19 September 2019

Archival footage: Leyland's Bones

I last worked on this story in 2004.  It is unfinished, just like all my other stories.  I might work on it some more one of these days...



Leyland’s Bones

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For Lisa, my wife.
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Leyland Tweed Engleman was named after his father’s favorite jacket.

And his mother always said he had his grandfather’s nose.

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Leyland was a saver.  A keeper.  A boxer-upper.  And a legendary collector of rare and unusual things.  Beneath his bed, in nearly a dozen large black plastic hide-away boxes, Leyland kept his things.

Things like thirty-eight differently shaped pinecones, some open, some still sticky and closed-up tight.

And the front headlight and chrome retainer ring assembly from a 1979 Volkswagen.

And a thick brown bag nearly bursting with exactly eleven dollars and forty-three cents in antique pennies that had wheat sheaves on the back where the Lincoln Memorial usually was.

And an old Ant Farm that still contained the remains of Leyland’s last great ant colony: nearly 300 dead red worker ants and their queen.  Leyland had made a post-mortem count of them many times; he still felt badly for the role he had played in their demise.  He knew better now: ants need only so much water and no more.  Guilt, and an unspeakable attachment to his old ants, kept him from establishing a new, and much dryer colony between the Ant Farm’s clear walls and green frame.

And nine yo-yos, including one special free-spinning silver yo-yo that came with a 55-page How to do Yo-yo Tricks instruction book.  It was supposed to be excellent for impressing friends and family.  But, busy with his collections, Leyland had never taken the time to learn anything more difficult than Rock the Cradle.

And an assortment of rusty bolts and nails found in various vacant lots in his neighborhood and during his summertime travels with his family.

And an old bottle with an unusual Pepsi logo on it, a couple of old license plates, the shards of several old plates and cups, and a few pieces of ancient Indian pottery, light brown with black lines still painted on the surface.

And a heavy box of rocks of different sizes and varieties labeled with their geologic names like “basalt” and “granite” and “schist” in black marker on aging masking tape.

And, in one small box, which he kept always near the center-most point of his under-the-bed cache, labeled in loud red pen to warn pokers and prodders to “Beware the contents!” Leyland kept his bones.

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Magic bones.

Leyland’s rocks… they were just rocks.  And his yo-yos were just yo-yos.  Likewise, his Ant Farm could never be returned, not in its present condition.  His bolts would never spin again and his nails were beyond straightening.  His headlight and retainer assembly, worthless without a car to go behind it.  And as for his pennies, he had been told by a collector at a coin show that they were worth little beyond their face value, with only a few possible exceptions.

But Leyland’s bones, they were magic.

Or they were almost magic.

Or they could be magic someday.

But of their magical potential at least, he was nearly certain.  Just as certain as he was of the worldly worthlessness of all the other treasures in his collections.

07 August 2019

past summer

This past summer was filled with good music, good rides, good books, good dogs, and, most especially, a whole bunch of really, really good people.

















03 May 2019

adiĆ³s buen invierno

A winter Eden...
...lifts existence on a plane of snow
One level higher than the earth below,
One level nearer heaven overhead
- Robert Frost





















01 May 2019

Archival footage: Request for reassignment


It has been one year to the day, give-or-take, since I sent the email reprinted below to my school district's superintendent after a "long dark night of the soul," asking to be released from my job as an elementary school principal, a job that I did not seek or apply to, but rather was quite unceremoniously drafted into. I nevertheless worked hard at the job of school principal (as hard as I've truthfully ever worked at anything) for seven school years, each one filled with its own special sort of arduous labor, and replete with seemingly unending rancor and contention.

Being granted a reprieve from this work was followed by an immediate and confirming sense of relief which has not abated in nearly a year.  Unequivocally, I was never meant to be a school leader.  I am a teacher by training and teaching children remains the principle domain of my heart.  On one of my last days in office, I wrote these words to the faculty and staff of the school I struggled to shepherd adequately for years,"[W]e all know, I was really only ever the interim principal [here], holding a spot between [the principal I succeeded] and the next "guy" while trying not to break the place in the meantime.  I'm glad we've come to a point where I can step away, confident in knowing that I really did work super hard everyday to do my best by [this school] while you needed me to, to return to a role that's far less contentious and much more in line with what I feel I've actually been called to do with my life: teach."

Looking back today, on the first anniversary of this thoroughly consequential, life-changing decision, having now spent the better part of a full year back in the classroom contentedly teaching fifth grade as I did for so many years before entering the principal's office, and despite the nearly 40% reduction in salary I incurred, I nonetheless still feel only an abiding sense of well-being in my soul about all these things, which confirms to me that stepping down as principal shall forever be charted among the best decisions of my life.

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Dear Superintendent,

This is not my letter of resignation.  Put quite simply, I cannot afford for it to be such at this time, nor do I desire in any way to ultimately sever my 25-year working relationship with our school district.  But my heart is heavy, and has grown increasingly so of late. And, as I now find myself propelled once again toward another sleepless night wrestling with my thoughts, I hope instead to use this moment of sound-minded wakefulness to make a simple and sincere appeal to you in an email this morning.  The hour is late, so I will try my best to be brief.

After much deliberation, having spent the last seven years in the principal's office, I can say with great confidence: I no longer can endure this work.  When first I was drafted out of our teacher corps as our school's interim principal, it was to fill an unanticipated gap in leadership that was, in the near term, likely to be unable to be filled.  When, sometime later, I was officially appointed to the role by the superintendent and the board, it was with just one objective in mind: to lead until I felt my leadership was no longer tenable or of benefit to the school's community.  I feel I have arrived at this point, that this school has surpassed its need to be lead by me, that it both craves and deserves new vital leadership.  In view of this realization, I would like to step down at the end of my contract in June.  Pragmatically and financially speaking, however, I am not willing, nor am I able, to proffer my resignation from the school district at this time.  It is, in fact, in no way my my desire to do so.  Public school teaching is undeniably my life's calling, a pursuit to which I happily dedicated the first 18 years of my career, and I feel I still have many meaningful contributions to make in this regard.

I am aware that, in the past, district superintendents have provided assistance in reassigning similarly exhausted principals to currently vacant teaching positions for which they were qualified within other district schools.  I would like to appeal for this sort of assistance and consideration to you at this time: Please allow me to gracefully leave my work as a principal but retain my longstanding relationship with the distrit by reassigning me to a teaching position within the greater district school community.  I have truly enjoyed working with all of my administrative cohorts over the years and am confident when I tell you, I would be happy to work for any of them in the future... and that, given all that I have encountered and overcome during seven years in the principal's office, I am likely to be a reformed and exemplary classroom teacher going forward. I will happily take on any new classroom teaching role in the district, in any building in the district, if you are willing to grant me this request.

It has been my great honor to serve as the principal at this school since 2011, and likewise to work as a teacher in our district since 1993.  I do not wish in any way to sever my relationship with the district at this time, nonetheless, I hope you will carefully consider my appeal and allow me to be reassigned into a teaching role beginning at the onset of the 2018-2019 school year.

Thank you.

04 February 2018