The Best Countrymen I Know

I’m posting to my blog on Election Night, as yet another indicator that I’m not good at planning out my writing in advance. No one will read this post right away. As I write these words, no one has yet won the tight presidential race, and even if I posted something about this race, the content would be outdated in a matter of hours anyway. To be frank, once this paragraph ends, I wish to never discuss this election again. So I’m going to talk about American citizens that have influenced my life in a positive way. These people on the list aren’t family (who are all great) nor are they friends my age (who are also all great, except for you, Jed). They’re people who I don’t see much of anymore, mostly because I’m, to borrow and rearrange a phrase, standing on their giant shoulders to look at the horizon. I don’t know whom they vote for, and I plan to never find out. Who made Nick Edinger the writer, performer, and person he is today? For that, you can thank…

Patrick Neville

I used to hate English. Not reading— I loved reading, and use to read a lot more until my family replaced our dial-up Internet. Even back in those days, I would more often than not swallow, absorb, my books without digesting them, letting the words of Shakespeare and Orwell go in two eyes and out… well, I don’t think they got that far in to begin with. To this day, I wonder if I read books way above my reading level back then to either A) enter into a quasi-meditative state, or B) appear smarter than I was. Point is, I was reading books instead of doing homework, and I couldn’t even read books all that well.

When I attended my first Patrick Neville class, for 8th grade English, I found myself struck (starstruck?) by his impassionate lectures, his literary breadth, and his unique status as a male teacher in a grammar school of 50 female teachers and 1 retired gym coach. You’ll probably hear me say something later on along the lines of “cultural and personality representation are far more important than gender and racial representation,” but let it be known that I began loving English and Writing once I took lessons from a casual, loud, and grey-haired man. To this day, I still think young characters with prematurely grey hair look awesome.

Maybe Mr. Neville wasn’t the first English teacher at St. Francis Xavier to talk about symbolism, authorial intent, or ambiguity. There’s a chance that, in the last 7 years of me not paying attention in school, I missed out on other teachers recounting fascinating and funny stories in their life. And I’m dead certain that Neville’s not the first nor last teacher to call me smart. All I can say for certain is that he did all the above tasks right. His insight into literature was only matched by his skill at performing teaching duties. He listened to us— he actually sympathized when we told him that My Antonia and the first two acts of Our Town were boring. Also: the not-so-nice truth is that while Mr. Neville and other adults called me smart, only Neville would say so in the middle of class, and only Neville would identify dumb, lazy, or trolling students by adjective when those students proved themselves to be dumb, lazy, or trolling… meaning that I knew I earned his compliments. It’s a double edge sword. I’ll sympathize with anyone who says they hate Neville for that reason. If I ever meet him again, I’m sure he’ll be proud of me, but I’d also have to brace myself for the moment when he calls me fat. Guess what? There are two truths here: I am fat right now, and Mr. Neville’s skill as a teacher derives from his courage in breaking all the right rules.

I won’t have time to thank every great teacher in my life (though I’ll make a shout-out here to Hund, Sullivan, Marcotte, Logas, Andrews, Buckley, Janechek, and so many more). All the above educators were smart teachers and noble humans. None of them could perform miracles. When I started Mr. Neville’s class, my last English grade was a D. A year later, I qualified for an English Honors course at a prestigious high school. 10 years after Neville, otherwise known as last month, I only needed a half-hour to prepare a 10-minute presentation on a Sam Lipsyte sentence and receive an A on that college-level assignment. It took the encouragement of several loved ones over many years before I admitted I was smart. So I hope that it doesn’t take me so long to convince people how wonderful Patrick Neville is.

 

Felicia Pfluger

You think my theater obsessions and public speaking successes come from nowhere? There are a lot of people who helped me develop those skills over the years (and once again, a shout-out to Albright, Thomas, and nearly every past and present No Shame Theatre board member). But Pfluger continues to inspire me. Neville broke through to my introverted self by teaching in unconventional ways. Pfluger made me a better person as well, but I’d only say that Pfluger is “conventional” in the way that every person should aspire to be.

We’ve had our moments of disagreement, our moments of stress, even our moments of hostility. But I’ve never doubted that she loves more, lives more, cares more, and perseveres more than almost anyone I know. She’s the best possible version of the many roles she plays in her life: homeschool teacher of an amazing son and daughter, theater director to several wonderful kids, truly Christian in a world that grows less Christian by the year. And all the times we butted heads only proved to me that all relationships need trials if they ever want to go anywhere.

It might seem unfair that Neville gets more words dedicated to him than Pfluger. But when I began actually paying attention to Shakespeare, I learned that brevity is the soul of wit. If I am to be influenced by Pfluger at all, I hope it’s by her soul. She is the best possible version of herself, and everyone’s better for knowing her.

Incidentally: see Gaslight if you’re in La Grange, IL, this weekend! She’s directing, and LATTE always puts on a good show. She basically stated that theater group on my behalf; the least you can do is thank her.

 

Chris Loeckle

After talking about two people who improved my outer life, I’m going to end this post with someone who enriched my inner life. It’s hard to know where to begin, because everything I have to say narrows down to “I owe him my life.” It’s more than the fact that he imparted his impeccable therapist skills to me for over 3 years, including the times where I considered suicide a certainty. And it’s more than the meditation techniques he gave me that allowed me to break rules like Neville did, or bec0me the best version of myself like Pfluger is. Loeckle awakened in me a longing that I forgot about a long time ago.

Grey-haired characters are cool, as I’ve established (well, more like stated). That statement is an extension of my favorite character type from my childhood: the wiser, older mentor. No matter how much I “identified” with the protagonist, I wanted to be the Obi-Wan, the Dumbledore, the Professor X or Magneto, the Solomon. I wanted to be wise. I lost my hold on that goal when I started worrying about school, jobs, money, girls, and the importance of intelligence instead. It’d be presumptuous to call a 23-year-old unpublished writer like myself “wise.” That’s a path I’ll walk down all my life. But I can now say that I’ve taken my first steps. Loeckle directed me towards a gift that I forgot I wanted. That says everything I need to say about the man for everyone reading this. But, in the final sessions we have before I leave college for good, I’ll tell him of the many more reasons why he made my life mine again.

These are my countrymen. If you can, let your fellow countrymen know what they mean to you.

Happy Early Thanksgiving.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “The Best Countrymen I Know

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s