  This weekend, Charming and I did.  Last night, I did.  But like Newport News and Hampton teens, when we’re seeking a thrill and immediate gratification, we can just as easily create dangerous neighborhoods, riding out that motivation to get more, catch more… always more.

I’m better for fighting.  The drama and the heartache, the disappointments and the failures of my teenage years.  I trained, fought, and eventually won a lot of battles.  That’s what shaped my character.  I identify with them, Snow White and Rapunzel, and they inspire me to be passionate on my quest, that I’m not too old to have an end game with a long-term objective.

Sitting just behind them, I fit, camera in one hand, Pokémon Go in the other, not questioning why I chose to be in high school for the rest of my life or why I’d been sucked in to an augmented reality game by my boyfriend.  Catching them all is an end game – the moments that make a high school yearbook and the Pokémon that show up in my kitchen.

A Lure in English Class

I have Pokémon Go on the mind tonight.  That and the fresh batch of students who sat in my new rolling chairs at tables scattered throughout my classroom.  Not surprising from the woman who bought a bottle of perfume simply because it was called Poetic Rebel, but I find both topics equally inspiring as I sit, unplugged from both worlds, still among the crickets and the evening glories.

I resisted the craze from its conception.  I dismissed the buzz, noting the tempting addiction that accompanied my exposure to Candy Crush.  Even after a four-year-old taught Charming how to play on our road trip in July, I kept my eyes and ears out of it.  Until last Friday, I was clueless and contented to be so.

Until Friday.  A day off in Old Town Alexandria.  A walk down to the riverfront at King’s Street, book in hand.  An app on Charming’s phone that changed our plans.  Not a single page was turned.  Instead, I was intrigued by his argument that in order to relate to my new students this week, I should have a basic understanding of this game that’s revolutionized technology’s ability to get people walking and connecting with others nearby.  Apparently, since there were half a dozen “lures” down by the water, this was a prime spot to hunt for Pokémon, the ideal teaching ground.

I agreed to a morning of Pokémon.  In a couple hours, I was sure I’d have a sufficient handle on the game to pass for proficient.  If you’re as clueless as I was, here’s my 100 word game description to bring you into September 2016 with me:

Pokémon Go is a free game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to make different Pokémon characters appear in your game.  Like on the old Nintendo, your goal is to catch all the Pokémon, but in an augmented reality game that makes you get outside and walk to catch more.  There might be a PokéStop at your local firehouse where you can pick up items to use in your quest and meet up with other players in real life who are doing the same thing as you.

For me, the excitement of catching a new Pokémon paralleled how I felt before the first day of school today.  Charming schooled me in the game as he has in so many areas outside my purview, and let me be his partner in his quest.  We walked at least a few miles, back and forth over the same terrain, one hand in his and the other on my phone, glancing up and down between it and the real world.

And after an hour, I could identify that rapid eye movement in those around us.  We passed a father and son, each with a phone in hand, pointing off to the right.  I called out, “You playing Pokémon?”  He laughed as he replied, “Of course!”  The son then informed us he had just caught the elusive Pikachu and sent us on in that direction.  There was a lure in the area, and we could conclude that the man on the bench, late thirties, had set the trap that would attract Pokémon… and people, like us, who were on the prowl.

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It quickly evolved into a weekend of Pokémon.  That night after dinner with a friend, we returned to the riverfront.  A summer storm cooled the night, and we walked and talked and caught virtual critters that don’t actually exist.  Charming’s friend has been in it since the beginning.  He’d shared a  tip that by using a Lucky Egg from a PokéStop, you double experience points earned for a half hour, and in that time, you should evolve little Pokémon into bigger ones.  We sat at an outdoor bar and evolved over drinks.  Sure, it was fun because it was new and different, but for me, I was most captivated by the ability of a video game to impact my reality.

Here I was with my boyfriend, strolling down King’s Street on an itinerary of PokéStops, trolling for new characters, starting conversations with strangers I would have never noticed, much less approached, before Friday.  I was entertained by the metamorphosis of the Caterpie to a Metapod to a Butterfree in the same way as with the Poetic Rebel perfume.  There were strategies that would take time to investigate.  I’d been ready for the first day of school for a week, so I had time.  Pokémon Go had caught me.

And playing this silly game together, I laughed harder with Charming than I have in months.  We had become teammates.  I always wanted to play in a co-ed softball league with my future husband; I think it’s healthy to partner together in a common pursuit where your individual efforts impact the greater good of the team.  Pokémon just manifested itself as an augmented reality substitute.

This morning at 8:00 a.m., I shut off my phone. I spent the day with wide-eyed sophomores trying to figure out if their new teacher is awesome or crazy.  I caught sixty new characters today.  Real ones with human faces and bodies concealing minds with not a single unified thought.   There are no electronic devices in my classroom, no distractions, however inspiring I might find the game.

There was a moment in my third block class where I leveled with them about the frustration of Pokémon withdrawal in the enforcement of the no cell phone policy.  Half the class reacted.  I knew who my fellow gamers were, but it didn’t matter.  We wouldn’t play a game in this room.  At this stop, they will pick up items to help them on their quests to master communication and literacy so that they can succeed in their future careers.

I haven’t learned all their names yet, but if I could register a hundred game characters in a weekend, I owe actual reality at least the same commitment.  Knowing their names won’t be enough to impact their lives.  Like in the game, the more you know, the better your strategy is for achieving your goal.  I’m not meeting them at a PokéStop where we instantly have a connection.

I have to intentionally connect with my students in other ways.  Walking on King’s Street with Charming, I was adventurous in engaging in dialogue with perfect strangers because we knew we had something trendy in common that was always good for a shared laugh.  I saw them because I was looking around.  It’s an odd conclusion, granted, but I have to wonder: how much do I miss when I’m not playing the game?

Unplugged, I walk from point A to point B on as direct and short a path as possible.  In the game, I walk and wander, talk and wonder.  My eyes are open, and I’m looking to see something familiar in the way a stranger walks and looks at his phone.  When we’re in a Pokémon-free zone, what do we miss because we’re focused only on the direct path ahead?

To achieve my goal of positively impacting the lives of each student that enters my classroom for the first time this week, I need to know them.  Each day, I’ll give them opportunities to share themselves with me.  We’ll find that we connect in some unexpected area, like my young bloggers last year.  I’ll see them all tomorrow in Yearbook, Rapunzel, Snow White, Merida, and Young Beauty, and we’ll write some more stories together this year.

A weekend in virtual reality lured me into an awareness of the interconnectedness of all the individuals in a certain locale.  I might know who’s catching characters, but I have no clue who is using the same credit score monitor or accessing Google Drive or browsing a Facebook feed at the exact moment I am.  And just as there are other electronic hobbies, there are possible shared interests in music, literature, theology, and sports that could bring us together if only we knew we had them in common.

I want this year with my kids to be the best PokéStop ever, not just because I help them, but because I will learn their strengths and weaknesses so that I can give them exactly the items they need to achieve their goals.  Maybe that means I take note that of the kid in the Orioles shirt in the front row and start a conversation about attending a game this summer.  It’s no more difficult than a brief exchange with a stranger, and this is someone who will be navigating my classroom for ten months.

He’s going to come to my class hoping to catch a new bit of relevant, applicable learning, so I’m going to give this stop a permanent lure.  Here, he will catch a little bit of everything. There will be such abundance, like down at the riverfront on Friday morning, that he’ll forget all about the fight at lunch and want what I’m offering him.  Like Charming’s friend, I’ll help him figure out how to get the most out of the skills he has and impart tips and strategies that will find him successful.

It’s just a game, I know.  The characters aren’t real, but somehow they matter to so many.  In my classroom, that’s real life.  These kids aren’t a product of creative technology.  They wear shirts boasting their favorite teams because they crave interconnectedness in an increasingly isolating media-dominated subculture.

I’m going to look at them, really look at them, these kids, like I do the strangers on King Street.  And my mission this year is to find a way to connect with every one, individually, in some way.  There might even be some future young bloggers and Disney Princess muses among them.