Cracking The Bell by Geoff Herbach

Note: I received an advance copy of the book from the author.

I was finishing this book as news broke about Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement from the NFL, and I couldn’t help but see the connections. Isaiah in Cracking the Bell isn’t a multimillionaire with a degree from Stanford—he’s a high school senior with a history of concussions in his life. Literal concussions from hitting and being hit in football. Figurative concussions from the deaths of family members and the unresolved grief that follows.

But like Andrew Luck, Isaiah grapples with questions of what is worth risking for football. Questions of what we walk toward and what we walk away from. And author Geoff Herbach raises the bigger societal questions of football’s role in our culture and our construction of masculinity. To Herbach’s credit, Cracking The Bell is not simply a jeremiad against football—the novel recognizes how concussive young lives can be, inside and outside of football, and how football has served as a place of recovery as well as a place of pain.

As a conflicted football fan myself, I appreciate how well Herbach captures the game—too many novels involving sports fail this first hurdle. Cracking The Bell is thoughtful, timely, and more lyrical than I expected. I will be sharing it with my high school freshmen tomorrow.


Talkin’ Bout Their Generation

Last semester my Media Literacy students took part in the Show Us Your Generation photo contest run by The New York Times; even though the contest has closed, I still wanted this semester’s students to create their own photos and “artist statements.”

The images and words below are used by permission of the students.

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My generation has fully immersed itself into the world of social media. Our worlds revolve around streaks, tweets, DMs, and notifications. We hold our future world in our hands and it is up to us what we do with it. The fact that it is up to my generation, who is “holding” this fragile ball we live on, what happens to our world means we have to face a harsh reality. This harsh reality being my generation only sees things like social media in color and the rest is in black and white, or irrelevant to us. —Megan

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When I first thought about what I wanted my picture to be about, I couldn’t think of anything off the bat— but later on I was hanging with friends and one of them told me, “Von I heard so much about how your a bogus person and did people dirty and honestly you’re not like that at all, goes to show people will talk bad on anybody.” And that really stuck to me and it made me think how this generation judges people so much about what’s on the outside or what they hear about someone, and really you never know the true nature of a person until you read them, get to know them, do more than just assume, I know it’s pretty cliche, but it should be a lesson everyone should take part in and to not judge a book by its cover—you don’t know someone else’s story, so why should you assume you do? —Von

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I took this picture of my sister. She is in eighth grade, she is almost fourteen, and she loves her phone. There are four main reasons why I chose this picture.  First, I chose her to be in my picture because she is always on her phone or some other device. I can really tell that things have changed in middle school since I have been there because I never had as many cyber bullies, or rumors, or people getting made fun of because of what they post. Second, I took this picture because it gets our attention about how the internet is taking over our lives. Many people have more than one device. My sister has an IPhone, Apple Watch, computer, and IPod. Third, because she just got out of the shower and she was already on her phone before she brushed her hair. The fourth reason is that our dog Daisy was trying to get her attention before I took this picture but my sister ignored her. —Abby 


This photo speaks volumes of both how we have advanced as a society but also how those advancements can consume us. In the picture, you see two high school students back to back emotionless doing their work. In the background, you see an empty library that is no longer relevant due to the investments we have made to online learning and our research tools that are now available. You can see that this is both a good and bad thing because the work is easier, but doesn’t that also mean people are getting lazier? Also, technology can be used to help them be more social but it’s just facing two friends away from each other until their desire for screen time is met. —Jaxon

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In 2019, teenagers of my generation are misjudged for not having a voice, but I believe my photo depicts these misconceptions. Even though I could have done a whole shot with multiple people, I chose to do a selfie with duct tape because it shows that we have a voice and aren’t going to be silent anymore. The duct tape itself represents that the tape is used to shut people up because they don’t want to hear their reasons or complaints.  Also, I decided to do a selfie because it still shows that teens do take photos of themselves to express their thoughts and feelings. I decided to edit it in black and white because it is usually the older generations that silence or create those stereotypes. As for the message, I want it to say that teens do have a voice in this world. For me, I always tell myself to express my feelings and thoughts because it could help someone in the future. I am involved in the newspaper, so that means I can express my beliefs. With the photo, this shows that people have thoughts to express, but they hold them in because social media or others tell us that we are less than. As our generation becomes more vocal, others will start to accept our views and beliefs. —Emerald


When I took the picture we are all sitting around each other and not communicating because we all have technology, we all have cell phones, so instead of communicating, we were all buried in our phones ignoring everyone and everything around us. We had books around us, we had computers, and we also had each other. I feel that many people with technology and phones are doing this—there is a whole other world in the screen of the phone, a world no one can interrupt when you are really concentrated with your phone. —Nethaniel

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In this picture, my older sister, her boyfriend, and I are all laughing at a meme. I’ve learned that one of the only ways to start a conversation with my peers is to show them or send them a meme. I don’t remember what meme she showed us, but I do remember us laughing and talking about it for a long time afterward. A couple minutes before taking this picture, none of us were talking to each other. We were in our own little worlds, sitting and staring at our devices. In my opinion, this picture and the story behind it represents a part of our generation. If we find something funny, we share it with each other.  —Vanessa

Show Us Your Generation Photo and -Artist-s Statement.- (Mar 26- 2019 at 11-55 AM)

When I thought of my generation, I thought of all the negative connotations we have. I almost folded into that and made a high contrast black and white picture where only my phone was lit up. However, I see the positives in us, and I’m proud of the generation I’m a part of. We care. I genuinely see my generation as the most progressive generation ever seen, as we should be. With that in mind, we also care about who and what we came from. My picture is me on a bench and under my arm immortalized in a plaque is the name Shirley Kirsch. It’s important to me because I never got to meet my grandma Shirley. She died at 48 more than a decade before I was born She means a lot to me still, and that’s why I chose it. She has influenced me without meeting me. I have her initials on my cleats; I do things to honor the ones I love, and I love my grandma without knowing her. —Carson

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Growing up, our generation realizes that we need to look more and more like a stereotypical human. People start to change their hair, clothes, and personality to look and act like their role model or idol. They start to discriminate against themselves, making them believe they aren’t enough. Our generation is so used to judging—people turn to social media to see how one should look and act like. —Abby

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She was sitting in classes and I decided to take a picture of her while she was using her phone because I think our generation is constantly on a cell phone. Many teenagers spend hours and hours on their phones as if that were all of their lives. This is my idea of ​​the generation in which we are living, I think that we all spend a lot of our time on our phones today. We teenagers know that we spend time on that but even so we can not stop because it is something we have become accustomed to. We have become accustomed to living with a phone in our hands as if our phones were the solution to all problems. But the reality is that phones are the biggest of our problems because we can rarely have the attention of people. —Marie

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As a teenager, you are required to fit certain criteria. You have to do what other people do and dress a certain way. My picture shows a very pretty girl wearing a sweatshirt and leggings, standing by a poster. The poster reads, “Strangely enough, some students come in here to put crap into their bodies.” This means that in our generation, there are certain kinds of pressure. The pressure to be cool and liked, and the poster means that there are some students coming in the bathrooms to juul or vape. There is a lot of pressure to be popular.  —Molly

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Honestly, I think the media portrays my generation correctly. A lot of people like to think that the media is too hard on us and “don’t get it,” but that actually isn’t true. My generation relies almost solely on technology for everything. I took a picture of me listening to music while on my phone while searching the web on my Chromebook. I think that picture describes our generation perfectly. I will admit, I am obsessed with technology as much as everyone else, but I accept that. I bet a lot of other people’s representation of our generation will be doing them doing something productive, or something without technology to show that they think the media isn’t right about how they describe our generation. Being a teenager in this generation is based on technology for the most part. If you don’t know something, look it up; if you want to talk to someone, text them, snap them, DM them. People have done away from the real-life experiences that past generations have used and I think that is a rising problem. —Tory

jeep 2

I took this picture to show what I do in my free time—it’s not sitting inside on the web, it’s outside working on vehicles, driving my older vehicle or just messing around in the woods. I used to be addicted to my phone, but now I’ve matured and I don’t care if I lose my phone. People know how to get ahold of me and if you don’t then there is probably a reason for it. I get on my phone during the school but when I get home I use it for one thing and that is to look up diagrams for wiring or diagrams for a vehicle or part that I’m working on. I will use my phone as a flashlight but a lot of people will tease me that I got an old iPhone. Well they all have brand new phones, and I just tell them if I drop it, it won’t break and that it fits in my pocket. Then they normally shut up and walk away. —Tyler

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This picture represents the use of technology in my generation. Everything around us is technology. For example, whenever I’m doing my homework, I have my phone by my side, and I usually get sidetracked by the Snapchat notifications. Computers are also used by everyone in the school, from just checking emails to doing homework. —Maddi

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Athletes nowadays have a lot to juggle if they plan on going to college to play sports. We athletes have a lot of expectations when it comes to on and off the field. On the field the athlete has to show up and show out; they’re put on that lineup because of their skills and if they mess up one time, they’re more than likely replaced. If they want to keep the skill, they have to practice and put extra work in. They also need to get bigger and show dominance so they go to the weight room and give all they got every single rep. Off the field is where the most challenging part comes. Staying focused in class, doing homework and staying up late for tests the next day is all in an athlete’s schedule.  Overall people think it’s easy to juggle the schedule we have when in reality it’s one of the hardest things an athlete goes through.  —Marcus

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I decided to capture the reality of my life specifically because to me this is what teenage life is like. For those who want to use this to show that teenagers don’t spend an extreme amount of time on electronics, I’m definitely not the right person to advocate for that. I spend a copious amount of time on electronics every day, and that’s just what I wanted to show. I think this photo actually represents teenagers as a whole when disputing the idea that we aren’t glued to electronics. The monitor mounted on the wall has a fish tank on the screen, while the lower monitor shows the home screen of an Xbox. A lot of us try to give the impression that we spend more time outdoors than anywhere else, or we enjoy connecting with nature on a daily basis, but in reality, it always comes back to technology in the end. Hence, I had nature in my photo, but it was captured within technology because overall technology controls everything in the current day. I had the second monitor with my Xbox screen to show that I realize that I am a perfect fit for the teenage stereotype. But, that stereotype isn’t the only dimension of my personality. I have friends, we interact on a daily basis almost constantly with Snapchat and other platforms. It just so happens that we as teenagers have access to something that allows easier connection with friends. —Levi

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There are so many struggles when it comes to being a teenager in 2019. One of many includes doing good in school and balancing that with social media. Every teenager in 2019 wants to be considered ‘cool’ on social media and wants to be associated with the ‘cool people’ on social media. Balancing school work with also struggling with how to be cool and how to have a life, when your phone is constantly blowing up with notifications is truly hard. I find myself struggle with this all of the time. Whether it’s a Snapchat from a friend or a quick Facetime call, there are always ways for your friends to contact you or ‘bother’ you when your time should be spent doing other more important things. Another struggle that most teenagers have is how to spend less time on social media to keep parents happy, but at the same time keep a high status on social media. Being able to balance your ‘high’ status on social media, and trying to keep parents off your butt for being on your phone too much is truly a struggle. We as teens always feel like we have to be in ‘the know’ and updated with everything that’s going on in the world of social media. These are few of the many struggles that parents and people who aren’t teenagers in 2019 don’t always fully understand. —Kena



Words half-read

Words half-heard

Conversations half-remembered


fully believed


all the time

so we can have the time

we never have time for

as we exponentially decay

To-Do List Poems

Our literature elective class and I wrote poems modeled on/inspired by Jen Hofer’s “future somatics to-do list” and her notion of “a poem that is a to-do list that is a poem”(read the original here:


Carter’s poem:

Normal To-Do List 

Go to the store.

Get milk.

Get macaroni and cheese.

Get treats for that get-together.

Get treats for just myself.

Finish that poem for class.

Finish that essay for class.

Get milk please.

Don’t worry about the past.

Get cereal.

Clean my room.

Don’t think about the past.



Charge laptop for classes tomorrow.

Learn my lines for the play.

Think of the future.

Be anxious of the future.

Get milk.

Finish writing

treats for the

Think of


Do cry.



Crawl up

Do cry.

Go to

poem for


to the store.

my room.

Charge laptop

for class.

Calm down.

Take your medication.




Erin’s poem:

“A To-Do List”


What kleenexes are best for wiping away tears?

Where in the body does loving take place?

How to move on from losing someone?

Where to buy flowers?

What is a good store to shop for black dresses? The silky, long ones, the short cocktail ones, the poofy ones, short sleeve, long sleeve, middle?

How to be there for family?

Who do we consider family? Is it the ones we love the most? The ones who are blood related?

Why do we cry?

Where in the body do we forget?

Where in the body does grieving take place?

Where in the body does loving take place?

How to write a mournful speech?

What are the best memories?

What are methods to cope with grieving?

What are the best types of headstones?

What do we say to express condolences? I am so sorry for your loss, they will be deeply missed, they were a wonderful person?

Where do tears come from?

How to get the red puffiness to go away?

Where to get good waterproof makeup?

What photos are good?

Why is it so hard to lose a loved one?


Klaire’s poem:

“how to find your worth: a to-do list”


Wake Up.

am I really worth it?

convince myself I am.

(you’d never know,

I can’t stand my reflection.

maybe there’s a reason I never told you,)

I have questions for you.

ask myself why you’re so interested in me

how does one go day to day waking up happy?

tell myself I am beautiful.

can you tell me you believe in me?

paint on your smile.

what is my worth?

who is worthy of me?

am I wrong to feel?

what am I good for?

why do I break and shatter?

why me?

cry under the covers.

think about all the happy things in life,

then cry some more.

finally tell myself

I am worth it.

Fall Asleep.



Melina’s poem:

“Life: A to-do list”


what is life all scratched up to be?

what is the most important thing?

is it adventure?

do adrenaline and experience control your quality of life?

is it triumph?

do your successes determine how happy you are?

is it happiness?

do the highs in your life show how far you’ve come?

is it love?

blood or otherwise, do these people accentuate your virtues?

is everyone’s answer different?

is everyone’s answer the same?

does anyone have more than one answer?

does anyone have hundreds of answers?

does anyone really know for sure?

or is everyone simply in a state of oblivion?

and that’s not all.

because after life comes death.

what about death?

where do we go?

what is made of our souls?

or our bodies?

what determines whether we lived a good or bad life?

is it the same subjects as the living?

which is more dreadful?

to be alive in a state of unknowing?

or to simply be dead?


Sadie’s poem:

“Losing: A to-do list”


Did you have to look at me that way?

Shame, regret and disappointment bleeding together.

Did you have to frown that much?

A small rainbow sitting on your face, but grayed out.

Did you have to strike me?

A red handprint now sits on my cold cheek.

Did you have to shout at me?

Your voice cracked a few times.

Did you have to take those clothes?

We bought them together once.

Did you have to call me that?

I thought you promised to never call me that.

Did you have to turn sharply?

You seem to hate the sight of me.

Did you have to leave?

You could’ve given a better explanation.

Did you have to leave out what I did?

I don’t even know what I did.

Will you please come back?

I’m all alone.


Mr. Polking’s poem:

“Past Tense: A Was-Done List”


Did I return your message?

Did you return mine?

Did we speak in person?

Were you “fine”?

How long did we maintain eye contact?

Did we listen?

Were you smiling?

Did we soften?

Did you fall in the forest?

Did I hear you?

Was our love star-crossed or merely lost?

Did we stumble or were we pushed?

Did I mumble or did I crush words together,

A portmanteau of pre-emptive strikes

Against the possibility of more?

Theme in Red

With credit to The Crucible, Carl Sandburg’s “Theme in Yellow,” and the 2015 film The Witch, here is my creepy Halloween poem:


Theme in Red


I stalk the fallen leaves

With reddish work at night.

I light the eerie mist,

Sulfuric in my intent

And I am called Old Scratch.

On the last of October

With the scrim of dusk hoisted

Upon us

Children clamp and cower,

Me circling around them,

Offering plaintive pleas

And love to the sullen moon;

I am a hoofed beast

With feral teeth

And the children know

I am not fooling.


“Dost thou wish to live deliciously?”

Songs of the Season

My high school literature elective class recently worked on poems inspired by/modeled on “The Blower of Leaves” by January Gill O’Neil. Read the brilliant original poem here: “The Blower of Leaves”.

Below are my version and student versions (used with student permission).


The Blower of Snow

Always there are flakes after flakes waiting to fall.

An infinity of alabaster, swirling in


the fading December sun, glazing my eyes

In a welter of white. My driveway is their destination.


Today I kneel to the feeling of possible grace,

the beauty of what’s unseen—the holy world


of our work made harder without you,

while the soft kiss of snowfall caresses the ground.


I am a fool. Even as the wan sky feebles and falters,

it is still lovely. I scan the creeping maw of dusk


for its remains. All this time I was praying

to a forgiving God to absolve us,


but really I was hoping for you to be enough.

It was a failing that whirled inside me,


a bleak symmetry, a synapse of grief pulsing enough,

enough. How I had conflated it with survival.


I can forgive the snow covering the bare maples,

the blade of the plow scarring the grass,


but without you there is no forgiveness.

Only silence. Only the sky’s dying cover


And ice masquerading as purchase.

Nothing is ever easy or true,


except the snow. It falls.

Dependable as a season.


Klaire’s “The Grower of Roses”

Always there is sky after sky waiting to grow.

The luminosity of the light


in the April sun, blinding my eyes

in a curtain of color. My yard is their landing strip.


Today I bow to the power of positive space,

the beauty that is now showing–


the hard work of yard work

paid off with you,


I am a fool, thinking I could do it alone.

As the ground warms, the roses grow.


There is no more snow. All this time,

I was just waiting for you to tell me


that I was enough.

It was a feeling that swirled inside me,


my blood pulsing for you to say I was enough,

enough. How I had mistaken your hidden love for unhappiness.


If I can forgive the wind blowing branches over our roses,

crushing them, after they have grown,


I can forgive you for hiding

the love you have for me.


It’s time to grow.


Sadie’s “The Catcher of Blossoms”

Millions of blushing petals falling to the ground.

they flood my vision and bring forth a smile


that they gladly carry even as they land

on the rigid earth. They carry so much more.


Today I lay and offer prayer to falling petals,

the plea to fill what’s missing–the feel of you.


I’m a fool. Even as red stains the freshly fallen petals,

they cannot offer me healing. I stain their lovely color


with my life essence. All this time I was waiting

for you to tell me of your hopes and dreams,


but really I was waiting for you to say listen.

It was a feeling that gnawed at my heart,


as though my heart were wood for a beaver.

How I had wished for that happiness to come.


I can forgive the many petals that land on my clothes,

the drops of rain that soaked me to the bone,


but with you there is no forgiveness.

Only hate. Only the growing vengeance


And hate keeping me alive.

Nothing is ever pure of heart,


except the blossoms. They all bloom.

Much like love and hate do.


Erin’s “The Falling of Rain”

Always there is rain after rain waiting to flood.

A million raindrops falling onto


The vibrant green grass, leaving its

Diamond glitter. My yard is the store.


Today I woke up to the power of rain,

The beauty of what’s missing- the sun


The sun hiding behind the clouds,

While the rain falls to the ground.


I am a fool. Even as grass grows stronger

They still break. I feed the gaping mouths of the mower


With their remains. All this time I was waiting

For the sun to shine above us,


But really I was waiting for you to apologize.

It was a feeling fluttering inside me,


An overcast, a hurricane of the sadness,

How I had mistaken it for happiness.


I can forgive the weather,

The mud and puddles,


But with you there is no forgiveness.

Only forgetting. Only the lawn not being mowed


And weeds dancing in the wind.

Nothing is ever easy or true


Except the rain. It floods.

Dependable as a season.


Carter’s “The Roasting of Rays”

Always there is sun, causing shimmering

simmering light. The kids swimming in


their phony, periwinkle, plastic pools.  Teen

girls sitting in the sun. Adults too busy


working to have any fun.  

Rays of really resplendent radiance running to the earth.


Creamy clouds crawling cross the sky,  

relieving the sun with a relaxing rest.


High schoolers sleeping in late in their

calming, comfy cots.  Messing with their


perfect phones, proudly pretending to know pleasure,

but knowing nothing but pessimistic pain.


Summer showing nothing but somber sadness,

feeling sorry, yet showing nothing.


High school students submit to the sorrow of school.

Summer is stopping.


Sadie’s “The King of the Mountain”

Birds let out their cheerful song

into the warm throne room. Golden petals


filled the empty comforting air. These flowers

have been blooming since the prince died.


Today he thinks of who he all lost

all those years ago because of the humans.


Water flowed from his watering can,

mimicking the tears his family shed


all those long, painful years ago. He felt

empty as he thought of his once perfect family.


He’s a fool. Even as hope dwindled in the monsters,

he pledged war against the humans.


The very creatures that trapped him and his people,

were also going to free them


with their strong souls. All this time he was praying

that no more humans would fall down,


but really he was praying to free his people.

It was a sorrowing feeling that devoured him,


like his heart was butterscotch cinnamon pie.

How he wished for his former life.


He could forgive his wife for leaving him,

the humans who killed his children,


but with himself there was no forgiveness.

Only blame. Only his golden flowers


And chirping birds to comfort him.

Nothing is ever whole or complete,

Dreams they complicate my life

Last night I dreamed of dust and distant thunder.

Summer dust shuffling into openings, settling onto all inert objects.

Dust as solar tears;

When your tear ducts dry, you suffer.

Last night I woke and did not cry;

I woke and heard the rain drip, descanting into the darkness.

Last night I slept and wished for more.

As with eating, we have forgotten how to sleep, two fundamental acts of living:

We complicate what should be simple & simplify what should be complicated.

Last night I woke and saw intruding headlights.

As a child, I needed light to sleep—

Now our days and nights slip the grout and become a seep:

I wake without waking and sleep without sleeping, drowsing through the deep.

“Selfie” Manifestos

My literature elective class read Becca Klaver’s “Manifesto of the Lyric Selfie,” using it as a model/inspiration for our own “selfie” manifestos. You should Klaver’s original poem here. As always, I wrote along with the class. You can read my version below, followed by student versions (all used with permission).

Our swipes
They are multiple
We shuffle them
often as we peer.

They can match us.
We can match ourselves.
We’ve got our
Oh we have
Got it.
We leer and drool.
Go caveman.

We’re all bros.
We’re all swole.
We write our poems.
On our biceps.
We write our manifestos.
While flexing in the mirror.
While catcalling on the street.
We think: if only your eyes
Could see me now.

We pose to show
How hard we grow
And deny our feelings.

There are no more emotions.
There is no more tenderness.
We smudge our sadness.
We flip the cam around.
What is burning in our little hearts?
Hashtags of lust,
Licking like spit.
We had been reflective.
We have been reflected.


Student versions:

Klaire’s “I’m Bossy” (with apologies to Kelis)

There are multiple “me”s

It’s a hard pill to swallow,

Refresh and reload

Scroll through my feed

You don’t have to love me,

but I’m the boss.

We peer and cross,

lazy look,

girly look.

We’re all pretty


We write our poems

on the mirror.

We write our manifestos.

Telling everyone to get in the photo booth.

Take the picture,

We all look

Pretty Bossy.

Strut across the street,

everyone stop and look at me.

We pose to show

the spontaneous overflow

of powerful feelings.

What is burning in our little hearts?

Hashtag bossy

We had been reflective.

We have been reflected.


Erin’s “Manifesto”

Our likes

They are multiple.

We look at them

often as we please.

We can post them

We can take them down.

We’ve got our

Perfect moment

Oh we have

Got it

We peer and cross.

Go like it.

We’re all girly.

We’re picture perfect.

We write our poems.

We write our manifestos.

While sitting at the dinner table.

While watching a game.

We think: if only I

Could post this now.

We are ready

To show

Our “perfect” lives

There are no more sunsets.

There is no more enjoying food.

We smudge our panorama

We flip the cam around

What is igniting up in our hearts?

Numbers of likes

Lighting up like flames.

We had been liking.

We have been liked.


Taylor’s “Manifesto of the Lyric Media”

Their lives.

They’re perfect

In every way and form.

I see the smiles

And the ideal lifestyle.

I wish to be them.

I want to be them.

But that’s not who

I am.

Scrolling and tapping

Makes my inner emptiness

A little more dark.

But it doesn’t fill the void

That engulfs me and my

Emotionless life.

I care for these people,

I swear.

I know everyone on my feed,

I think.

And when I’m done stalking my


I’ll close the program.

Just to open another one.

Hours fly by

And I can already see

That none of these people,

Are happier than me.

Their lives are glossed over

By a pixelated screen.

It seems, that’s all they see.

One after another, the

Apps disappear.

And here I think,

Mine does too.

To feel the feel of happiness,

I know what I should do.

But do they?


Sadie’s “Perfection Is A Lie”

I think: if only,

He could see what he created.

That once ‘perfect’ daughter,

Transformed into a

Demonic, yet sinfully beautiful goddess.

Leading an army of spineless corpses,

Along the lands she once was promised to rule.

Watching with boredom,

As the people she’d sworn to protect,

Scream and burn to a crisp from the dragon’s flames.

He looked at her once,

And saw the reminder of his late wife.

So he forced his ‘perfect’ daughter out,

Into the cruel, lonely world by herself.

Walking through town after town,

Feeling the people’s cold, wondrous eyes,

Until she was found.

Envi, the great goddess’s lieutenant,

Who fused her soul with mine.

After that,

How my vessel looked remained unchanged,

But deep down,

She was no longer herself,

But she was me.

A burning spirit rose inside,

And with this spirit,

I set out to quench my thirst for bloodshed.

Now, when people first see us,

They run in fear,

Or think of us as that once kind princess.

Their eyes watch us,

But deep inside,

They’ve yet to meet me.

The me,

That their beloved king unknowingly,



Carter’s version

Our eyes.

There are two.

We use them

often as we like.

We can see them.

We can see ourselves.

We’ve got our


oh we have

got it.

We peer and cross.

Go gazing.

We’re all watchers.

We’re pretty selfie.

We eye our poems.

We glance at our manifestos.

While sitting in the photo booth.

While looking down the street.

We think: if only my eyes

could see me now.

There is a tranquil lyric

but we see the emotion

with the gallop of the gander.

We pose to show

the spontaneous overflow

of powerful feelings.

There are countrysides.

There are churchyards.

We see with our vision.

We flip the cam around.

What is burning in our little heads?

Balls of interiority

looking like marbles.

Eyes had been reflective.

Eyes have been reflected.


Melina’s version

How did this end up happening?

I’ve never been able to understand.

And I know I’m not alone.

Because since when

did people become the greedy beings

that they are today?

Why are materialistic things

more important than authenticity?

All we are is numbers these days.




It’s a very sad reality, indeed.

Since when did pictures

lose their purpose as mementos

and become replaced as pride?

I always thought that pictures

were used as reflections.

Flashbacks to happy, hopeful times.

Never would I have ever guessed

that they would one day be turned

into bragging rights.

Only used to show off.  

Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton—a book review

You begin the new school year with hope and good intentions. (If you don’t: stop teaching.)

Virus-free desks, virus-free computers.

But then one of the two cameras doesn’t work and School Picture Day Fiasco of 2018 ensues.

You spend four hours saunaing in the pillbox of football concessions, missing your nephew’s first start as QB1. Your team loses and your body exudes popcorn oil for eternity.

You miss the fourth day of school to travel one hundred minutes to a required class serving no purpose other than credentialism. All you learn is this fact: The same class was offered before the school year started, only you were not offered this choice. It rains for one hundred minutes on the drive back home.

One of your building’s wireless networks has to be shut down because someone has been illegally downloading a recent Hollywood blockbuster.

A student of yours misses the entire second week of school, and no one knows why.

A student of yours is sent away for placement.

Two weeks in and already the world is too much with you.

You need a shot of redemption, a growler of serotonin.

You pick up Neanderthal Opens The Door To The Universe by Preston Norton.

And you remember your purpose.


Cliff Hubbard, the narrator of Neanderthal Opens . . . , is larger than a CLIF Bar and nearly the size of an actual cliff. He is unlikely to eat an actual CLIF Bar, as his diet consists mostly of Pop-Tarts and pizza. His classmates can’t see past his bulk and his bracing disdain for everyone and everything but the movies he mostly watches alone. They call him Neanderthal—if they speak to him at all. They see his size and his silence as an invitation for harassment and bullying.

“Classmates” is the appropriate term, as Cliff’s only friend was his older brother, Shane. Note the use of the past tense.

High school is hell for Cliff, and home merely another level of the underworld, with a drunken, abusive father and a mother proving how a smile can be the ultimate form of denial.

Then the school’s star quarterback and living embodiment of toxic masculinity Aaron Zimmerman, fresh from fisticuffs with Cliff, suffers an accident that leaves him in a coma. Aaron emerges from the coma a changed man, convinced God has spoken to him, convinced God wants him to change his high school, convinced God wants Cliff to help Aaron make this change happen.

Convincing Cliff, however, may require another act of God. And actually completing the list? How hard could it be to redeem the school’s biggest bully? How hard could it be to convince the school’s meanest teacher to hit the reset button on his life and his career? How hard could it be to overcome the school’s version of the Spanish Inquisition?

As hard as . . . , well, I could the same figurative language as our narrator, but I’m not sixteen years old.

In turns scabrously funny and fabulously transcendent, Neanderthal Open The Door To The Universe successfully mixes the sacred and the profane as Aaron and Cliff team up with a motley crew of Breakfast Club outsiders, most notably the pint-sized, foul-mouthed spitfire that is Tegan, the younger sister of the school’s main drug dealer.

Elevator pitch: Deadpool meets Dead Poet’s Society—and it works.

Cliff isn’t a suited superhero, but he’s the kind of superhero suited to our broken present—the kind who makes us believe broken can be fixed.


Oh, and your purpose? Tegan makes it explicit (she makes most everything explicit):

“Sometimes . . . we get so caught up in the things we gotta do . . . that we forget about the people.”

And now Monday feel less like a burden and more like an opportunity.