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It seemed the Force was strong with me.
(Pedagogy) Philosophy and Nonsense      
Thoughts about writing, education, and experience                                  Presented by Forrest D. Poston

The first goal of teaching is to strengthen, deepen and refine our intrinsic love of learning. All other goals and all methods must stem from that idea. Any that do not support that goal must at least be questioned and adjusted, if not eliminated. Otherwise, we are not teaching but training.

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Stupidity sometimes trumps the Force.

Writing and Education

Autobiography Challenge

Considering Conclusions

Considering Introductions

Four Meanings of Life

Godot and the Great Pumpkin

A Major is More Minor Than
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The Poetry Process (A look at 4 versions of a poem.)

Thoughts About Picking a Major

Quick Points About Education

Quick Points About Writing

Reading Poetry and Cloud Watching

Revising Revision

Reviving Experience

Reviving Symbolism

Using an Audience

Videos

What Makes a Story True?

What's the Subject of This Class? (Being revised.)

Why Write?

Writing and Einstein (The Difference Between Information and Meaning)

Writing and the Goldilocks Dilemma

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The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake        by Forrest D. Poston   

It was the late 70s, with the Force strong in the theaters, and if anyone had the Force with him that November, it was me.  However, even the Force can have trouble dealing with a teenager in love, the Force against late adolescent stupidity.  Still, this is a story of hope, of magic from whatever source, of the possibilities ever-bubbling in youth, a story I need to remember every now and then when gray hairs and the lesser side of reason start over-balancing dreams and possibilities.  It's a quest.

This story got lost for a while, tucked away in memory, and perhaps stories about previous girlfriends are supposed to be forgotten after twenty years of marriage, but writers and storytellers are supposed to remember.  It's what we do, even when the story seems too far-fetched, too full of coincidence.  This one happened, and I'm the only one who ever knew this side of it, all of the quirks.  Many knew about the mug, but this is more, the mug, the magic, and the mistake.

I was twenty, just starting my two years as a college dropout, and selling vacuum cleaners door to door, trying to anyway. It was the year my brother, Gary, had died after 26 years with muscular dystrophy and just about two weeks before my grandmother would die as well. However, I had a girlfriend, much to Dad's relief.

It wasn't my first time in love. That was first grade, but this was the first time I had actually tried to do anything about it. This was also just after we had looked out the car window at the same time and both saw our first shooting star. Disbelieve if you wish, but I was there.

We drove up to Parkersburg one evening to do some relatively early Christmas shopping. She shopped, and I watched since that was what I could afford at that point. Her first nephew had been born just a week or two before, so she bought a silver mug at Things Remembered and had it engraved with his name and birthdate. Once that was ready, we started the 35 miles home.

Part way home, she decided to look at the mug, which is where things took a serious turn. When filling out the paperwork for the engraving, she had listed that day's date in place of her nephew's birth date. Ruined. Since neither of us had the money to buy a new mug, or anything else, (and because she had even more of a temper than I did at the time), she got angry and depressed.

I wanted to say something like, "Let's see what tomorrow brings," but it was one of those times when platitudes would turn anger to fury. Instead, I silently told myself, "Wait and see what tomorrow brings" even though there was nothing it could bring. Still, I calculated the minimum I would need for gas and the cost to replace the cup, and I waited.

Tomorrow brought a letter from my car insurance company. A few weeks earlier, I had discovered that they had not credited me for my driver's ed discount, and I certainly wanted that class to pay off in some way at least. They promised to credit my account and specifically said that I would be getting a credit, not a check. I got a check, a check that was just about two dollars over the amount I needed.

I dropped the day's plans and got ready for Parkersburg. Since it was such a perfect opportunity, I also started scheming.  I liked scheming, nothing malicious, just planning, and maybe a little too much manipulation. For this scheme, I needed the "bad" mug, and I needed to keep a certain girlfriend in the dark. Given her intelligence, curiosity, and pure stubborness, that wouldn't be easy without good planning.  Every good scheme needs a challenge.

I called her house, and when she answered, I simply asked to speak with her dad, not an explanation in sight. Having her know that something was going on wasn't essential, just more fun.  I told her father that I was going to see about getting the wrong date buffed out and the right date put on, and would need to slip the mug out the house secretly. He thought buffing would leave a clear mark, and so did I, but he had a thing about being sensible. I didn't want to tell him that I was spending my little windfall in quite such a silly way, even if it was for his youngest daughter.

I had a plan for getting the mug out of the house, but sensible Jack was not without his impish streak. Since no one had real reason to suspect him, he slipped the mug out himself and met me up the road from the house. Step one was perfect.

There was no reason to expect trouble on the drive, but I've rarely owned a car that was especially reliable, and a 75 Valiant was not a Detroit high point in quality. No trouble found me. Better than n trouble, from the edge of Parkersburg to Grand Central Mall, there are quite a few traffic lights, enough to not bother counting. That day for the first time and the last time, I cruised through every single light green, no stopping, no slowing. It did seem that the Force was with me, Luke Skywalker co-piloting and Han Solo clearing the path.  I never suspected that it might be Rod Serling instead.

Even though I had never intended to get the mug buffed, I like to be truthful. To keep my karma balanced, I went to the jewelry store and asked about buffing. It would leave a definite, obvious flat spot. My duty was done, even if I made the jewelry store staff think I was dumb. They were strangers, so it was fine.

In the clear and heading for the home stretch, I went to Things Remembered to order engraving on a new mug. The clerk bent over and opened the cabinet to get one, and she found an empty spot instead. They were out of stock. Even if they knew when more would be in, I wouldn't have enough money to come back. I'd gotten tripped at the finish line.

However, they did have one mug still on display, and the person working decided that she could engrave the display mug if I would give them the mis-engraved mug to use for display. Since it was an even trade, she wouldn't even charge me. And just as I write this, I realize I should have gotten her name. Instead, my benefactor will always remain a stranger who doesn't know the story.

Getting the mug back in the house was the really easy part since I also knew it was the evening my girlfriend met with a group she was in, even if I've since forgotten the group. (Junior Achievement, perhaps, says a distant voice.) The real fun was set for later when some relatives and I would all be there to see her discover the switch.

I couldn't go. I have no memory why, but that was the one glitch. Instead, I called and told her dad to go ahead without me. I would have to settle for hearing about it later, which was good enough now that the things were in place.  Maybe it would have been different if I had been there, but I've always tended to go into a down cycle after the scheme came together, so perhaps this was better.

It was her uncle who asked her to show him the mug, acting for all the world as if he wanted to tease her about it. She got it off the shelf, took it out of the box, and the date had magically changed to her nephew's birth date. My inner-knight-errant could feel worthy of his horse, shield and sword.  Quest complete.  Complete?

Perhaps that should have been where that story ended, but another part of me had an itch. There was a magical story sitting in the display case of Things Remembered, and nobody knew it. People were walking up and down the aisle as if it were an ordinary mug, and that just didn't seem right.  To my girlfriend, the mug with the correct date was the magic one, but somehow it was the flawed mug that spoke to me.  I should have remembered that this was supposed to be her story, not mine.

Somewhere, I came into a little more cash, although it wasn't from selling vacuum cleaners. (I only sold 3: one to some friends when I was only supposed to be doing a practice demo, one to my grandmother because grandmothers do such things, and one to my parents because parents do such things.) I went back and bought the display mug, even if it took some explaining as to why I wanted somebody else's engraving.

To me that mug was the only symbol of the story that would stay around. The "good" mug was headed for Oklahoma come Christmas. Perhaps we should be able to remember and believe without physical proof, but I wanted that mug. I wanted to show other people and tell the story for years to come, one of those family things that no one would believe.   Then I could point and say, "But here's the very mug."

I could have kept the mug for myself, maybe should have, but I gave it to my girlfriend as a Christmas present.  I'm a storyteller (and a schemer), but I forgot to plan.  She thought that I was making fun of her, and I had no story to tell somehow.  I guess at the time I didn't really know the story, only knew that there was one, one in which this mug was important.  No, it didn't really hurt the relationship, though I suppose it was an indication of what would turn that shooting star from a symbol of romance into one of brevity.  There would be other times when I needed to understand our story, to understand it well enough to tell her, other times I failed.

We're always living stories, bits of pieces of the ongoing story around us, and we're always seeking to both understand and write those stories as they happen, but sometimes we slip.  The story changes, but we go on living it and telling it.  Sometimes we look back and find a story from the past, one we may have lived a little too soon. 

In school, we're often forced to read books that we aren't really old enough to understand, much less enjoy, Julius Caesar in high school, The Sun Also Rises in college.  But when we encounter the same story years later, it makes much more sense.  No, hindsight isn't really 20-20 because there's still way too much I don't understand, and the stories from the past change as we grow.  We can't live in the past, but we need to visit there.  Some stories need to be remembered, need to be told, reshaped and told again.  Maybe this was one of those stories, the kind that help us understand the past so we can be more self-aware, live and write our stories better today and tomorrow.  It's a quest.

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Other Essays and Poetry

Something Somewhat Vaguely Like a Resume

Being Like Children

The Blessing and the Blues

The Cat With a Bucket List

David and the Revelation

The Dawn, the Dark, and the Horse I Didn't Ride In On (an odd, meandering, semi-romantic story)

Ghost Dancer in the Twilight Zone

The Hair Connection and the Nature of Choices

The Mug, the Magic, and the Mistake

Trumpet Player, USDA Approved

Videos

Poetry

Selected Poems

The Poetry Process

Writing by Current or Former Students

Ms. Write Meets Her Match in Jr. Ms. Write Now
by Heide Perry

I'll Just Have Cats
by Cara Hummel

Toys to Toys
by Allyson Bowlds

Scribbles and Bits

Links to Other Sites