Monthly Archives: November 2016

Initiate Calming Voice


For today’s exercise we will be working with a simpler time in your life

As I count backward 

(Ten)

Focus on your breathing

Pay attention to the sound of the fan

Or to the heat breathing from the register

(Nine)

Start with your arms and legs

Really feel them 

Acknowledge the weight they carry

And still feeling how much they push everyday

(Eight)

Return your focus to the long exhalations

In through your nose

Slight hold

And

Back 

Out 

Again

(Seven)

You and resting perfectly still

And paying attention to your breathing

You notice that it is quiet

So incredibly quiet

When you want it to be

(Six)

All of the things you think about

Worry about

Struggle with

They

Aren’t 

Here

(Five)

You are breathing and 

Focusing

On how you want to feel

Each moment

(Four)

The insanity of the constant race

Does not affect you here

In your only true sacred place

(Three)

Here you are

Even

Balanced

Free

(Two)

To become whatever you wanted to be

Before the world swallowed you up

Or you let it eat you every

Single 

Day

By the choices you make

Remember 

As you continue to breathe slowly

Focusing on the gradual release

And the realization that

(One)

You create the world around you

Suns, rise

After spending more than a quarter of my life in a classroom, I have joined thousands of young people progressing through one of the hardest times in their lives, already in progress.

I started working in education at age 26, with is a non-traditional age to jump in.The eldest of my students from those early years are now in careers, and some have families. Some are pursuing their dreams, and others are hard at work figuring out what they would like to try next.

Through the years, it has been the evolution of the students that has been most rewarding. I’m not a great teacher, and I have many problems with the System, but I love learning.  My best days are completely off-the-cuff and most likely inspired by the most random of thoughts. The pay sucks (see also: ten years of extra jobs), the hours are long, and teaching is a continuous madness of non-stop change and failed initiatives. However, we don’t get anywhere at all unless we try. Oh, and how we try!

At some point, I believe the formula for this era of my life looked something like this:

Stage One of adult life: study/embrace/see something and put everything you have into it.

Stage Two of adult life: find out it’s nothing like you thought it would be.

One of my favorite things is learning what makes students tick, and, by proxy, sometimes sharing in their joys of life, however brief. This last year was full of big moments and transitions, and I left a school in which I was comfortable for a new life, with a lovely wife. Many days we miss our old haunts, and we really miss the larger-than-life personalities and energies of our students. Then, as often happens at the strangest times, unlikely opportunities present themselves, and new paths barely cleared must be followed for a while.

Today I pitched a perfect game in my classroom–the last year I will be in one. And it wasn’t that I was the most skilled player on the field, or that my unwavering dedication to the diamond lifted me above all obstacles. Today, simply, plainly, and sincerely, I and my scholars looked for some truths in our short time together, and we reveled in information and the little details that make each hour so interesting. I may not have a day like this again this year. I could have another one tomorrow. Who knows?

In peaceful reflection on the drive home, I encountered the foundation for the success of the day: you, dear students. Through the years, your energy lifted me during times of great duress and sadness and struggle, and I hope I beamed for you just enough in dark times that you understood what I really wanted for you: everything.

To the creators and the dreamers, to the wanderers and schemers, may you see the colors of each leaf in autumn, and I hope the changes you need start small–just enough that you can see them–and then I hope they radiate outward in successive supernovas until you can barely remember the times you thought you’d never pass.

This is a tip of the hat and a hand over my heart for our thousands of days together, stomping and splashing through the gutters of this wondrous life. I’m happy to have traveled next to you for a little while.

 

Perspective

I woke up Wednesday to one of the worst sicknesses I’ve had in more than ten years.

I spent 96 hours, give-or-take, between the couch and the bed, with weird, brief media breaks.

I wrote my resignation (beautifully, I might add), steeled myself and said, “Now, now, the best are still ahead of us, likesay,” and turned the corner healthwise sometime after Saturday afternoon. 

I woke up Sunday, had coffee with my wife, and remembered that there is only so much time in these flesh bags. I time-capsuled my quittin’ papers for the time being, and went back to looking for more Things to Learn.

Each day is a gift. I’ll unwrap them accordingly while powering my heart and mind. 

Join me?

Another Long One

I boarded the couch

And skipped the nighttime medicine

This time

Two days without a drop of booze

Has done wonders for clarity

If only everyone else aligns

With my rings

I can semi-guarantee harmony

But I cannot offer assurances

Just rounding three a.m.

I wish the coach would wave me in

Frantically

I have waited to slide home for years

Substitutes for Freedom

“‘We’re short-term thinkers,’ Stallman says.’Do you remember when Microsoft said, ‘Where do you want to go today?’ I said, ‘How do you want to live in five or 10 years?’ That’s our question.”

Taken from the November/December issue of Psychology Today

I have been looking for something for two days. Technically, it’s been more like eight years instead of two days, but these last two days have really been revelatory. While social media posts of impending doom and fear and anguish grip the nation due to a certain president-elect, I have fully realized a search for Freedom not felt since childhood. Here, an explanation:

I work with teenagers. Neuroscience and behavioral psychology tell us what to expect from teenagers, if in sweeping generalizations. Of course there are exceptions, and I truly have had exceptional exceptions, but generally speaking, the aforementioned sciences do a pretty good job of identifying the constructs and challenges one might face should one work with teenagers. Now, something that many models get wrong: poverty, abuse, and/or drug use will radically skew all known models of neuroscientific and behavioral evidence. No matter how many alterations of studies might be performed on test groups, poverty, abuse, and/or drug use will render all suppositions nearly completely useless. This is a major reason why teachers vacate the profession in the first five years. There is no way to simulate the insane range of abilities and background a teacher will encounter in his or her students.

It’s no surprise that teenagers push back against what they perceive to be authority figures. This impulse is natural and nurtured. At some point, a teenager will resist “the system,” regardless of system. My current students have it all figured out, just like those before them, just like we did, and those before us, and so on. Nothing new there.

What happens when you are in your late thirties and you can see another twenty years ahead, and it is the same bullshit with which you have been dealing for ten years already? What if you can escape most of your chains and challenge the prescribed rut you helped build for yourself? Do you do it? Can you? How many have?

I see it, friends. I see the Trap clearly. Teacher Retirement System. Employer-matched contributions. Healthcare. Insurance. “Job security.” Never mind happiness: Industry and Market tell us to make ourselves happy. To find joy and peace outside work. Guess what? It’s not happening. I’ve been around the block a few times, too. I know when it’s me. I know when I am defeating myself and setting myself up to lose. I know when my behavior is destructive and obstructing my path. It’s not me this time.

What are the real reasons we stay in jobs we dislike? Financial obligations? Sure. Too much debt makes it unwise to throw caution to the wind. I get it. What if debt is eliminated? Still necessary to stay in the disliked job? “Oh, stop. Everyone dislikes his or her job. It’s called ‘Work.'” Perhaps…but I suspect that interview did not include people without debt who pursued their passions. I’m guessing those people are too busy enjoying life and doing what they should be doing, instead of willfully staying in the rut.

I do not possess the genius of Richard Stallman, MIT-affiliated software developer, and the source of the introductory quote. Stallman is largely responsible for GNU, and by proxy, Linux. The article in Psychology Today is utterly fascinating for its focus on Stallman’s eccentricities and unwavering stoicism. I do not have his level of intellect, not do I have his resources. However, Stallman is just like anyone else who is awake in the Matrix. Once you are up, it is impossible to go back to sleep.

When we are adults, I believe we sacrifice freedoms we forget we have. We were too busy worrying about 18, then 21, then maybe that sweet insurance discount at 25. We skipped past the part where there is a gigantic section of adult life in the folder “Do What You Want.” No offense to those of you with children, as your folder looks a little different from mine.  I really think it is this simple: Are you happy with what you are doing? If so, keep it up. If not, well…why are you still doing it?

What I have been looking for these last two days/eight years is permission. I forgot how to Do Something Different. I think it is time. I think TRS and matched contributions and healthcare and insurance and job security are going to have to take a back seat. I think it is time to live again, not just count down days until the end of a contract, the end of a school year, the trail to a once-a-year planned vacation, the end of life. I’m tired of counting. I’m ready to build.

 

Slots of Fun: The Cashier Cage and the Way Out

Image result for cashier's cage

After a few months of being in the cashier cage, I started to grow restless. First, the cashier cages in which I worked were nothing like the one pictured above. There is far too much light. There seems to be a general cleanliness. The brunette may be smiling.

A real cashier’s cage has an oppressive feeling clouding it. It may actually be hard to see the cashiers inside, as they are pretty unhappy and can only float from one transaction to the next on the quickly-fading dopamine boost just acquired from the previous patron’s tip. A strange by-product of being a cashier is how quickly one can count money. Provided there isn’t some sort of physical handicap or mental deterioration, a medium-speed cashier’s fingers fly through money. Two swipes of Sortkwik, elbows bent at an odd angle to provide the best view by surveillance cameras, and the cashier can count out several thousand dollars effectively in under a minute. This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but if you’ve ever seen someone holding five grand in his or her hand who has never done so before, there is a strange discomfort as those bills are gently tugged in slow-motion.

Image result for sortkwik

Hurry up, bro. We gotta count more money so we can get more tips so we can count more money.

Don’t get me started on counting calculators. One of the cashier supervisors used to add up her tickets so quickly, she sent the machine into error mode. A few cashiers beamed with pride over that supervisor’s mutant-like speed. Those cashiers also struggled to graduate high school and thought that “The Government” had live access to video lottery surveillance systems, so take that how you will. Any cashier worth a damn looked like a deranged pianist when adding up tickets.

The only wildcard when it came to the practical functionality of a cage cashier was the coin-counting machine. Now, here was a technology doomed to fail. The coins accepted included nickles, quarters, and the casino’s own-manufactured dollar tokens. We didn’t have dime machines, and penny machines were best-suited to ticket-only pay systems, which came later. Here was the typical coin-customer sequence: a patron shuffles up to the cashier counter with too many cups overflowing with coins, grinning like the village idiot as he or she attempts to balance the cups and set them down on the counter without spilling the coins, which usually never happened. Depending on the cashier’s angle on customer service, sometimes the coin-counter was already hungrily digesting the coins while the guest was still stacking his or her cups. There was always an uneasy delay while the machine chugged and belched coin dust into hanging plastic bags–kind of like the short elevator ride during which someone notices that he or she could have just as quickly arrived at Point B by walking. Once the coins quit swirling, the cashier stopped the hopper, and gestured or mentioned to the customer the total counted by the machine, which was often contested and led to the cashier asking for assistance from a floor attendant, to ensure that the guest’s machine did not “malfunction” or that someone did not “steal” all of the “extra money” from the guest. Most of the time, the guest was A) lying to get more money, if possible; B) drunk, elderly, or drunk/elderly; or C) all of the above. A simple transaction was a pain in the ass. Add to that the cashier’s constant dopamine depletion & refill cycle, and you can see why cashier shifts were difficult to endure.

Three simple functions of the cashier’s job: count and bag coin, count tickets, distribute money to patron to encourage another cycle. You’d think it would be easy, but you’d be forgetting how difficult it is to work with people.

Name the last time you worked in an environment in which people weren’t out for themselves. Go ahead; I’ll wait. Most of you can’t think of one. Do you know why? It’s awfully hard for human beings to not naturally gravitate toward their inner Me-Monsters, as one of my best friends says. I don’t know why. We can’t just all hang out and make money. We have to have more than yesterday, and we have to have more than the cashier next to us. And I’ll be damned if Aaron is going home with $300 in tips again tonight! I want some of that cake.

The cage cashier window was populated by a small and wild range of personalities. My favorites were the wackos and drunks. They were there to kill time until the next Chaos sequence in their own lives, and for some odd reason, they were oddly satisfying to work with. Some part of them recognized the futility of the Casino at large; accordingly, they honed their customer service skills to a bizarre, admirable level. I must have watched Fred for a month until I put my own spin on his bill-flicking Lucky Bill delivery cash-counting method. The same Fred could loose an unbelievable string of vulgarity under his breath, leading all the way up to “HI MRS. WALLACE! HOW ARE THE MACHINES TREATING YOU?” The guy was unbelievable. I can still picture his smirk and his casual elbow-lean on his coin machine. We all wanted to hit that level. A bunch of the rest of us weren’t pro cashiers, but we weren’t scared of counting money, either. We developed a quick cache of go-to phrases which delighted the guests, but mostly made ourselves sick, along with those around us. It was a necessary evil. Some of mine:

“Here’s the Take: the lucky bills are on top.”

“Only old fives for you, Mr. Johnson. I know how your machines like them.”

“Gimme those coin buckets–you won’t be needing them any more. This here is Jackpot Money.”

You get the idea. I was on cruise-control. The bullshit just spilled right out. Three months in, I was trading shifts to score optimal window position, or just to increase my chances of pairing up with other degenerates with whom I could laugh away the pain of such a terrible environment.

The holiday season was unpredictable, and if I couldn’t trade shifts, I never knew what kind of money I was going to make or where I would be working, so there were nights that I left with maybe double my gas money, and that’s when I started to get itchy palms. College classes during the day were draining my energy and making it hard for me to stay awake during my night shifts. In the sunlight, I was learning about all kinds of interesting theory and how it could apply in progressing education, and at night, I was pretending to not whore my personality for off-the-books money. It wasn’t going to last much longer.