The Pirouette Man, a sharpened nib and the Jack Black effect

A fond adieu from a longtime GCN friend and fan

I started working as a copy editor for Government Computer News in 1988, when most office computers had amber screens and ran on MS-DOS. I would marvel as the GCN art department used a wax machine to glue the stories into place on the page before we shipped the pages to the printer. That was cutting-edge production technology back then, but reading this now I feel like we were about one step ahead of Johannes Gutenberg.

Sometime around 1995 I got restless and started imagining that there were marvelous adventures waiting to be had outside of the copy desk. Looking back now, I know this was not the case. Our third-floor office in Silver Spring, Md., looked down over Colesville Road and all kinds of weird and wonderful happenings would distract us from editing the copy.

Like the "Pirouette Man." Every month or so, especially on sunny days, we would see this youngish, nondescript-looking fellow walk down Colesville Road a few steps. Then without warning he would burst into a series of exuberant pirouettes. He would take a few more steps. Then more pirouettes. All the way down Colesville he would alternate, steps, pirouettes, steps, pirouettes. And then he was gone. There was no predicting when he would appear; he just came into our lives like an unbidden grace and then left just as suddenly.

But I was still searching back then, Pirouette Man or no. I quit GCN for a while and got some odd jobs with a couple of government contractors. But GCN was never far from my heart: It was the first place since I left school where I felt people even vaguely understood my offbeat sense of humor.

So when GCN called me in 1997 to come back as a writer, I jumped at the chance. I covered the Western states for GCN/State & Local, which had a fairly good run of four years or so. Since then I’ve written for GCN’s short-lived but fondly remembered Government Leader magazine, and most recently I’ve worked for GCN Lab Director John Breeden, reviewing new IT products of interest to the government.

In 2006, Government Leader sent me on an assignment to cover a summer session at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government . I found myself identifying more with the professors than with the students I was sent to cover. I felt like the teachers were saying to me, “Come be one of us. Trade your lab coat for a tweedy jacket and sharpen the nib on your grading pen.”

This crazy idea of becoming a teacher kept simmering on a back burner in my mind for a couple of years. I started teaching business writing part-time at the University of Maryland University College, and a small voice started nagging me, a little louder with each class: This is who you are. Stop running from it.

One of the things that kept me from becoming a full-time teacher many years ago when I had the chance was that I had this misguided idea that teachers had to be perfect. I thought I couldn’t be a teacher because I was a B-plus student for the most part.

Then I saw the movie “School of Rock,” where Jack Black plays a slacker who transforms into a good teacher. For some reason that really resonated with me, and I realized that yes, a slacker could reform and become a good teacher. That there is a hidden strength in being a reformed slacker-teacher. That because I wasn’t a straight-A Ms. Perfect, I could help my students in ways that the “perfect” teacher couldn’t. I realize I’m figuring all this out a little late in the game, but hey, it takes what it takes.

So in two weeks I start teaching freshman writing full-time at Howard University in Washington. Tomorrow is my last day at GCN, after 13 years of writing about technology and government. I will definitely miss the daily banter with my friends and colleagues at GCN and 1105 Media. And I know this might sound corny, but I’ll miss you too, dear Impressions reader. I came to think of you as a trusted friend who got all my jokes and would patiently sit through my embedded YouTube links.

And I hope that the Pirouette Man, in one form or another, someday returns to lift your heart on sunny days.


About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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