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

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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.