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October 2013: Making the Grade

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October 2013
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Making the Grade

Editor’s Note:
It can take years to find out what you’re really interested in – and what makes you happy. As part of a Friday series of essays produced in partnership with The Telling Room in Portland, Maine, Charlie Jordan shared his story.

Last year, I failed a bunch of classes, just like the year before. There are a few different reasons why I failed: I forgot to do my homework; the homework was hard; and I didn’t like the classes. Sometimes it was about the teacher; sometimes it was about the class itself.

I’m doing a little better this year. I’m now a junior and allowed to go to a vocational high school called PATHS. I am taking a course there called Masonry. I am one of a few first-year [students] and a couple of second-year [students], and I am ahead of all other first years. From the first day, I’ve grasped how to do it more quickly than the others.

I chose masonry, because it was one of three options that I could choose from, and it seemed more exciting than the others. Masonry is all about working with your hands, and that’s what I like to do. During the first day there, the teacher taught us how to mix mortar, how to use our tools, and how to lay block. I made new friends from different schools, and they even gave me a nickname – Rico.

There was a parent-teacher conference last month, and my teacher gave out the greatest review I’ve ever gotten in my whole life. I’ve never experienced the burning happiness that I felt in myself that day, because I never did any of my homework or anything good in school to get a review like that.

Word got out among my family. I remember my grandmother telling me she was proud of me. I was happy, but it soon got old and no one said anything about it anymore. Sometimes I get a “Hey, how is your masonry class going?” But, other than that, it’s just my mom asking how school went that day.

Let me tell you a little bit more about masonry. It’s not just a class; it’s given me a new perspective on my life. All big buildings are made up of masonry units (brick, block, stone), and it is put together with a kind of substance that makes the units stick, called mortar. There is fake mortar – lime mortar – which you practice with and, when it dries, you can take apart very easily. Then there’s real mortar that is made by adding cement to the mixture.

Since the beginning of the year, a couple of weeks into using the real mortar, I started seeing things a lot differently than I had before. In school and while walking down the street, I look at brick buildings and see old and crumbly brick and mortar. I think to myself that it needs some work. I, myself, need work as I’m slowly building up my own life wall. I know I’m not complete with myself in this world and I’m fine with that. I have a ways to go. I started out doing horribly in school, but having this new skill is making me think differently and make better decisions.

I’m proud of myself, thanks to my masonry class. Seeing how not a lot of people are masons nowadays, I think more kids should take this course. I’m not quite sure yet, but it looks like a good possibility for my distant future. In the meantime, I might help rebuild a chimney at my great grandparents’ house, because it is very, very old and unstable. That’s masonry, and I love it.


This story was written in a residency taught by Portland, Maine-based non-profit writing center for youth The Telling Room, www.tellingroom.org. Charlie Jordan was published in the latest anthology, Illumination: An Encyclopedia of Wonder in Stories and Poems. To hear him read “Masonry” in his own voice, visit the soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/tellingroom/masonry-by-charlie-jordan.

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