Jack ShortBY MARCY SHORTUSE - When Jack Short moved from Pennsylvania to Florida as a pre-teen, it took him some time to make the adjustment. After all, the towering trees and welcoming woods of the Keystone State are dramatically different than the saw palmettos and scrub brush here, and he was a huge fan of exploring the outdoors.
It took our new writer here at the Boca Beacon about 10 years to come to the realization that here in Florida, it’s not necessarily the woods you want to explore ... it’s the water.
“Where I came from it was very rural,” he said. “You could drive to a nearby farm and buy eggs, and all the milk in the stores came from less than 100 miles away. It was a different experience when we moved here. All I ever did there was go in the woods and explore. Here, though, nature is not as user-friendly.”
Jack, his brother and his father came here in 1988, when Jack was 10. Their first home was in Rotonda. They then moved to Venice a year later when his father purchased a home.
Even still, when someone asks him if he’s a “Florida native,” he hesitates.
“I tell them I’m not, but I’ve been here 25 years,” he explained. “Most of my cognitive development has taken place here, after all.”
In another ironic twist of fate, the boy who hated school turned into the man who taught math. Jack has spent a lot of time substitute-teaching in the area, but isn’t a fan of the thought of full-time teaching.
“I hated school,” he stated flatly. “It was always just an afterthought to me. I never turned in my homework, never did it ... my teachers would get so frustrated. One time in second grade my teacher asked if I did my homework, and of course I lied and said I had done it, but lost it. He picked me up by my shirt out of my seat and yelled at me.
“I still didn’t do my homework after that, and now that memory is what I think about when I think about school.”
While his homework may not have gotten done, his teachers saw something in him. He spent a lot of his scholarly years in gifted programs, which also took time away from his love of the woods and random thinking sessions in the great outdoors.
Now, though, as an adult Jack has taken control of his destiny. In a third twist of fate, the boy who wasn’t particularly athletic as a child is now a kayak guide, a surfer and an avid hiker.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do was to explore the outside,” he said. “I love to hike, for miles and miles. As a kid it’s all I ever did, all I wanted to do, to find neat things, build forts ... but ironically, to this day I have never camped out.”
To pass the time outside of freelance writing for the Beacon, Jack works at an independent music label-printing shop. His older brother, Brian, works there as well. Jack’s musical background, having played in a band for many years, serves him well now, and while he misses the music scene he admits they still have a lot of fun.
“I met them (the shop’s owners) back in the ’90s when I was a kid,” he said. “We all had punk bands, but theirs was actually popular. I remember our band playing local shows, and once in a warehouse behind Crazy Horse Salon in Venice. It was, literally, a 20-foot by 20-foot storage space. It was in the middle of summer, there was no air conditioning, and about 100 hot, sweaty, agitated people packed into this tight space, listening to us play. Then, some genius had the idea to spray paint the walls and floor, so add spray paint fumes to all that.
“Looking back, I realize that you’re a lot better at that lifestyle when you’re a kid.”
He explained that his love of guitar started in a strange way.
“When I was little I took karate classes,” he said. “My dad got into an argument with the instructor, so no more karate. He told me to try something different, so I picked up a guitar. That was in middle school here in Florida, and I started out studying classical guitar. It was a nice experience, but eventually most people get into Hendrix, Zeppelin, music like that. It’s funny, because I always wound up becoming friends with my friends’ dads, because so many of them played guitar. It was great to sit with them and jam.”
How he came to teach math is a story unto itself as well. Jack couldn’t quite decide what to major in when he first started college. He went from Manatee Community College, studying physics, to FSU. He didn’t care for the full-time student life, so came back home and went to New College for about two years. Just prior to starting there, though, he decided to change his focus from physics to math, then transferred to USF to finish up. It was there he got his bachelor’s degree, with a secondary degree in philosophy.
“I had so many credits at that point, I just qualified for a second bachelor’s,” he said. “My problem the whole time was that I was just taking classes I wanted to take, not to reach an end goal.
“I have found that math and philosophy are more closely related than people may think. They’re linked very closely at a certain point. If you travel to the far reaches of philosophy, maybe not so much, but closer to the middle ground of both you’re looking at analytic tradition. Particularly in very abstract types of math. It’s all about proof theories. The idea is, you start with a minimal set of axioms. You proceed with basic rules of logic toward what you want to show. Organization and strategy is necessary. If your strategy doesn’t work, you need to work backwards or start again.”
So Jack started teaching math in Sarasota schools, but the math he was teaching was very frustrating. Instead of showing students how to learn math by conceptualizing proof and provability, he was teaching awkward, long equations and practices that his students might never use in their lives again ... and left most kids puzzled.
Not to mention he soon found out what others before him had discovered as well: Paying the bills as a teacher with summers off sounds great, but the reality isn’t that great at all. Because it’s a whole lot of long hours and work when it’s not summertime.
“I couldn’t adjust to getting up at 5 a.m., that was a huge part of it,” Jack said. “Also, studies have shown that kids are more proficient at testing and learning during normal hours, say from 10 a.m. to noon, as opposed to earlier times. You know, I never thought I would fall in love with teaching or anything, but I didn’t realize just how disillusioned I would become with it. I’m glad I am back to writing.”
As sure as a + b = c, so does the beach meet the sea. And that’s where Jack is most comfortable when he’s in Florida ... riding a wave. He is an avid surfer. While it may not be easy to get him to talk about pretty much anything else, he will definitely talk about surfing.
He was in the punk band, at about the age of 18, when he started surfing.
“I was trying it because everyone else in the band surfed,” he said, “but eventually, I hocked the guitar to get a new surfboard.”
He studied a lot of the old ’50s and ’60s surfing movies, and learned much from them. He surfed every cold front on the west coast, and hit the east coast a few times as well. He even went to Costa Rica to hit the waves, which is where he had his scariest experience.
“I thought it was the end of me,” he said. “I got both legs caught up in my leash, and got held underwater. It was a learning experience.”
If there’s one thing that Jack loves more than surfing it’s his American bulldog, Lily. Both he and his brother, Brian, call her “The Queen.”
“She has a lavish, lavish lifestyle,” he admitted. “It is complete with every luxury a dog could want. While I sleep on a futon, she sleeps on a $1,700 Tempurpedic mattress. That’s not by choice, by the way, my brother just didn’t like the bed. But Lily does.”
So after writing articles for the “USF Oracle,” the New College newspaper and the “Herald Tribune,” Jack has decided to try his hand at writing for the Boca Beacon. He will be freelancing over the summer while he holds another job as a lifeguard, and will start writing for us more regularly in the fall.
We welcome him to the team ... Germanic Capitals And All.
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