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Less of me (Part 1)

Today’s topic from my writing course is loss.  I thought about all the things I have lost in life, from the simple and irrelevant (like pens and keys) to the life altering and tragic (like the death of my father.  The simple ones don’t really seem worth writing about, and the more tragic ones would be hard to bring forth (and would bum me out!)  So I decided to tell you about a loss that was both simple and life altering.  It is a tale I haven’t told to anyone outside of my friends and family, but seeing as I want those of you nice enough to read this blog to get to know me I would like to share it…

I am known as Big Joe.  Back in 2001, the name could be used not only as a term of endearment, but also a descriptor of my physical state.  During my preschool teaching days, I was in very good shape because there is no better workout than chasing 18 four year olds around.  When I left teaching to become a storyteller, my lifestyle became less hectic and a bit more slowed down.  My new job required less physical activity, so I wasn’t as active and put on some weight.  At my heaviest I was about 235. While I wasn’t gigantic, I was much bigger than I was and it showed.

I tried to diet and get in shape but it was tough. I would have sought the advice of a dietitian or a doctor, but at that time, we were without health insurance because my wife’s temp job offered her no benefits and I was self employed and unlike today individual plans were way too pricey (come to think of it, it is just like today).  Without insurance, I was very fearful of getting injured or sick so I was very cautious when exercising or trying any type of diet that could possibly affect me.

Of course as cautious as I was, I did wind up getting sick through no fault of my own.  I got an ear infection in August and took a nice expensive trip to the doctors.  He prescribed me Augmentin a commonly  prescribed antibiotic.  I took exactly 6 pills and after 3 days the infection cleared up.

Fast forward ahead to October. My wife and I were coming home from a movie and I felt sick.  I was light headed, had the chills and felt kind of blah.  I figured I had the flu, and by the next morning my figuring seemed correct.  I had a fever, felt achy, couldn’t hold down food, and had no energy to speak of.

One of the few benefits of working with kids was that I developed a very strong immune system. As a result, I hardly got sick, and when I did it never lasted for more than a few days. This time however I wasn’t getting better.  It had been a week and I was still feeling sick. Not wanting to fork over a ton of money for a doctor visit, I decided to go to the health clinic in the neighborhood I grew up in to get checked out by a nurse.

I was sitting on the exam table when the nurse came in.  She took a look at me and had a shocked expression usually reserved for seeing a ghost.  She asked me “Have you seen yourself?” which to me was a very odd question to say the least.  I asked what she meant and she clarified her statement by asking me if I had seen myself under florescent light.  I said no , and she held my arm up towards the light and close to my face.  That was when I saw it. My skin which was normally a peachy beige color was kind of yellow. She looked at me and said “I think there’s something wrong with you!”  The fact that I had turned a primary color made me tend to agree with her diagnosis.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Posted by on April 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Let It Go (PLEASE!!!)

I was at a preschool today and saw a sign that made me laugh.  The sign read “Days without someone singing a song from Frozen” and the number under it was zero.  I took pity on those teachers as I take pity on every adult who has had to hear a Frozen song over and over and over. Of course the biggest sonic ear worm on that soundtrack is “Let It Go”!  Don’t get me wrong, it is a very nice song.  The problem is after hearing it a billion times both from the soundtrack itself and from the mouth of a small child, it’s niceness wears off quickly. I know adults who would rather have their own ears removed then hear that song again.

Sadly I know what they are going through all too well.  When I was a preschool teacher, The Little Mermaid was all the rage as was its very catchy soundtrack. I will admit, the songs from that movie are great and are now classics.  However at the time, I would have given anything not to hear them ever again.  We had a ton of CDs in our collection, but every day (usually a few times a day), the kids would beg and plead to hear “Little Mermaid”.  Being the nice guy that I am, I always obliged (well except for that one week where I just couldn’t take it anymore and the CD got temporarily “lost”) and played it over and over.

As a result, the songs became stuck in my head and I could do nothing to remove them.  I would be doing paperwork, and all of a sudden start humming “Under the Sea” or I would be at a restaurant with a date and the song “Part of Your World” would start playing in my head (ironically the song “Kiss the Girl” never played in those situations!)  It got to the point where those songs that at first seemed fun and exciting, became the soundtrack to my nightmares.

The amazing part of all this is that while adults get repetitive stress disorder from hearing these songs over and over, kids never grow tired of them.  That is why my preschoolers had me play that Mermaid CD till we almost wore it out (an outcome I often prayed for) and that is why today kids constantly listen to and sing Frozen songs and will do so until the next ice age.

As adults, our goal is to make kids happy, so we will let them sing and listen to their heart’s content to the songs that make us shudder.  The teachers who put up that sign that I mentioned, did so in good humor, but I know they are anything but happy about it, and I really feel for those poor unfortunate souls (see what I did there?)

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Happy Place

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I do a lot of teacher training and motivation workshops in an effort to help preschool teachers survive their very stressful job.  One tool I use in my instruction is the old tried and true method of going to your “happy place” when things get crazy.  Just taking a breath, closing your eyes and picturing the one place in the world that will make you feel good.  Everyone has their own happy place and some need to go there more than others.  Heck when I was a preschool teacher I had to go to my happy place so often I had my mail forwarded there.

Over the years my happy place has changed.  I have been to new destinations and had new experiences and that has redefined for me the place that puts me at ease.  I have kept my happy place to myself, but seeing as today’s assignment in my “Writing 101” course is to describe one place you would go to right now, I thought it would be nice to share my happiness destination.

A few years ago, Mrs. Big Joe and I took a cruise to her home country of Greece.  It was so amazing being right next to historical places like the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the McDonalds in Athens (where the Spartans got their Big Macs apparently).  I saw places I only read about in history books and got to be up close and personal with objects from ancient times.

While there were many sites to behold, the one place that stood out was the island of Mykonos.  It was one of the last stops on our journey, and after all we had seen, I wasn’t sure if there was anything on that island that would thrill me.  Mykonos is famous for its windmills, and while they are lovely, they weren’t nearly as impressive as ancient wonders we got to see.  As it turned out however it wasn’t the windmills that were amazing but rather what happened at the windmills.

We were on our own to explore the island, and it was indeed very pretty.  We had just about an hour left before we had to be back on the ship and decided to get up close to the windmills.  It had been windy that whole day and the ocean around the island was choppy.  While we made our way towards the windmills, the wind died down (which in an ironic twist robbed us of seeing the one thing “windmills” do best).  The ocean calmed with the wind and the waters stilled.  From where we were standing, it looked like there was no motion out there at all.

As we stood there, the sun began to set.  It was amazing how quickly it happened. One minute the sun was over our heads and the sky was a stark clear blue.  Just a few minutes later, the sun dropped low on the horizon and blue sky faded into a mix of red and orange. There was a short wall in front of us, and I climbed up on it to get a better view.  I wanted Mrs. Big Joe to come up with me, and at first she resisted ( ever the law abiding citizen she didn’t want to climb on someone’s property.) Finally I convinced her and she climbed up with me.

We sat on that wall and watched nature’s spectacular light show.  The sun sunk slowly on the horizon, and every inch it dropped turned the sky brilliant shaded of red, orange, and brown.  It looked like the sun was striking the ocean and setting the horizon on fire. We were in awe at the beautiful site before us.  I pulled my wife close to me and kissed her cheek as the sun vanished from the sky. As we gazed at the setting sun, we were silent. I realized at that moment that there was not only silence from us, but from everyone around us. Moments earlier there had been the din of tourists talking and moving around the island. Now everyone was still in a moment of magic and majesty.

When life (and or small children) make me crazy and I need to be at peace, I go in my mind to that wall in Mykonos next to my wife and in front of that breathtaking sunset and just like that I have arrived at my happy place 🙂

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Writing 101

I  suffer from what some would call arrested development, Peter Pan syndrome, or pretty much an unwillingness to grow up.  In some ways this condition is a hindrance, like when I am in serious situations, or having to deal with the lovely woman who was lucky / unlucky enough to marry me.  On the plus side, how I am works very well in my job as a storyteller.  I am able to connect with audiences filled with young children mostly because I am on the same wavelength as them. I think like a kid so I am very good at giving them what they want.  This goes not only for the way I perform but also the stories I tell.

When I find stories to perform, I look for ones that will thrill me and entertain me.  If a story makes me smile or get excited, I know that it will make my audience happy as well.  I love a good story and those are the only kind I will tell. I do this mostly because I want to entertain my audience but also because I want to entertain myself.  I have to tell these stories, and if it is not fun for me to tell them, it will not be fun for kids to hear them.

The same goes for writing stories.  When I write, I want to create something that is just as fun for me to tell as it is for others to listen.  I have been blessed with a very vivid (and slightly out there) imagination so I try to come up with tales that take full advantage of it.  I let my mind wander and sometimes the places it arrives at are quite interesting.  I don’t write as an adult writing for kids, I write as a kid trapped in the body of an adult.  This is another area where the whole “unwillingness to grow up” aspect of my personality serves me well. I can write for kids because I can write like a kid.

Of course as much as I have the mind of a kid, I am an adult saddled with all the responsibilities, and duties that come with it (by the way to prove the “mind of a kid” part I just giggled typing the word “duties”!)  I have a job that entails making kids happy, but it is still a job.  I have to book shows, deal with paperwork, pay bills, and market myself to the storytelling loving world.  That takes a lot of work and a lot of times takes me away from what I love to do best which is finding and writing stories.

The more popular I get, the busier I get and the less time I have to do that thing I love.  I would love to find an assistant to take care of the business side of things (and by the way if you are reading this and are interested in such a role please contact me – I’m serious!), but until that happens, I need to find a way to balance work and creativity. Recently I realized that I hadn’t written or found a new story in months.  Yes I have a ton of tales in my collection, and the audience I tell them to probably never heard them before so it is okay for them.  The thing is I have heard the stories (a lot) and the thrill in telling them starts to fade.  I need new material to keep things fresh and fun so my thrill and excitement can be passed on to my audience.

I say all that to say this.  A few weeks ago I got an email about a writing program from WordPress (the wonderful hosts of my blog) called “Writing 101” it is a way to develop a better writing habit and to tap into the creative process.  I decided to join the program because I need to get back into the habit of writing and creating and finding and producing stories I know everyone will love.  Like exercising after a long layoff, I know it will be tough to get back to where I need to be.  The thing is getting there is very important because being a storyteller and telling stories is very important to me.

If you are a reader of this blog (and if you are please encourage others because I can always use more readers and fans), you will get a chance to see me in action as I try to be all that I can be and become a better writer and hopefully a better more creative storyteller!

So my “Writing 101” journey begins now…..

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in From The Mind of Big Joe

 

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Oy Come All Ye Faithful

Being a storyteller means I am constantly searching out and writing new stories.  As a result, over time  my collection of tales has grown quite large (about 400 or so at last count).  I have stories of every type and style for everyone from the very young to the very not so young. My stories cover a wide range of topics and themes.  This means that no matter what type of event or classroom I am doing a show for, I have stories that will fit the bill.  This fact serves me well when I am tasked to do a holiday event.  I have stories for just about every holiday, from the high holidays to the manufactured ones (I’m looking at you Valentine’s Day!) and everything in between.  I am also well versed on the traditions and celebrations of various religious groups, and I have stories that will do them justice.

Of course it wasn’t always that way.  My first year as a storyteller, I didn’t have that many stories at my disposal.  I knew a few basic tales (3 Pigs etc.) and wrote some stuff, but I didn’t have the number and type of stories to meet all the demands of my clients.  To make matters worse, I had come from being a preschool teacher, so most of the stories in my collection were for that age level.  Preschool shows were easy, but anything above that age level put me in a tough spot.

So I buckled down and started to add stories to my arsenal as quickly as I could.  Time was passing, and December was coming up.  I knew I had to have material to help carry me through that month of Holiday fun. I found some great Christmas stories and wrote a few others that I was very proud of.  I tested them out, and I knew they would be a big hit.  Finally I got my first chance to debut my new tales at a big party in Newton MA one week before Christmas.  I was very excited and knew the stories would be a hit.

There were about 50 kids all ready to have a good time, and I was going to give it to them!  I launched into my first tale, and while I expected to get some big cheers and laughs, I got a pretty tepid response.  I went to my next story which was a fun tale about Santa and again the response was not what I had hoped.  I threw everything at them, jingling bells, stockings hung by the chimney with care, flying reindeer, but nothing got more than a little bit of polite laughter.

I finished the show and felt horrible about myself.  I began to doubt my skills as a storyteller and writer and began to think I wasn’t cut out to be a teller of tales.  As I waded into the deep end of my self pity pool, my client came to talk to me, and threw me a life preserver of sorts.  He shook my hand, thanked me, and said “Those stories were very nice, the thing is pretty much all of those kids are Orthodox Jewish.”  I felt embarrassed and kind of stupid.  He assured me it was okay, and when he paid me, he even gave me a tip.  Of course the best tip I took from that show was that I needed to expand my horizons and find stories for every holiday, and not just the one that features a fat man in a red suit!

– Big Joe 🙂

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Requiem for a Hamster

I was visiting a preschool the other day, and they were mourning the loss of one of their classroom pets (a fish).  It is always difficult when something like that happens.  For the children, it is hard because they have to deal with the concept of death and process the loss on an emotional level.  For the teacher it is hard, because they have to deal with a dead animal, and conduct a full on investigation to figure out who was responsible (trust me, very few classroom pets die of natural causes!)  When I was a teacher, I had to deal with a lot of dead classroom pets (I will have more to say on this subject in later posts).  I had a group of preschoolers hell bent on destruction and as a result none of our pets lived very long.  We were the only preschool class whose newsletter had an obituary section.  For the most part, when one of our pets met an inglorious end, we would dispose of them properly (usually a flushing) and replace them with a new one.  If we did it smoothly enough, we could pretty much pass off the new one as the old one and life would go on. However if the pet was beloved, or if it met a very “visible” end, we would conduct a funeral to allow the kids to morn and to hopefully guilt the murderer into a confession.  One of our more memorable pets was our hamster Snuggles #6.  He was a survivor, and lived the longest of all our classroom pets (3 whole months!)  I wrote a eulogy for him but never got to deliver it (my director was very uptight!)  I forgot all about it, but my visit to the classroom with the deceased fish the other day reminded me about it and I dug it up (pun only slightly intended).  So here now dear readers is how I would have liked to send  Snuggles #6 off to that hamster wheel in the sky…

Requiem for a Hamster

We are here today to mourn the passing of our beloved hamster Snuggles #6. He was a very nice hamster, a very gentle hamster, and before the “incident” on Tuesday a very live hamster.  We learned a lot about hamsters from Snuggles #6. Lessons such as hamsters have fur, hamsters have claws (Billy learned that one the hard way), hamsters eat seeds, hamsters go to the bathroom (a lot), and of course we learned that hamsters cannot fly (a lesson we should have already learned from Snuggles 1 through 3 and Snuggles #5!)   It was fun watching him run around in his cage, but admittedly less fun spending countless hours searching for him all the times one of you let him out of his cage.  We will always cherish the fond memories of Snuggles #6, like the time one of you fed him a cookie and he ran on his wheel till he passed out, or when he had to be water rescued from the toilet during the unsanctioned experiment to see if hamsters can swim (they cannot).  And who can forget the wonderful sight of Snuggles #6 playing “leap frog” with the hamster from Classroom 2 when they brought her over for a visit.  Snuggles #6 was a fighter (just ask Billy) and lasted for a record three months as our classroom pet.  In the end however he was no match for all of you preschoolers, and of course gravity.  So now we bury our friend Snuggles #6 and return him to the earth till God calls us all home, or until one of you maniacs digs him up and takes him home in your lunch box.

Thanks for reading,

Big Joe 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Dog Tale

They say you can’t con a con man (there is a more colorful version of that saying involving a bull but I want to keep this blog above boards for anyone nice enough to be reading it.)  In my case that is very true.  I am a storyteller, so I deal in fiction all the time. I am very good at re imagining the truth, speaking of things that do not exist, pulling words from thin air, or to put it more bluntly I can lie like a Persian rug.  Be able to “tell stories”, also has given me the ability to tell when others are “telling stories”.  This ability has served me well and for the most part has kept me out of trouble.  It is very hard to lie to me without me picking up on it. As a rule I am hardly ever fooled.  Of course with every rule there is an exception.

His name was Christopher and he was four.  He was one of the the preschoolers I taught in my former teaching life.  He was always the last child to be picked up, and with me working the end of the day shift, he and I spent a lot of time together.  It was kind of cool having one on one time, because we got to hang out and do things without all the the other kids pulling me in a million different directions.

Chris was a very chilled out kid, so for the most part we would sit at a table and draw, or play with play-dough, or build stuff with Legos (by the way getting to play with Legos was one of my top 3 three reasons for wanting to be a preschool teacher!)  As we hung out, we would talk about different subjects like cartoons, or dinosaurs, or superheroes. It was fun, but also a little disconcerting when I realized I had a lot of the same interests as a four year old.

One of Chris’ favorite things to talk about was his dog Lance. He loved that dog, and told me all about him.  Every day he would tell me about a cute thing that Lance did or a funny anecdote about him. He talked about him playing in the yard with Lance, giving him a bath, teaching him to fetch, and a whole host of other things relating to a boy and his dog.

For a couple of days one week, Chris and I chatted but he didn’t mention Lance at all.  On the third day, I became a little curious and a bit concerned, so I gently asked how Lance was.  Chris looked up at me with very sad eyes and told me that Lance was very sick. He said they had taken him to the vet and he may have to have an operation.  Having lost a dog recently myself, I knew what he was going through, so I comforted him and told him things would be okay.

When his mom came to pick him up, I pulled her aside and told her that Chris was a bit upset and told her I felt bad that their dog was sick.  She looked at me completely baffled and uttered a very drawn out “Whaaat?”  In that moment, I realized I was lied to, and felt kind of silly.  I said “Wait a minute, your dog isn’t really sick is he?”  She smiled and said “No, but that’s just because we don’t have a dog!” For the first time in a long long while I was rendered speechless. Chris’ mom had a good laugh about the whole thing, and all I could do was shake my head. As I watched her and “Keyser Soze Jr” leave the classroom I realized you can con a con man, and sometimes all it takes is a four year old with a very active imagination 🙂

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2014 in Uncategorized