300-Day Challenge: Part 1

In Up In The Air, Ryan Bingham has an arbitrary goal. He wants to reach 10 million frequent flyer miles. As is sometimes the case, the book substantially differs from the film in key aspects. George Clooney does a great job playing the available but aloof Bingham, who fires people for a living. The real value of what Walter Kirn wants the audience to consider lies in the spaces in between the pages. 

I’m thinking about both Ryan Bingham’s book and movie form this morning. My arbitrary number is 300, as in 300 days remaining. 300 days from now I will be out of this school, and if the universe allows, I will be out of education altogether. The reasons really don’t matter. I’m not here to complain. Rather, this is more about time passing and the quick canal of thoughts how.

On the commute this morning, XMU’s Julia Cunningham played Interpol, then the National, and then Best Coast. I choose to take that as a sign that it is indeed good enough to be feeling okay. It’s a start.

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And on the third day

At work today I was thinking about how lucky I was as I kid to live where we lived and to have been able to see the countries I did, among other things. As a reflex I then immediately started thinking about when exactly it is that we abandon Imagination and Wonder–which aren’t mutually exclusive to childhood–and start to focus on bullshit metrics. 

I have to make X amount of money to buy a certain car.

I have to dress a certain way.

I have to subscribe to a brand or to several brands to justify my actions and to build a false narrative. 

I’m 38 years old. I don’t care about your politics. I don’t care about your religion. I don’t care about your academics. 

Are you disarmed yet? Many of you could be. Yet here we are, hurtling through space, and the great Unknown is still that. And it will continue to be.

As I prepare to leave a profession in which I can no longer believe, I am revisiting a lot of the constructed truths I needed to synthesize in order to justify aberrant behavior, which at times, certainly could have (should have?) resulted in my doom. 

It didn’t.

I’m a pretty lucky guy. I fucked up a lot. I made a lot of mistakes. I got a lot of second chances. 

I think it’s time for Imagination and Wonder to come back.

The First Day of the Last Days

In 307 days and a little over three hours, I’ll be out of education. My best days are behind me in this industry. 

I started late as a teacher; I was 26 when I landed my first classroom position. The first half of my twenties I spent in a casino and being, generally, an asshole. Not one of us put money in financial markets. Most of us had some money in savings, but the rest we spent as quickly as we earned it. I knew about compound interest, I just didn’t do shit about it. 

Here’s something funny: working three decades in a job you don’t really want in the hopes of earning a pension large enough to live on when your health fails. That was The Plan in the Ohio Valley. A post-industrial American Dream. None of us thought far enough ahead to consider whether or not we were spiritually capable of such a feat. 

I’m certainly not. So, now, just like I did when I was seventeen, I’m researching viable career paths and studying the steps to pursue something else. It’s complete bullshit. And utterly necessary. 

Teaching was a “calling” for me, and I never really drank the Kool-Aid, although the ladles never ran dry. “Nobody got into teaching to be rich” is commonly uttered. True, but a salary that keeps pace with inflation might be a reasonable, achievable goal. 

I’m slow-witted. You wouldn’t know it to talk to me, as I can be obnoxiously charming and even maybe funny. Beneath the sarcasm is a long-running loathing. I’ve known for a long time I was wasting my time teaching. Here’s my payoff: my last two full years in the classroom were the best. There’s no going back, and those days are gone. I learn slowly. It takes months or years of near-disaster for me to wake up and do something aggressive. In some cases, I’m lucky I got fed up before forty. 

All the things I wanted to do but didn’t, I will do. Life is far too short. I can’t reverse time and make up for the $100 per month I should’ve have been auto-investing since age 20, but I will stop the batshit consumer behavior that keeps me from working toward true freedom: financial independence. It won’t be easy. But I won’t be 65 when I “retire” with crossed fingers that fifty years of insane blood pressure won’t drop me. 

Take a walk with me for the next 307 days. I think it will be interesting. 

Exploration of Unknown Territory

June is always something. For me, it is a time of transition, and I look forward to at least one out-of-town trip. I was thinking about this, and the Grand Scheme of Things in general, when a thought occurred to me: it really isn’t the intricately-planned trips or events that hold the most meaning. 

It’s the Random.

Everything that has surpassed my expectation has done so due to lack of expectation. My overwrought planning never did accomplish much. There are a few exceptions involving larger life events, but I mean this in a general sense–more of an everyday guide. All is best with a simple plan: gather, drink, listen to a band, line up a safe house, whatever. Do something not normally done. And it always worked, as long as there was a plan to get safely home. Or stay somewhere. Back to the grind at the beginning of the week. At least there was a day or two that departed from the Norm.

Adventure doesn’t have to be complicated. Yet the days pass, and not much comes of the best laid plans, but we rinse and repeat. A few years pass, and then a few more. Suddenly, its hand-wringing time. Shoulda, coulda, woulda. How ridiculous.

Think back to the best times you had–the real defiers, if you will–they weren’t planned out completely. Sometimes they don’t even cost much. Or anything. 

This should happen more often.

graduates

Dear Seniors,

You didn’t have any way of knowing it, but you were my playlist at a huge time in my life. Before our time together, I lived in a sinking city. I jumped around in grade levels and in content, working lots of side gigs trying to figure out what was the best fit for me in this whole “adulthood” thing.

In our class, we departed from fanciful standards-based instruction and data-driven assessment and we explored deeper life. You became academics at the peak of the awful beauty of adolescence. 
I depended on you. I needed your humor, your triumphs, and your struggles. I hope I brought something different to the table. I tried. Each day we were together, I felt alive. Inspired. It’s not something that happens often as the decades pass.
I knew you were a special class, but I confess I underestimated your impact. Something was missing when you went to the next grade. Our merry little band of dreamers broke up, and life wasn’t the same. 
You taught me more than I taught you. 
Working with your creativity and your brilliance made regular public education an unreliable narrator. Grades were rendered irrelevant, in the larger scheme.

For our time together, one was either “there” or not. There wasn’t anything else.
I don’t teach in a classroom anymore. I know that you were irreplaceable. So, now that you are graduating, this is the birth of Possibility. Once you cross that stage, you have officially traversed the first void. You are now free to fill your worlds as you see fit. Make sure you try everything. Never tell yourself that what people planned for you is enough. 
Thank you for the gift of walking a little way with me.
Dream a little dream for me, Class of 2017.

Routine comfort

I become aware of how utterly relaxed I am  as the alarm jars me from a dream in which an other-career acid folk guitar strummer leans into a microphone at an amphitheater venue and has a nice sunshiny connection with the crowd. His is a micro-set, and even though he has played for years, he’s not really sure if he is good enough. There is a sunset, a breeze, and his chord progressions are springlike. 

The alarm sounds. I am face-down, a lower-case “h” and my body temperature is just right. I touch the Snooze button on the face of my phone, and while the nine-minute counter ticks away, I drift back into the most remote level of dream state. This time, Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King of Carrot Flowers” is playing, and I’m really still half-awake, trying to remember exactly when I ate and how much wine I had last night in order to hopefully simulate the same sleep experience again tonight–every night–if possible.

Nine minutes are up and now the layers of sleep are drifting away. Still in awe of how at peace I am, I slowly pull my legs up until I’m in a curled position. I breathe in slowly through my nose and hold the air in as I swing my left leg first out from the bed. Once I stand, I close my eyes for just a second to stretch briefly. Left hand cupped over right, I noiselessly close the bedroom door behind me. With luck, I’ll sleep like that again tonight.